TortsProf Blog

Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Widener Commonwealth Law School

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Roethlisberger & Torts

No, the Steelers' QB is not suing anyone over his serious motorcycle crash.  But Gregg Easterbrook (of the Broookings Institution, Atlantic Monthly, and, for these purposes, has some interesting comments about the bike Roethlisberger was riding:

Roethlisberger was straddling . . . a Suzuki Hayabusa, advertised by the manufacturer as "the fastest production bike on the planet." The Hayabusa has a 160-horsepower engine, same as the new Ford Fusion sedan. But the motorcycle weighs 478 pounds, while a Fusion tips the scales at 3,101 pounds. This means a Hayabusa throbs with seven times the horsepower-to-weight ratio of a modern car. Another vehicle with a 160-horsepower engine is the Cessna 172 Skyhawk, with a maximum takeoff weight of 2,450 pounds. Roethlisberger's bike had five times the power-to-weight ratio of an airplane, and minimum-weight criteria dominate aircraft design.  [Other "look at how crazy fast it is" materials omitted.]

Like all max-performance bikes, the Hayabusa is basically a big engine with two wheels and a seat. There are no safety mechanisms: no roll bars, no shoulder harness, no impact-absorbing beams, no air bags, not even bumpers. Acceleration of max-performance motorcycles is wildly disproportionate to driving needs. The only real use of the acceleration ability is road rage -- to drag-race from stoplights, cut others off in traffic, speed like mad. Perhaps you've been on a highway when a couple colorful high-performance bikes have roared past you at far over the speed limit. The people on the bikes may be morons, which is their problem. But their antisocial behavior is your problem, since vehicles moving significantly faster than the speed of traffic are a leading cause of accidents.

This column isn't much of a fan of the tort bar, yet wonders why litigators have not put the Hayabusa and similar overpowered bikes out of business. High-performance street motorcycles are socially irresponsible, and designed without regard for the safety of riders. Roethlisberger and others who buy high-performance bikes don't wish anyone harm, they're just looking for an ego rocket. But harm is what they cause, and legislatures should intervene. The Constitution says you've got a right to own a gun and to read a newspaper; firearms and materials related to First Amendment political, artistic and religious expression are the only categories of purchases with specific constitutional protection. Race a mega-motorcycle on a private track? Sure. But public roads are subject to public regulation. Our nation's laws do not confer any "right" to operate on public roads a high-horsepower bike, anymore than there's a "right" to drive a bulldozer down the middle of an interstate. It is past time the high-horsepower motorcycle was regulated off the roads. The intended use of these bikes is lawbreaking!

Easterbrook continues discussing the new Revolution football helmet.

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