According to the most recent data available, there are approximately 8.4 million motorcycles registered in the U.S. The top five states are California, Florida, Texas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, with all but the last claiming more than 400,000 registrations each. Whether your love affair with motorcycles began at a young age, was a forgone conclusion as an activity shared by your family, or grabbed your attention later in life, there’s nothing like the feeling of being cage-free as you zip along on the open road. More complex – and more dangerous – than operating a car, riding a motorcycle is a skill that you continually develop. As a starting point, many states require successful completion of a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course as a prerequisite for getting a motorcycle license or a motorcycle endorsement on a regular driver’s license. Others require only a road test.
Once you have your license and some riding experience, you’ll undoubtedly be ready for your own bike. Deciding what motorcycle to buy can be hard, especially for new enthusiasts who have to choose between what they want and what might be best. Important factors include weight, engine size, and riding position. There are lots of advantages to having your own motorcycle. In addition to upping your street cred, they get better gas mileage than cars, often cost less to service, tend to retain their resale value, can fit in smaller spaces, and are just plain fun. Before your machine is street-legal, it has to be registered – and that requires insurance.
Insurance coverage options are numerous, though motorcyclists in most states must have at least liability insurance. This type of insurance pays the costs that stem from an accident that is your fault, minus your deductible and up to defined limits. It covers the damage done to other people’s property, the medical bills they incur, and your legal costs if they sue you. Liability limit requirements vary by state, and each policy has three parts: bodily injury for one person, bodily injury for all persons involved, and property damage. For example, if you buy insurance with a 25/50/25 limit, your insurer will pay up to $25,000 for one person’s medical treatment, up to $50,000 for all medical expenses together, and up to $25,000 for damage to property.
It is usually wise to carry more than the state-mandated amounts, which are typically fairly low. Having as much coverage as you can reasonably afford will reduce your out-of-pocket expenses in the event of a major crash where you are deemed at fault. And don’t worry if your adventures take you across state lines. Your policy will be automatically “scaled up” to meet each state’s minimum requirements. Another way to protect yourself from insufficient coverage is to buy an umbrella policy. It gives you an additional line of help to be used when your liability premium is exhausted.
Collision and Comprehensive
So, what about your losses? Collision coverage is available to pay for repairs to your motorcycle in the event of an accident, regardless of whether or not it is your fault. A 2014 report by the Highway Loss Data Institute examined collision coverage results for 2009 to 2013 model motorcycles in ten classes and found that super-sport motorcycles had the highest relative overall losses. These models had relative overall losses indexed at 345 — significantly more than the index of 100 scored by the other nine classes. It has been estimated that motorcycle crashes cost $16 billion in direct costs, such as emergency services, medical costs, property damage, loss of market productivity, loss in household productivity, and insurance costs.
You can also buy comprehensive insurance to pay for damage to your bike that does not result from an accident, such as that caused by vandalism, fire, flood, or theft. Motorcycle theft increased six percent in 2015 over the prior year to 45,555 bikes, with more being stolen in July and August than any other time of the year. The number of motorcycles stolen included 471 makes, the top 15 of which accounted for 84 percent of the total number. The top five most stolen makes were:
- American Honda Motor Co., Inc. — 8,674
- Yamaha Motor Corporation — 7,214
- American Suzuki Motor Corporation — 6,065
- Kawasaki Motors Corp., USA — 4,920
- Harley-Davidson Inc. — 4,416.
Underinsured and Uninsured
There is one more basic type of insurance that all motorcyclists should have: uninsured/underinsured coverage. These policies kick in when an at-fault driver hits you and cannot pay for the resulting property damage or bodily injury because they either have no insurance or have insufficient insurance. The unfortunate truth is that many motorcycle accidents are not the rider’s fault. For example, one study that examined a decade of crash data concluded that other motorists were at fault 60 percent of the time that there was a vehicle-motorcycle collision. Crashes almost always have serious consequences for the motorcycle operator and passenger because the lack of a metal cage, airbags, and other safety devices leave them highly vulnerable. Data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reveals that 4,586 people died in motorcycle crashes and 92,000 motorcyclists were injured in 2014 alone.
It’s important to understand that auto insurance does not cover a motorcycle unless it is specifically added to the policy. They are different machines, with different requirements, and even the “weekend” rider must carry minimum motorcycle insurance. If your bike is on the road and you get caught riding uninsured, you can get a ticket with substantial penalties. Fines and license points aside, not having insurance can cause you to forfeit the majority of any injury claim you might have. Some states do not allow drivers (including motorcyclists) to recover for any pain, suffering, or inconvenience resulting from an accident if they do not have insurance.
If you have a motorcycle that has been modified from its original shape and design, your insurance needs are different than that of standard motorcyclists. Owners of these “choppers” should have their bikes independently appraised for their real value. Because the value is subjective with these customized bikes, some companies do not insure choppers. You may have to shop around to find one that will or consult an independent insurance agent.
Vintage motorcycles also have special insurance needs. Standard motorcycle insurance bases value on depreciation over time. However, restored bikes have value built into them, and failure to take that into consideration can leave classic bikes greatly underinsured. If your vintage bike is just for show and kept in a secure location, certain risks are significantly reduced – which can save you money. Same goes for riders in places with severe winters. All coverage except comprehensive can be suspended during winter months with a lay-up policy. Furthermore, some insurance companies offer discounts for having more than one bike on a policy, carrying multiple policies, transferring from another company, being a loyal customer, having a clean driving record, having certain anti-theft devices, or being over age 50.
Note that full coverage is a bit of a misnomer. It means different things to different people and you should make it your business to be informed that your coverage is adequate. Far too many motorcyclists have discovered insufficiencies only once they are paying out-of-pocket for an accident that wasn’t their fault.
Chip Evans is an Austin motorcycle accident attorney with vast experience in representing clients who were faultless victims of vehicle accidents. A dedicated family man, Chip enjoys Texas football and backyard grilling in his spare time. Chip is also a member of the LawGuru Attorney Network.