Motorcycle Deaths in Virginia Rose 50 Percent Last Year: What You Need to Know

More and more Virginians are riding motorcycles. Unfortunately, too many riders are dying on the road. In fact, the number of motorcycle fatalities in our state increased massively between 2016 and 2017.

If you ride a motorcycle or you’ve lost someone in a motorcycle accident, it’s important that you know your legal rights. In this article, we’ll talk about some of the reasons behind the growing annual number of motorcycle fatalities and discuss what you can do if you or someone you love has been affected.

Virginia Has One of the Highest Motorcycle Death Rates in the U.S.

The annual number of motorcycle deaths in Virginia spiked almost 50 percent in 2017, rising from 72 the previous year to 107 — the highest number in the state in more than a decade. Meanwhile, another 770 riders suffered serious injuries during the same period.

Even more troubling for riders in Virginia is the fact that the Commonwealth’s problem with fatal motorcycle crashes doesn’t line up with trends in the rest of the country. According to the Governors’ Highway Safety Association (GHSA), nationwide motorcycle deaths fell an estimated 6% during the same period that Virginia saw a massive increase.

Demographic data on motorcycle crash victims in Virginia only seems to raise more questions about the nature of the problem. While you might expect that younger motorcycle riders would be the most likely to die in a crash, older riders make up the largest portion (42%) of motorcycle fatality victims in Virginia. Meanwhile, only 22% of fatal motorcycle crash victims are in their 20s. Experts speculate that this disparity may exist because older riders tend to do less research when buying and are more likely to pick motorcycles that don’t match their riding abilities and experience.

And while alcohol and drugs are a significant cause of single-vehicle motorcycle wrecks, the majority of motorcycle fatalities occur in multi-vehicle crashes and are much less likely to involve any intoxication on the part of riders or even other drivers. In fact, Virginia saw an overall decrease in alcohol-related crashes, injuries, and DUI convictions in 2017.

Why Are Virginia Motorcycle Accidents So Dangerous?

So why did Virginia motorcycle riders die at such an alarming rate in 2017? Experts are still investigating the matter and trying to answer that question. However, certain known factors tend to make Virginia roads especially hazardous for motorcycle riders.

For one thing, Virginia’s roads are bustling, and the weather and elevation can change quickly. These factors increase the risk of a deadly wreck, especially if you’re riding a motorcycle and aren’t protected by airbags, collision avoidance systems, and seatbelts.

Other common causes of motorcycle fatalities include:

  • Speeding
  • Following another vehicle too closely
  • Making improper lane changes
  • Swerving or maneuvering unpredictably to avoid another vehicle
  • Driving too fast for weather and road conditions
  • Driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs

However, while motorcycle rider behavior undoubtedly accounts for a share of fatal crashes, many experts believe that higher rates of distracted driving are behind the troubling increase in motorcycle deaths.

Unfortunately, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) doesn’t currently have enough data to connect the rise in motorcycle fatalities to increased rates of distracted driving among car and truck drivers. And studies show that motorcycle riders are also increasingly prone to distracted driving themselves, which may partly explain the rise in deaths. According to the GHSA, Virginia highway safety officials reported a 113% increase in distracted riding in 2017.

How Can We Keep Motorcycle Riders Safe?

Both motorcycle riders and drivers have a responsibility to keep our roads safe. All drivers should follow our state’s traffic laws, including laws that regulate speed limits, safe passing, and right-of-way rules.

If you ride a motorcycle, safety experts agree that you should:

  • Wear a helmet and protective gear every time you ride
  • Regularly maintain your motorcycle’s brakes, tires, lights, and other systems
  • Get training on motorcycle safety if you’re a new or returning rider
  • Only operate a motorcycle that’s appropriate for your skill level
  • Avoid interacting with GPS systems and other onboard screens while riding a motorcycle
  • Never use your cell phone while you ride
  • Never operate a motorcycle while intoxicated

Also, if you want to help make our roads safer for all motorcycle riders, you should contact your representatives and ask them to do something about Virginia’s weak distracted driving laws. Our state’s current distracted driving laws only ban texting while driving rather than general mobile phone and electronic device use, and the laws are nearly impossible to enforce as written. Unfortunately, recent attempts to strengthen Virginia’s distracted driving laws haven’t succeeded.

How to Protect Your Legal Rights After a Motorcycle Accident

Virginia motorcyclists must follow the same insurance laws as car owners. If you choose to purchase motorcycle insurance, you must carry at least the state-mandated minimum amount of liability and uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage.

However, we strongly encourage all drivers, including motorcycle riders, to purchase comprehensive coverage with limits higher than the state-mandated minimums. If the unthinkable happens, you’ll have higher liability and UM/UIM policy limits protecting you, and you’ll also have coverage for medical expenses and loss of income.

It’s important to note that Virginia auto liability insurance is fault-based. In other words, your liability insurance policy, which covers property and bodily injury claims, only pays for other people’s claims when your actions or negligence caused the crash. However, if you have coverage for medical expenses or loss of income insurance, these policies can provide you with compensation after a crash no matter who was at fault.

RELATED ARTICLE: The Basics of Virginia Auto Insurance: What You Need to Know

Unfortunately, Virginia law applies an unfair theory called pure contributory negligence to personal injury claims. This theory states that if you, the victim, played any role — even a tiny one — in causing your injuries, then you’re not eligible to receive any compensation.

This type of law is particularly slanted against motorcycle riders. While most motorcycle riders are responsible and conscientious, there is an unfair stereotype that paints people who ride motorcycles as reckless and wild. Insurance companies know about this stereotype, and they try to use it to their advantage to avoid paying fair compensation to crash victims.

Because of Virginia’s pure contributory negligence law and the existing stereotypes about riders, you might find that the insurance company immediately tries to blame you immediately after a motorcycle crash, even if you did nothing wrong. That’s why it’s always in your best interest to consult an experienced personal injury lawyer before you file a motorcycle accident claim.

If the worst happens and you suffer injuries in a motorcycle wreck, call 911 and seek immediate medical attention. Motorcycle injuries are often serious, and they tend to require significant treatment, including surgeries, rehabilitation, and hospitalization. The sooner you get medical care, the better your outlook for recovery.

If possible, you should also gather information about the crash, including photos of the crash site and the names of the other drivers and witnesses. Next, you’ll want to file insurance claims with the negligent driver’s auto insurance company and your personal insurance policies.

An experienced injury lawyer should be able to carefully investigate the circumstances of the crash, preventing the insurance company from blaming you unfairly and looking for the true causes of the wreck that injured you. These causes might include not only negligence on the part of the other driver but also product liability claims involving dangerous or defective auto or motorcycle parts.

Phelan Petty: Attorneys for Seriously Injured Victims in Virginia

At Phelan Petty, we specialize in handling catastrophic injury claims. We know how deeply a serious motorcycle crash can impact the victim and their family.

After a devastating wreck, you need a personal injury lawyer who will give your case the time and attention it deserves so you can focus on your recovery. We can provide the dedication and expertise that’s required to win complex personal injury cases. We also work with respected medical and crash reconstruction experts and use our trial-tested strategies to fight for our clients.

To schedule your free consultation today, contact Phelan Petty by filling out our simple online form or calling 866.249.3164. We’ll listen to your story, evaluate your case, and inform you about your rights and legal options, all at no financial risk to you.


Motorcyclist traffic fatalities by state: 2017 preliminary data. (2018, May). Governors Highway Safety Association. Retrieved from

Virginia Highway Safety Office. (2018). 2017 Virginia traffic crash facts. Richmond, VA: Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. Retrieved from

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.