Whether you ride recreationally on weekends or commute to work every day, motorcycling can be dangerous. The danger is compounded by drivers of passenger vehicles who disregard their responsibility to share the road with motorcyclists.
An average of 90,000 motorcycle riders are injured in accidents every year. Many of those accidents result from careless drivers who fail to yield to motorcycle riders. Motorcycle accident victims who are injured by negligent drivers have the right to pursue compensation, as do families of motorcyclists who are killed due to the fault of a careless driver. Motorcycle accident lawyers are available to defend your rights.
Facts about motorcycle accidents
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), only 3% of registered vehicles are motorcycles. In 2013, however, 14% of all traffic accident fatalities involved motorcycle riders or motorcycle passengers. Per mile traveled, motorcycle deaths occurred 26 times more often than deaths of occupants of other vehicles.
It is difficult to say whether certain kinds of motorcycles are more likely to be involved in a crash. More standard or cruiser models were involved in crashes in 2013 than any other type, but they are also more prevalent than other types of motorcycles. It may be telling, however, that “supersport” models (high performance bikes that are built for speed) occupied the second spot in fatal motorcycle accidents.
Improvements in motorcycle safety technology may help prevent motorcycle accidents. Many safety features are available only as options, although some are standard equipment on models. New safety technologies include:
- Antilock brake systems
- Full disc brakes
- Traction control
- Extra bright headlights
- Bias-ply tires
- Airbags (still relatively uncommon)
In addition, riders can protect themselves from injury by wearing the right gear. A crashworthy helmet is crucial. A leather jacket provides protection from road rash, while waterproof apparel will allow a warm and dry rider to stay focused on the road when it rains.
Types of motorcycle accidents
Motorcycle accidents can be broken into two broad categories: those involving a collision between a motorcycle and at least one other vehicle (multiple-vehicle accidents) and those that only involve the motorcyclist (single-vehicle accidents). Examples of single-vehicle accidents include:
- Sliding out – “lowsider” crashes. “Sliding out” occurs when a motorcycle slides across the pavement after the front or rear tire loses its grip on the road. A “lowsider” crash occurs when the side of the motorcycle nearest the ground hits the road. They usually occur when a rider loses control on a curve or turn.
- Sliding out – “highsider” crashes. A “highsider” occurs when the rear wheel loses traction and suddenly regains its grip on the road, causing the motorcycle to move violently. Highsiders often sending the rider flying off the bike.
- Collisions with a fixed object. Striking the guard rail at the side of the road is a common example.
Multiple-vehicle accidents involve collisions between the motorcycle and another vehicle. They include:
- Side-impact collision with vehicle. The motorcycle strikes the side of a car or truck, usually because the driver made an unexpected left turn in front of the motorcycle.
- Side-impact collision with motorcycle. A driver strikes the side of the motorcycle. These accidents often occur in intersections when the driver fails to yield or runs a light.
- Sideswipe collisions. The side of a moving motorcycle comes into contact with the side of a moving car or truck. Sideswipes often result from a car changing lanes without realizing that a motorcycle is occupying the adjacent lane. They can also occur when the rider engages in “lane splitting” (riding alongside or passing cars in the same lane of traffic).
- Head-on collision. Either the motorcycle or an oncoming vehicle crosses the center lane, causing the front of the vehicle to strike the motorcycle’s front wheel.
- Rear-end collision with vehicle. The motorcycle hits the rear of a car or truck, usually when it is stopped in traffic.
- Rear-end collision with motorcycle. A car or truck fails to stop before crashing into the rear of a motorcycle. Rear-end collisions often result when the motorcyclist is forced to slow or stop quickly to avoid a road hazard.
- Open car doors. A driver opens a car door into the path of an approaching motorcycle.
- Motorcycle versus motorcycle. Two or more motorcycles colliding with each other is uncommon. It is most likely to happen during rallies or other situations when a number of motorcyclists are gathered together.
Causes of motorcycle accidents
Insurance companies often claim that single-vehicle crashes are the most common motorcycle accidents. However, when a motorcyclist veers into a ditch to avoid crashing into a car that has abruptly changed lanes, insurers typically treat the crash as a single-vehicle accident even though it was caused by another driver.
