“The primary goal of tort law is deterrence.” -U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas
The number of crashes of automobile drivers failing to yield to motorcyclists resulting in serious injury or death to motorcyclists, pedestrians, and bicyclists is getting worst with each passing year. The number of motorcycle fatalities in Louisiana is at a higher level each year. The crash numbers spiked up last year according to L.S.U. and N.H.T.S.A. motor vehicle accident statistics. Nationwide accident rates also shot up last year.
The cause is apparent to any of us—distracted drivers using cellphones or electronic devices while driving their cars. Children are being given cell phones at 10 years of age. We are all addicted to our cell phones and social media. As an experienced motorcycle jury trial attorney who deals with motorcycle crash victims on a daily basis, I’m even beginning to see motorcycle crashes due to GPS and cell phone usage by motorcyclists. Feelings of depression, loneliness, and isolation in our youth due to too much cellphone /internet usage is becoming a much larger problem for our community.
THE PROBLEM IS GETTING WORST
This increase in motorcycle crashes is affecting motorcyclists in several ways. The perception of motorcycling by non-motorcyclists is that it is an extremely dangerous activity to participate in. Sales of new motorcycles are suffering as a result. New riders are not as common as in past years. The number of motorcycles sold in the U.S. is falling each year. The average buyer age of those still buying motorcycles has risen to 54 years in 2017.
Young people under 30 years of age are not buying entry-level motorcycles. Cycle World magazine recently wrote that at the rate we are going, there will be no more motorcyclists by 2030. It used to be off-road or dirt bikes were more popular and a gateway to larger street motorcycles.
When I race motocross locally around the state, there are fewer and fewer 50-60 c.c. motorcycles with new riders on the starting line. Those used to be the biggest classes in the 1980s.
Another factor is the cost of insuring motorcycles is soaring. Few motorcyclists have or can afford uninsured motorists coverage (UM). With motorists only required to have $15,000 of liability coverage on their automobiles in Louisiana, many motorcyclists fear becoming disabled and not being able to provide for their families.
Since they are unable to afford uninsured motorists insurance (UM) coverage, many parents choose not to ride motorcycles. With the current hostile street environment filled with distracted drivers, uninsured motorist’s insurance coverage (UM)is seen as a necessity—and they are wise to not ride without uninsured motorist’s coverage (UM).
WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT IT TODAY
Unless we motorcyclists unite today and fight for better laws in Louisiana to protect motorcyclists who are seriously injured or killed by motorists, the statistics will only get worst.
Right now, nothing is being done by the Senate and House representatives in Louisiana. In 2016, I, with the help of fellow Louisiana A.B.A.T.E members, drafted a bill S.B. 171, and lobbied to have stricter penalties for automobile drivers that seriously injure or kill motorists. The proposed law was modeled after the All Road Users Act that was passed in 8 states then. It provided various severe penalty options for judges to dole out stricter penalties against drivers the fail to yield and seriously injure or kill motorcyclists.
The proposed penalties included longer suspensions, retraining, stiffer fines, probation, community service, and jail time for automobile drivers that failed to yield to non-automobile drivers including motorcyclists, bikers, pedestrians, handicapped scooters, motor scooters, and others not in automobiles. The bill passed the Senate committee, Senate, and House Committee picking up co-sponsors along the way.
Unfortunately, the bill failed in the House of Representatives by a very narrow margin. Louisiana A.B.A.T.E. is seeking to have the bill re-introduced in 2018 with some changes to make it more likely to pass. Ironically, the District Attorney Association was a major opponent in the 2016 legislative battle to get the bill passed by the House of Representatives. It is ironic that those who are elected by us and swear to protect all citizens, District Attorneys, would not choose to protect the most likely harmed road users. So much for equal protection!
It is said that conduct condoned is conduct repeated. Right now, in Louisiana, if a motorist in an automobile kills a motorcyclist the penalties are minimal-usually a $282 fine. It is usually only a misdemeanor meaning the motorists-murderer can pay a fine, (usually about $282 with court costs) by mail or in person and avoid even having to appear in court. With no severe penalties now in Louisiana, there is nothing to deter such bad conduct from happening again. And it is happening every day.
I just finished representing a motorcyclist in criminal proceedings we monitored and advocated for. The motorcyclist sustained a leg amputation, his elbow was shattered, and brain damage with Traumatic Brain Injury. The driver was drug-impaired but not tested for synthetic drugs. The case was brought in 2012 but not finished until 2017 by the Jefferson Parish D.A. office A.D.A. The criminal charges were at several points dismissed due to improper handling of the case by the A.D.A. Only due to my persistence was the impaired car driver prosecuted. The A.D.A. dropped the ball and the result was only a misdemeanor conviction with the fine waived by the Judge since the case took so long with over a dozen court appearances for the defendant’s criminal driver!
No empathy was shown for my client missing a leg above the knee, with brain damage and a deformed shoulder, and other injuries. This is not an uncommon occurrence in Louisiana. There are some bright spots emerging. The St. Tammany Parish D.A. office successfully prosecuted a hit-and-run car driver that maimed a motorcycle rider. A jury convicted the car driver of a felony. Sentencing is coming up shortly but several years, perhaps 5 years of jail time may result. This is the first such case I know of in my 40 years of trial practice.
The automobile driver that kills a motorcyclist is a threat to all of us in the community including other automobile drivers. If a motorcyclist is killed today with no severe deterrence penalty, the next time it may be another motorist killed. We are all in this community together. Unfortunately, many of our public officials do not see it that way. We have to lobby to make changes to protect all of us in the community out there on public roads.
WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW
- Join La. A.B.A.T.E. at http://www.abateoflouisiana.org/index.html
- Find out who your senator and representative are in your voting district.
- Meet with your Louisiana Senator and Representative and discuss the issues.
- Call and write your legislator today. Letters are best.
- Lobby when bills are introduced by calling, writing, and emailing your legislators.
- Report motorcycle accidents with motorist’s fault to Louisiana A.B.A.T.E. Advocacy Section on its webpage at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Glenn C. McGovern, Motorcycle Trial Attorney and MSF Basic Motorcycle Instructor