Motorcyclists are usually all too aware of the reasons for accidents. Sometimes, it’s because the driver of a car didn’t see them. Other times, it’s road conditions and hazards. But, perhaps surprisingly, sometimes accidents are caused by—or made worse by—defective parts that make your motorcycle hazardous to ride.
Parts and the Dangers to the Rider
If you own a motorcycle, understanding the perils of defective parts is important for your own personal safety. Any rider knows that what might be a minor accident to someone in a car, where they are surrounded by metal, can involve major injuries to a rider with no steel cage protecting them.
It’s also important to be aware of the dangers of defective parts for legal reasons. If you are injured in an accident that involves a faulty part, it’s possible you could have a personal injury claim against the parts manufacturer, supplier, or distributor. You might also have cause for a class action lawsuit. In 2010, one such suit involved defective piston rings, which created a serious crash risk due to engine malfunction.
When parts fail, they can cause an accident or injure the rider in ways that would not have happened, nor been as severe, if the part had been operating properly. A motorcyclist is nearly 26 times more likely to die in an accident than someone who is riding in a motor vehicle. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 4,668 motorcyclists died and 88,000 were injured in accidents during 2013 alone. Therefore, knowing your risks with regard to defective parts could save your life.
How Can It Be Determined a Part Is Defective?
Generally, there are three main ways in which a part can be found to be malfunctioning:
- The product was made improperly and therefore does not work correctly. An example of this could be substandard tires that blow out at highway speed, causing a catastrophic accident.
- The product’s design is defective. Usually, this means a recall will be issued by the manufacturer. Sometimes the defect is remedied by adding a safety element rather than replacing the part.
- No warning was issued by the manufacturer regarding the part. For example, a bike part could become extremely hot and burn you, or even set your clothing on fire, as actually happened, and was addressed, in a 2011 suit. But, if you were not warned of the part’s known problems, it’s considered a malfunctioning part.
The Duties of Manufacturers
If a defective part is determined to be a safety hazard, the NHTSA requires the manufacturer to file a public report, whether it is a motor vehicle or a motorcycle. In that report, the manufacturer must describe:
- The safety-related defect
- The make, model, and year of the involved vehicle or motorcycle
- The events that led to determining that a recall is needed
- How the manufacturer intends to remedy the safety-related defect
- The recall’s schedule.
Under federal law, the manufacturer must fix any safety-related defect at no cost to you, even if you don’t receive an official notification of the recall.
Aftermarket Parts That Can Create Hazards
Parts sold in the aftermarket that owners use to modify their bikes can also create problems resulting in accidents. Some items that are not covered by federal safety standards can be incredibly dangerous to use. One example of such a part is a passenger seat that uses only suction cups to secure it to a motorcycle. You can only imagine what might happen to the passenger should the suction cups fail.
The NHTSA has the legal right to go after civil penalties against aftermarket parts companies that market noncompliant products. Not all safety experts believe civil penalties to be sufficient. Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, said, “There are people out there selling parts that NHTSA doesn’t even know about. What you have is self-policing. Whether companies comply with the regulations is basically voluntary on their part because NHTSA doesn’t have the resources to oversee them.”
If you are a motorcycle enthusiast, please drive carefully, and should you receive a recall notice, be sure to have your bike repaired promptly. Also, take care when using aftermarket parts to “trick out” your ride. We want you to stay alive!