Riding a motorcycle is about freedom, fun and fantastic transportation. It is a lifestyle that is undeniable once you learn what it is about. But it also comes with a significant amount of danger due to drivers who make terrible choices that can change the life of the motorcyclist in the splitting of a second. There are over 5,000,000 motorcycles on the road and only 74,000 are involved in accidents annually. That is about 1.5%. Compare that to cars, where there are just under 130,000,000,000 cars on the road, but over 6,700,000 of them are in accidents every year! That is almost 5% of cars getting in a wreck. Unfortunately, the level of injury in a motorcycle accident is a lot worse than the average car accident injury. It makes common sense. Riding a motorcycle, you don’t have a metal box surrounding you, you don’t have a seatbelt, and most motorcyclists don’t have an airbag. In fact, you are 35 times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident on a motorcycle compared to a car. Even though the statistics about getting in an accident are appealing from a motorcycle’s perspective, it is important to know all the ways cars can mess up the motorcyclist and to do your best to avoid these common accident situations.
The most common and most dangerous situation for motorcyclists is when an oncoming vehicle is making a LEFT-HAND TURN. We have a division devoted to the left turn case. Over 42% of all motorcycle accidents involve a car or truck making a left turn. This can happen when the motorcyclist is driving straight through an intersection. The left turning driver simply does not see the motorcyclist and turns into them at a point in time when the perception/reaction speed of the motorcyclist does not allow them to avoid the collision. It is usually completely unexpected because the motorcyclist is 100% not at fault and the driver simply did not see the motorcycle. We have a number of drivers who testified under oath at their deposition that the “motorcycle must have been speeding because it came out of nowhere!” Clearly, the second half of that analysis is not true. Motorcycles are not falling out of the sky. They are coming from the direction the road was going. The first half of the statement could be true. Some motorcyclists do speed. In our cases, we have used engineers to reconstruct the accident and in almost every case the motorcyclist was NOT speeding. We have also called visual sightline engineers to testify how a driver’s mind can look directly as an oncoming motorcycle and fail to register it.
For some reason, the human mind does not adequately perceive the motorcycle. Another issue is when the driver says they saw the motorcycle and it must have been speeding because it got to the intersection so fast. Again, we obtained expert analysis and again the driver was wrong. The motorcycles are not speeding. The human mind does not do a good job estimating the oncoming speed of a motorcycle. The small size of the bike can make a driver think it is farther away then it is in reality and they can turn right in front of the motorcycle. Some left turn cases happen when the motorcycle is passing or overtaking a car on the left and the car doesn’t realize the motorcycle is there. When they look at their rearview mirror or side mirror the drivers either do not see the motorcycle or see him but the driver’s mind somehow ignores that data. Then the driver turns into the left lane without warning and hits the motorcycle which is either beside the car or just passing the front of the car. Keep in mind, you should NEVER pass a car on the left when there is no lane, or try to share the lane with the car. Another car can’t do this maneuver so easily, but the small size, blazing pick up, and nimbleness of the motorcycle make the maneuver tempting. Don’t do it. It is dangerous.
The second most common motorcycle accident is the head-on collision. This is an awful situation because it involves a car or truck running into the front of a motorcyclist. Over 75% of car/motorcycle accidents happen where the vehicle hits the motorcycle from the front, this statistic includes the left turn cases above but shows how often cars and trucks fail to recognize the motorcycle is around. It is only in a minority of cases that the car hits the motorcycle from the rear.
The third most common motorcycle wreck is caused when the motorcycle engages in lane splitting. Lane splitting is when a motorcycle rides between two cars that are parallel in the lanes in front of the motorcycle. This usually happens when the car in front is both traveling about the same speed and neither car is passing the other. Along comes a motorcycle, which is traveling faster than the two parallel cars and wants to get in front of them. After waiting for a few minutes frustration sets in and the motorcyclist will attempt to ride right between the two cars. This is an easy cause of an accident because the motorcycle is riding exceptionally close to two vehicles and that reduced space does not provide any of the drivers or the rider the capacity to make any mistake. Further, the cars don’t anticipate the maneuver, may not have noticed the motorcycle and could startle and drive too close to the motorcyclist. Lane splitting is illegal and will not only cause the motorcyclist to have a possible civil or criminal case against them but will also harm their ability to claim any damages for the accident.
The next most common cause of motorcycle accidents is malfeasance. This means stuff the motorcyclist does wrong, predominantly speeding and use of drugs or alcohol while driving. There is a saying that “speed kills” in sports. That saying has a positive connotation. If you are fast and quick in sports it is great. But in motorcycle riding, speed kills is not a positive saying. It is hard enough to let the drivers around the motorcycle understand and anticipate the motorcycle and its speed. To add additional speed or poor driving due to drugs or alcohol is to add salt to the wound. Don’t do it. It hurts you and everyone around you! Did you know that over 50% of single motorcycle accidents (no car or truck participation) are caused by speed or drugs and alcohol?
Going down the list are motorcycle which hit objects that are fixed. That means street signs, poles, and other objects that simply don’t move. This can happen for a number of reasons. Sometimes it is because of the poor driving habits of the motorcyclist, but more often it is due to the poor driving habits of those around the motorcycle. Drivers are distracted texting, Facebooking, Snap Chatting, and all other forms of electronic attention diminishing activity and they literally run the motorcyclist into a fixed object. These collisions will make up about a quarter of all motorcycle-related deaths but make up less than 1/5 of car deaths. The same is true of road hazards. Motorcycles face deadly hazards when they drive by barrels, road work, slick pavement, uneven surfaces or uneven lane heights and other irregularities that cars can drive right over. As a motorcyclist, you need to be acutely aware of the dangers you are facing when you drive by any road hazard.
Finally, we put the high-performance bikes in their own category. There is a number of reasons for this. First, there are both High-Performance Motorcycles and Super High Performance or “Super Sport” bikes, which travel at up to 160 MPH. These sportbikes have the same racing platforms as real racing motorcycles. They are slightly modified so they are “street safe.” This does not mean the maturity of the rider is “street safe.” Statistically, most of the riders interested in riding a sport or supersport motorcycle are young men. Some of them ride their motorcycle in a way that could be termed “irresponsible” and put themselves in a bad position. We know we must strike from the jury anyone who has that negative connotation in their head about motorcyclists. These drivers, who fly by highway traffic, cutting in and out of traffic at triple-digit speeds, scaring most people as they pass by due to the furor of the sound and exceptional speed of the small passing object, are NOT helping lawyers who are fighting to get justice of those motorcyclists hit by irresponsible drivers. The amount of prejudice toward motorcyclists is incredible, mostly due to the young supersport riders.
There are many ways to get hurt riding a motorcycle. The most common is clearly when the car or driver simply does see you. It is interesting and a bit scary that motorcyclists can minimize the risk of riding by exhibiting safe responsible riding behavior. Not lane splitting or passing on the left when no lane is available. But the clear majority is when the car does not see the motorcycle and simply runs them down. Therefore, you must always ride a motorcycle with your head on a swivel. Know everything around you. Anticipate a car cutting you off at every single intersection. If you ride your bike in this defensive posture you will speed up your perception-reaction time and avoid many unpleasant motorcycle car or truck collisions!