Although human error, environmental conditions, impaired drivers, and unsafe driving are the most common causes of motorcycle accidents, they are sometimes caused by mechanical malfunction, often because of poor maintenance practices, but occasionally because of a defect that was created during the design or manufacturing process. Sometimes such defects aren't discovered or reported until they have caused many injuries or even deaths. It should be noted that if you have suffered injury or property damage that you suspect was caused by a defective part or design, it's vitally important to retain the counsel of a qualified attorney that has experience with litigation involving motorcycles. When damages have occurred that the manufacturer, distributor, or dealer might be liable for, you'll need legal representation to ensure your rights are protected.
The Recall Process
When a defect is discovered in a motorcycle, such as a malfunctioning part or design flaw, the federal government or the manufacturer will usually instigate a safety recall of the motorcycles affected. For example, in April of 2015 Harley-Davidson voluntarily recalled 46,000 motorcycles because of clutches that wouldn't fully disengage, possibly causing the motorcycle to stay in gear and the rider to lose control. In any given year there will be several recalls of motorcycles for reasons ranging from minor to serious.
The government sets vehicle safety standards that define minimum levels of performance from the parts of a vehicle that can affect its safe operation, including brakes, tires, steering components, lights, fuel systems, and also other safety equipment such as helmets and goggles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the agency tasked with creating safety standards for motorcycles, and also the one responsible for issuing safety recalls when a defect is uncovered, if the manufacturer doesn't do so first. Once a recall order has been issued, the manufacturer is required to submit a public report with the following information:
- A description of the defect
- What vehicles are affected
- Any major incidents that caused the recall to be issued
- A description of how the defect can be corrected
- A calendar schedule for the recall
Manufacturers have a responsibility to make a reasonable attempt to notify the owners of any recalled vehicles. This is usually accomplished by combining their own records of sales with the registration records from each state's motor vehicle division. They are also required to notify each dealer in their chain of distribution.
By law, manufacturers are required to correct any defects serious enough to warrant a recall at no cost to the consumer. They may also replace the vehicle or issue a refund at their discretion. This is true even when the consumer didn't receive notice of the recall.
Recall Resources and Reporting a Defect
The NHTSA monitors each recall to ensure compliance, and also publicizes them by publishing a monthly list of current recalls. In addition, the NHTSA has a free online resource where consumers can input the vehicle identification number (VIN) of their motorcycle to find out if there are any recalls affecting it. They can also call the Auto Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236 to check recalls and the safety history of any vehicle.
If you suspect that a motorcycle has a defect, you should report it to the NHTSA at the hotline above or by visiting www.safercar.gov. The agency will conduct an investigation to determine if a recall is warranted.