New Laws Seek To Reduce Motorcycle-Involved Fatalities

More Motorcycles on the Road Spikes Hike in Crashes; 96 People Killed in Motorcycle Crashes Last Year

ANNAPOLIS (Oct. 1, 2008)—With the growing popularity of motorcycles for transportation and leisure riding, there are more motorcycles on the State’s roadways today than ever before. As the number of motorcyclists grows, the concern over motorcyclist safety grows as well. Crashes involving motorcycles have increased dramatically over the last four years. In 2007, 96 people were killed in motorcycle-involved crashes, up from 58 in 2003. In that time, motorcycle registrations increased by more than 39,000.

Action this year by the Maryland General Assembly is designed to enhance safety on the roadways, particularly motorcycle safety. Three bills were passed the legislature and signed into law by Governor Martin O’Malley.

The new laws include:

• A dramatic increase in the penalty for drivers who fail to yield the right of way and contribute to a crash that results in death or serious bodily injury (In effect since July 8);

• Additional LED lighting is permitted on motorcycles to increase visibility (In effect since June 1);

• The legal definition of a motorcycle has been expanded to include three wheel vehicles.

Failure to Yield the Right of Way

Prior to enacting new legislation, the financial penalty for failing to yield the right of way and contributing to a crash was $150, and there were no additional penalties for a crash that results in death or serious bodily injury. Under the new law, a conviction will result in a possible $1000 fine and up to 180-day license suspension.

“Drivers need to understand that they have a responsibility for a motorcyclists’ safety,” said Neil J. Pedersen, Administrator of the State Highway Administration and Governor’s Highway Safety Representative. “Failing to yield the right-of-way to a motorcyclist is a life and death matter. Eight out of 10 police-reported motorcycle crashes result in the injury or death of a motorcycle rider.”

On average, more than half of the crashes involving motorcycles and vehicles are the fault of the vehicle driver, not the motorcyclist. While the new law is not limited to motorcyclists, motorcycle organizations were the primary proponents of the change in the law.

“The new law is really about awareness, not the penalty. If you have to write this citation after a crash, it’s already too late,” said Neal Ackerson, State Director of A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments (ABATE) of Maryland, the largest motorcycle rights organization in Maryland and a strong proponent of the new law. “We are hoping that the new law will raise awareness among drivers about motorcycle safety the same way that DUI laws have about drunk driving. If drivers look out for motorcyclists, we can prevent crashes from happening in the first place.”

Motorcyclists also have responsibility for safe driving - being courteous, non-aggressive and cooperative can go a long way in reducing crashes. However, drivers tend to look for other cars, not motorcycles. It is difficult to estimate a motorcycle’s speed and because motorcycles are small, they are sometimes hard to see.

“We now have an epidemic of motorcycle crashes, injuries and fatalities. With the recent rise in fuel prices, we are likely to see even more motorcyclists on the road, so drivers need to be alert and look twice for motorcycles when turning left, changing lanes, and pulling out from side streets,” said Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration John Kuo. “Always allow plenty of space when following a motorcycle. While the slightest contact may only result in a fender-bender for two vehicles, it can mean a spill and probable injury for the rider of a motorcycle.”


To increase the visibility of motorcycles on the road, a new law enacted this year allows the use of LED (light emitting diode) and “blue dot” lighting to illuminate the chassis of the motorcycle. The aptly-named blue dot tail lights have red lenses with a blue translucent dot in their center, to attract other drivers’ attention when the brake light is engaged.

Operators of motorcycles must be aware that the LED lights may not be blue or red-colored, which are used by emergency response vehicles.

Definition of a Motorcycle

The new definition of motorcycle broadens the range of vehicles that may be registered as motorcycles in Maryland. Motorcycles are no longer required to have one wheel in front, which allows for a new generation of vehicles with two-wheel-in-front configurations.

Source: Maryland State Highway Administration

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