Causes of single-vehicle motorcycle accidents that do not involve another vehicle include:
- Taking a corner too fast
- Losing control due to excessive speed
- Losing control due to overbraking
- Losing control due to lack of experience or inadequate training
- Losing control due to unfamiliarity with a motorcycle’s characteristics (for example, riding a supersport motorcycle after training on a conventional motorcycle)
- Impairment due to alcohol or drug consumption
- Poor road conditions, including wet roads and loose gravel
- Driving too fast over railroad tracks or speedbumps
- Unexpected obstructions in the road (like a muffler that fell from a car or an animal crossing the road)
- Objects thrown from a car that hit the rider in the face
- Flat tires, broken chains, and other mechanical failures
According to the comprehensive Hurt Report, most motorcycle accidents involve another vehicle. Two-thirds of those are caused by a driver’s failure to yield to a motorcyclist. The Hurt Report established that a driver turning left in front of an oncoming motorcyclist is the most common cause of multiple-vehicle motorcycle accidents.
While the 1981 Hurt Report is somewhat dated, a recent study of data over a ten year period in Florida confirmed that most accidents involving a motorcycle and another vehicle are the fault of the other vehicle’s driver. Like the Hurt Report, the study found that drivers who make a left turn in front of a motorcycle are the leading cause of car versus motorcycle collisions. A researcher who analyzed the data for the University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research explained that drivers either fail to see motorcycles or misjudge the speed at which a motorcycle is traveling.
Misjudging speed is a function of the relative sizes of motorcycles and cars. People perceive small objects as traveling more slowly than their actual speed while they perceive larger objects as moving faster than their true speed. Since motorcycles are smaller than cars and trucks, drivers tend to think they have time to turn in front of the motorcycle without causing the motorcyclist to slow down. That misperception leads to collisions.
Drivers also fail to notice motorcyclists. The Florida researcher pointed to survey results that show drivers who have a motorcycle endorsement on their licenses are more likely to be aware of motorcycles on the road than drivers who do not ride motorcycles. Lack of awareness that a driver is sharing the road with motorcyclists contributes to collisions between cars and motorcycles.
Other causes of multiple-vehicle motorcycle crashes include:
- A driver fails to check the car’s blind spot before changing lanes
- A driver attempts to pass another driver without observing an oncoming motorcycle
- A driver disregards traffic lights or a stop sign
- A driver is inattentive due to texting, fatigue, or some other factor that takes the driver’s eyes off the road
- Alcohol or drug consumption by the driver or the motorcyclist
- Aggressive driving by a hostile driver
- A driver’s view of the motorcyclist is limited by glare or obstructed by other vehicles
- Weather conditions reduce the visibility of the motorcycle
- A driver backing out of a parking space or driveway fails to look behind the vehicle in all directions
- A motorcyclist’s inexperience or lack of training limits the rider’s ability to avoid a collision
- A driver does not realize that a motorcyclist is lane-splitting
- A driver tailgates or fails to leave adequate stopping distance while following a motorcycle
Types of motorcycle accident injuries
Motorcycles do not give riders and their passengers the same protection as the “cage” in which occupants of four-wheel vehicles ride. Statistics compiled in the Hurt report indicate that 98% of multiple-vehicle collisions and 96% of single-vehicle motorcycle accidents result in injury to the motorcycle rider. More than 45% of all accidents result in serious injuries to the motorcyclist.
Whether or not single-vehicle motorcycle accidents are more common than multiple-vehicle accidents, insurance data consistently shows that multiple-vehicle accidents are deadlier. About 58% of motorcycle rider deaths occur in multiple-vehicle collisions, compared to 42% in single-vehicle accidents.
Injuries that result from multiple-vehicle motorcycle accidents include:
- Death. Multiple-vehicle motorcycle accidents are more likely to result in a fatal injury than single-vehicle motorcycle accidents.
