As many of you know, motorcycle use in on the rise in this country. In the last decade, motorcycle ridership has increased over 50%. No longer are motorcyclists limited to the “easy rider” stereotype known for decades. In fact, it’s estimated that almost 10% of all motorcycle owners are women. Harley-Davidson has developed a strong following among baby boomers and retirees. As a result, the number of fatalities and serious injuries involving motorcycle riders has increased steadily. More motorcyclists were killed last year than any year since the NHTSA began collecting fatal crash data in 1975.
Many of the injuries and deaths are caused by either defective motorcycles and/or unsafe components. Last year, Aprilia, Big Dog, BMW, Buell, Decati, Harley-Davidson, Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha all instituted recalls concerning safety issues with their motorcycles. Some of the defects commonly found with motorcycles include defective tires, swing arms, forks, throttles, kick stands, wheel spokes, crash bars, helmets and brake systems.
One of the most recent safety issues concerning motorcycles are unsafe brake systems. Defects in the braking system which increase stopping time and distance or the ability to control the bike in a braking maneuver have been at the forefront of motorcycle litigation over the past decade. One of the issues with motorcycle brakes involves the manufacturer’s decision to equip motorcycles with anti-lock braking systems (ABS). While manufacturers of other vehicles, such as tractor trailer trucks, install anti-lock brakes on their vehicles, motorcycle manufacturers have lagged behind.
BMW first equipped its motorcycles with ABS in 1988. By the year 2000, most of the European manufacturers equipped their production models with ABS. By 2005, the Japanese manufacturers were offering them as options. Finally, in 2008, Harley-Davidson began to make its bikes with ABS.
In 2008, the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) documented the effectiveness of anti-lock brakes in preventing the number of crashes and the fatality rate associated with motorcycle crashes. The IIHS report in discussing the usefulness of ABS stated:
Stopping a motorcycle is trickier than stopping a car. For one thing, front and rear wheels typically have separate brake controls. Both underbraking and overbraking the front and rear wheels contribute to crashes. In an emergency, a rider faces a split-second choice to brake hard, which can lock the wheels and cause a motorcycle to overturn, or to hold back on the brakes and risk running headlong into the emergency.
This is when antilocks can help. They reduce brake pressure when they detect impending lockup and increase the pressure again when traction is restored. Brake pressure is evaluated multiple times per second, so riders may fully brake without fear of locking the wheels.
In summary, the IIHS concluded that ABS-equipped motorcycles were involved in 38% fewer fatal crashes than motorcycles without this feature.
Motorcycle manufacturers have known for years that the most common motorcycle accident is the case of an automobile driver turning left in front of the motorcycle. In such an emergency, the motorcycle rider needs a braking system to help control his motorcycle and avoid a potentially fatal accident. A motorcycle equipped with ABS would provide the rider with such a system. Unfortunately, there are thousands of motorcycles made in the last decade without ABS. The manufacturer’s decision not to equip its motorcycles with this feature has cost and will cost several lives in the future.
If you need additional information on this subject contact Rick Morrison, a lawyer in our Product Liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Rick.Morrison@beasleyallen.com.
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