Excessive speed is a contributing factor in 33 percent of all fatal motorcycle accidents, according to the NHTSA. Although it isn’t a problem unique to motorcycle operators, it does have an outsized impact on them and their passengers.
Serious injuries are more likely as crash speeds increase. Even a slight increase can have momentous impact, with some researchers concluding a variation of just 15 mph (20 mph to 35 mph) can be the difference between life and death for someone on a motorcycle.
Boston motorcycle accident attorneys at The Law Offices of Jeffrey Glassman recognize excessive speed by any motorist is evidence of negligence, which is the failure to use reasonable care. It’s not necessarily conclusive, though. A passenger suing the operator or the operator suing another motorist can use one’s excessive speed to support the argument that he/ she was at-fault and liable for resulting damages. Likewise, an at-fault driver could argue a motorcyclist’s excessive speed is grounds to proportionately reduce one’s overall damage award under the theory of comparative fault, MGL ch. 231 section 85.
Excessive speeding is a noted form of aggressive driving, when combined with one or more other dangerous behaviors, such as following too closely, weaving in and out of traffic or failure to observe traffic signals.
The NHTSA considers a crash speed-related if a driver is charged with a speed-related offense or if an officer indicates racing, driving too fast for conditions or exceeding the posted speed limit was a contributing factor in a collision. It’s one of the most prevalent factors contributing to traffic crashes, with the cost of these collisions topping $40 billion a year. Approximately 40 percent of speeding drivers involved in deadly crashes were reportedly impaired by drugs or alcohol. It’s estimated more than 10,200 people a year die in speed-related crashes, and we know motorcyclists overall are exponentially more likely to be involved in an injurious or fatal crash than passenger vehicle occupants.Defining Speeding and Determining Negligence in Massachusetts
Massachusetts has numerous laws, regulations and court rules when it comes to speeding, both as a traffic infraction and grounds for civil liability in a crash. In general, speed limits tend to be a polarizing issue, with vulnerable road users often seeking lower speeds and motorists often pushing for higher speeds that reduce travel times. There are two basic types of speed limits: Regulatory (posted) and statutory (unposted, with some exception).
Posted speed limits are established after consideration of traffic engineering studies that factor in road type, traffic volumes and unique conditions. These clear limits are to represent what is the maximum speed under ideal driving conditions. However, it’s the responsibility of every driver to lower their speed in cases where certain unfavorable conditions exist, such as:
- Inclement weather
- Poor visibility
- Heavy traffic
- Type/ condition of vehicle
- His/ her own driving abilities
- Presence of pedestrians, cyclists or parked vehicles
- Presence of passengers (especially relevant for motorcyclists)
Statutory speed limits are in place when there is no special speed regulation. In those cases, MGL ch. 90 section 17 requires drivers to operate their vehicles at “a rate of speed no greater than reasonable or proper with regard to the use of the road and safety of the public.” It’s considered prima facie evidence (accepted as correct until proven otherwise) that one’s speed is greater than reasonable if:
- Vehicle is traveling more than 50 mph on a divided highway outside a business district or area that’s thickly settled for ¼ mile or more;
- Vehicle is traveling more than 40 mph on an undivided highway outside of business district or area that’s thickly settled for ¼ mile or more;
- Vehicle is traveling more than 30 mph in business district or thickly settled area for at least one-eighth of a mile;
- Vehicle is traveling more than 20 mph in a legally established school zone.
Municipalities have the authority to set speed limits at 25 mph in areas that are heavily populated or considered business districts.
Additionally, MGL ch. 89 section 7C requires vehicles to slow down or move over when approaching stopped emergency vehicles.
(There is also a Commonwealth Regulation - 720 CMR 9.06(6)(a) – that instructs drivers on state highways to maintain a reasonable minimum speed so not as to unnecessarily obstruct normal movement of highway traffic. That can create an unpredictability that might also pose an outsized threat to motorcyclists.)Consequences of Speeding
Beyond the risk of getting a ticket, speeding drivers, their passengers and those with whom they share the road are in danger of:
- Greater likelihood of loss of control;
- Lower effectiveness of occupant protection equipment;
- Increased stopping distance after driver perceives danger;
- Increased degree of crash severity leading to more serious injuries;
- Increased reaction time.
Common causes of speeding are traffic congestion, running late and just general disregard for the law and well-being of others, according to the NHTSA.When Motorcyclist’s Speed Contributes to a Crash
Aside from the obvious danger of excessive speed, which is that any collision is likely to result in more severe injuries due to the sheer kinetic force, the other problem is it heightens the effect of inattention blindness.
Motorcycle operators tend to use more cognitive resources to safely control their vehicle compared to those in passenger cars, which means on the whole they are more alert. Drivers of larger cars often fail to see motorcycles – even when they’re right in front of them – because they aren’t actively looking for them. That’s why you hear so many motorists exclaim, “I didn’t see him!” or “He came out of nowhere!” This risk is exacerbated when either driver is speeding because it gives everyone involved even less time to react.
One study published by the journal Accident Analysis & Prevention concluded that on average, motorcyclists drive faster than cars, but extreme speeding is recorded 2.3 times more often by motorcyclist than car drivers. Those operating sport motorcycles had a greater tendency to speed. So-called “supersport” motorcycles are basically built for racing and are especially popular with the under-30 crowd. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports these bikes have the highest death rates (four times that of other motorcycles) and the greatest insurance losses.
Passengers injured in whole or in part because of the motorcycle operator’s speed should file a claim with the motorcyclist’s auto liability insurer. Although motorcyclists aren’t required to carry PIP (personal injury protection benefits), passengers of the bike can still pursue liability coverage (minimum $20,000 per person and $40,000 per crash), and potentially uninsured/ underinsured motorist coverage if the circumstance warrants.When Other Drivers Speed
It’s worthwhile in any multiple-vehicle motorcycle accident to examine the speed of the other driver as evidence of negligence because speed turns what could be a relatively moderate accident into a severe one.
Investigating speed as a factor in motorcycle accidents involves gathering and examining the following evidence:
- Testimony of those directly involved. Sometimes speeding drivers will outright admit they were traveling too fast.
- Eyewitness observations. Third-party observants who saw what happened from different vantage points can provide powerful testimony.
- Statements/ reports from emergency response personal. Although the written report of the investigating police officer is subject to challenge, it can nonetheless prove a helpful tool.
- Event data recorders. Some vehicles (particularly commercial vehicles and newer cars) are equipped with crash data recorders similar to an airplane’s “black box,” which will record data just before a vehicle airbag was deployed, showing speed, position, acceleration and deceleration.
- GPS data. Global positioning system data can sometimes tell us the location, direction and speed of a vehicle at any given time.
If you are injured in a motorcycle accident in Boston wherein at least one driver was excessively speeding, we may be able to help you recover damages for your resulting injuries.
NO FEE UNLESS SUCCESSFUL