- Head and brain injuries. These commonly occur when the rider’s head hits the ground. Less often, they are caused by the rider’s head striking the other vehicle or a fixed object. Brain injuries are among the most serious motorcycle accident outcomes. They can cause permanent disabilities and, in some cases, a loss of independence.
- Spinal injuries. Fractures of vertebrae in the neck and back, as well as damage to the spinal cord and its ligaments and disks, can lead to paralysis and other disabilities. One study found that the greatest risk of spinal injury comes when a vehicle crashes into the rear of a motorcycle.
- Facial injuries. Broken noses and serious scarring result from a rider’s face making contact with the road.
- Eye injuries. These are more common when riders do not wear helmets that provide eye protection.
- Broken bones. Ribs, hips, pelvic bones, and bones in the legs, arms, hands, and feet are particularly vulnerable in motorcycle accidents.
- Organ injuries. The blunt force impact of a motorcycle rider’s body striking the ground can damage the spleen, kidneys, and other vital organs.
- Thoracic and abdominal injuries. Among other causes, injuries to the chest wall, lungs, and abdomen occur when the motorcycle overturns on top of the rider, crushing the rider’s chest or middle torso.
- Bleeding. Severe blood loss, often the result of a serious head injury, can be fatal. Internal bleeding is extremely dangerous and not always immediately apparent.
- Burns. According to the Hurt Report, fuel spills that create the risk of fire are present in 62% of motorcycle crashes. Painful and disfiguring burn injuries can also occur when an unconscious motorcycle rider’s body comes to rest against the motorcycle’s hot engine.
- Groin injuries. Much more common in motorcycle accidents than in car accidents, groin injuries occur in front-impact collisions that drive the rider forward after the motorcycle stops moving, bringing the groin into violent contact with the motorcycle’s fork or handlebars.
- Soft tissue injuries. Torn or stretched muscles, ligaments, and tendons can lead to long-lasting back, shoulder, neck, elbow, and wrist pain. Some soft tissue injuries — particularly knee injuries — can be disabling and may require surgical repair, including joint replacement.
- Road rash. Scrapes, cuts, and a loss of skin occur when the rider’s body skids along the surface of a road.
Durable jackets, gloves, and boots are a safeguard against road rash. Crashworthy motorcycle helmets help prevent brain injuries and death, but they cannot provide complete protection against a serious or fatal head or neck injury.
What you should do after a motorcycle accident?
If you are involved in a motorcycle accident with another vehicle, there are steps you should take to protect your rights, as well as your health.
- Wait for help. Do not try to move if you may have experienced a head, neck, or back injury. Let a paramedic place you in a neck brace and move you on a backboard to avoid making your injury worse.
- Wait for the police. You should exchange your name and address with the other driver if you are fit to do so, but do not talk about the accident with the driver.
- Talk to the investigating police officer instead. Of course, if paramedics want to take you to the hospital before the officer can interview you, cooperate with the paramedics.
- Get medical attention. Even if you do not feel that you were seriously injured, you should have your injuries documented by medical professionals. The settlement value of your claim (as well as proof of injury in a trial) depends upon complete and accurate medical records. Do not be shy about reporting your pain, sleep disturbances, and the impact that your injuries are having on your day-to-day life.
- Contact a personal injury attorney. Talk to an attorney rather than an insurance adjuster. You need advice about how to maximize the compensation you receive for your injuries. Your attorney is your advocate. The insurance adjuster for the driver who was at fault is not on your side.
- Take pictures of your damaged motorcycle and of your injuries as soon as you can. Show them to your attorney. Ask your attorney whether your motorcycle should be preserved in its damaged condition for use as evidence.
- Follow through on medical treatment. The failure to keep doctor’s appointments or to continue with physical therapy until discharged is the single factors that most often reduces the settlement value of motorcycle injury claims. Even if appointments are inconvenient and treatment is painful, do whatever your medical professionals ask you to do. If you disregard their advice, an insurance adjuster (and possibly a jury) will assume that you did not follow through because your injuries healed.
- Cooperate with your motorcycle accident lawyer. Your attorney will give you good advice about the steps you need to take to maximize your recovery. Listen to that advice and follow it.