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The Unusual Physics Of Motorcycle Accidents


Written by Steve Roberts

Motorcycles are attractive because they represent freedom, adventure, and a careless disregard for authority.

But these vehicles can also be peculiarly dangerous. Several factors -- lack of stability, low visibility and high performance relative to size – can combine to make motorcycles unsafe on the roadway. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motorcyclists are 26 times more likely to get into a fatal accident than are drivers of other vehicles, and they are five times more likely to be injured. In all, almost 5,000 fatal motorcycle accidents happen each year in the United States.


It's the Physics

The main factor that puts motorcyclists at risk on the road stems from Newton's first law of motion, sometimes called the law of inertia: "An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force."

Newton's first law contends that objects in motion are "inert" -- they keep moving until they encounter an "unbalanced force." Gravity is one such force. So is a brick wall.

When people get strapped into cars or trucks, they get protection from the unintended effects of Newton's first law. When a car strikes the brick wall, it absorbs the brunt of the force as it comes slamming to a halt. Rather than hurtling through the windshield at great speed, per the law of inertia, passengers stay put because of their seatbelts. In fact, research compellingly suggests that increased seatbelt use caused a decline in automobile fatalities from 6 per 100 million miles traveled in 1950 to just over 1 in 100 million miles traveled today.

How Motorcyclists Are Affected

A lack of seatbelts on motorcycles in part may account for the higher death rates: When a motorcycle hits a wall, the rider can easily get flung off the vehicle into oncoming traffic or off the side of the road.

Not all motorcyclists will "defy" Newton's law the way a Russian man from Belarus appears to have, flipping seamlessly into the air and landing on the roof of the car ahead of him. Most will simply fly into the air and strike the ground after a trajectory corresponding to the speed they were traveling at when their bike hit the wall.

Unfortunately, motorcyclists would be even less safe if they wore some sort of seatbelt or harness. Since bikes only have two wheels, they are prone to tipping over and sliding under other objects until forces balanced out. Ultimately, motorcyclists fare better when they are separated from their bikes at the point of impact than they do when they stay with the bikes. Obviously, you want to get away from the motorcycle before forces drag it underneath a passenger car or semi truck.

Helmets can be vitally important, although they don’t constitute a “cureall” to the safety problem. Colossally high rates of fatality from traumatic head injury in U.S. states have inspired lawmakers to mandate helmet use in many states, although some still still don't require adult riders to wear head protection.

If you or a loved one got hurt in a motorcycle crash, you can probably benefit from speaking with a qualified injury lawyer.

Steve Roberts is the managing attorney at the Law Office of Steve Roberts, LLC. Steve specializes in personal injury cases that stem from motorcycle accidents. He has developed his personal injury practice and became part of the Colorado legal community as a member of the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association and the Thompson G. Marsh Inn of Court.

The Unusual Physics Of Motorcycle Accidents Reviewed by Brandon Oh on 10:13 PM Rating: 5

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