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Rick Shapiro
Rick Shapiro
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Will Motorcycle Airbags Be the Future of Cycling Safety?

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Note: see also automobile accident category 

Honda Motor Company recently announced that it is going to offer an airbag on one of its expensive Honda Gold Wing motorcycles for the next model year. Likewise, Yamaha Motor Corporation is developing an airbag system and is using a scooter with the airbags to research and develop the potential product, according to Yamaha’s website. Can motoycycle airbags really prevent significant crash injuries? Read on….

A spokesman for the American Motorcyclist Association said that some would call it safety, some would call it risk management. Whatever you want to call it, I applaud the motorcycle manufacturer’s efforts. More and more Americans are buying motorcycles. Increasingly high gasoline prices are also driving increased motorcycle sales but with increased motorcycles on the highways comes increased personal injuries, and with those injuries comes more product liability suits against the manufacturers, and the companies may be feeling the “heat” of faulty product lawsuits.

Let’s be realistic, whether you have a helmet or not, if you’re riding a motorcycle you are fairly unprotected in case of a serious crash with a car or truck. Although motorcycles were only 2% of all registered vehicles in calendar year 2004, they made up 9.4% of all highway deaths, nearly double the 5% in calendar year 1997, according to government statistics.

The Honda airbag system has crash sensors attached to the front fork of the motorcycle. These sensors detect rapid deceleration and send information to a computer which determines whether a crash is likely occurring. The whole process only takes a fraction of a second. The airbag system is designed to stop a driver’s body from striking the whatever the motorcycle has struck and to reduce the chances of the operator being thrown over the handlebars of the motorcycle. It is not presently designed to protect side or rear impact crashes or to protect passengers on the motorcycle. Honda knows from its own studies that more than half of the motorcycle crashes that caused deaths occur when the front portion of the motorcycle strikes another vehicle or object. Honda has already tested to see if the airbag will deploy accidentally, and if it so-what will happen. Honda claims that the airbag did not the driver backward, injure the driver, affect the driver’s vision, or impact his travel on the highway. Apparently the bag deploys fairly low on the driver’s torso, and is designed not to block vision but I have real questions about those supposed findings in the Honda tests.

Will an available airbag cause riders to abandon a helmet, which is a vital safety piece of equipment? Probably not because most helmets are required under state laws anyway.

Motorcycle operators face special challenges involving safety. All motorcycles obviously are smaller than a regular sized car or truck and often can seem invisible in the rearview or side view mirror of cars and trucks on the highway. Most motorcyclists are safe drivers and are often struck by negligent or careless car operators, and obviously in some circumstances the opposite is true. There are also some special state laws and regulations applying to motorcycles involved in accidents which can be relevant in any e personal injury case arising out a motorcycle crash. Our firm is involved in a number of these cases and can supply general or specific information to you or a family member who has had an injury or question regarding such an accident.