More motorcycles are registered in California than in any other state. It shouldn't be surprising that California leads the nation in motorcycle accidents. In some years, California also has the most fatal motorcycle accidents. However, since most motorcyclists in California comply with the state's helmet law, Florida sometimes surpasses California in motorcycle accident deaths, despite having fewer registered motorcycles. Texas also comes close to California in its annual tally of fatal accidents involving motorcycles.
Motorcycle accidents are much more likely to be fatal than car accidents, simply because motorcyclists are not surrounded by a cage. When they collide with car, the car's occupants may walk away unscathed, while the motorcycle rider might suffer severe or fatal injuries.
Motorcyclists can prepare themselves for the risk of an injury by understanding the causes of motorcycle accidents. Riders who know what to expect can take action to minimize risks. While even the most careful motorcyclists might be injured in a collision with a careless driver, knowing why accidents occur can help riders anticipate and avoid dangerous situations.
Motorcycle accidents can occur anywhere, but statistics show that accidents are increasing in urban environments. That suggests that more riders are using their motorcycles to commute to work, perhaps as a way to economize on gasoline purchases.
In urban environments, most motorcycle accidents occur in intersections. In fact, several studies agree that the leading cause of accidents involving a motorcycle and another vehicle is a vehicle that makes an unexpected left turn in front of an oncoming motorcycle.
Drivers who turn left have a responsibility to yield to oncoming traffic. Drivers are less likely to do so when the oncoming vehicle is a motorcycle.
One study concluded that drivers are simply less likely to notice motorcycles than other vehicles. The small size of motorcycles relative to other vehicles is one factor that accounts for the failure to drivers to notice them, but studies also show that drivers simply aren't thinking about motorcycles and therefore aren't aware of their presence. Drivers who are licensed to ride a motorcycle are much more likely to notice motorcycles than drivers who have no experience riding motorcycles, a fact that tends to confirm lack of awareness as a reason why drivers turn left in front of motorcycles.
Another factor is that drivers tend to judge speed in terms of a vehicle's size. They tend to perceive large trucks as moving faster than their actual speed, and to perceive motorcycles as moving more slowly than their actual speed. That misperception encourages drivers to turn in front of motorcycles, often depriving motorcycles of a chance to avoid a collision with a vehicle that failed to yield to oncoming traffic.
Other Causes of Motorcycle Accidents
Multiple-vehicle accidents involving motorcycles can be caused in many other ways. Accidents can be caused when drivers:
- Fail to check blind spots and change lanes without realizing that the lane is occupied by a motorcycle
- Pull into the path of an oncoming motorcycle while passing on a two-lane road
- Disregard traffic signals or stop signs
- Send or read texts, make calls, or engage in other acts of distracted driving rather than keeping their eyes on the road
- Drive while fatigued or fall asleep at the wheel
- Drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Drive aggressively
- Drive too fast in fog, rain, or other conditions that make it difficult to see motorcycles
- Tailgate motorcycle riders
- Back out of a parking space or driveway without noticing oncoming motorcycles
Trucks also cause accidents when cargo isn't secured or when loads are not properly covered. Rocks that roll out of a dump truck or furniture that falls from a pickup truck can create road hazards that motorcycles may be unable to avoid. Equipment failures, including tires that come apart, can also imperil motorcycle riders who must make evasive maneuvers to avoid the hazard.
The insurance industry suggests that most motorcycle accidents are caused by motorcyclists, but that's a convenient excuse to avoid paying claims. Still, a significant percentage of motorcycle accidents do not involve collisions.
Some of those accidents are nevertheless caused by other drivers. When a car swerves into a lane occupied by a motorcyclist, forcing the motorcycle into a ditch to avoid a collision, insurance companies will record the accident as involving a single vehicle. That accident is lumped in with all other single-vehicle accidents that the insurance industry attributes to motorcycle riders rather than drivers of cars or trucks.
When single-vehicle accidents actually are the motorcycle rider's fault, the causes tend to be:
- An inexperienced rider hasn't learned how to control the motorcycle
- Riding under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Taking a turn too fast
- Driving too fast for road conditions
- Driving too fast over speed bumps or railroad ties
- Riding on the wrong side of the road
Of course, some accidents are nobody's fault. A flat tire or broken chain may cause a rider to lose control. Unless the rider failed to maintain the bike, equipment failures aren't the rider's responsibility.
Understanding the causes of motorcycle accidents helps riders anticipate dangerous situations. Some simple rules for defensive riding can help riders avoid accidents:
- Improve visibility by wearing bright clothing or flying a flag
- When approaching an intersection, expect an oncoming driver to make a left turn, whether or not the driver is signaling a turn
- Take a cab after having more than one drink
- Don't ride in a driver's blind spot
- Avoid lane splitting
- Leave plenty of room when following a car or truck
- Be aware of driveways and merging lanes
- Exercise extra caution on blind curves, where cars may enter the road unexpectedly
- Don't pass on a curve
- Inspect your motorcycle regularly
- Slow down when roads might be rough or covered with sand
- If you traded in your old bike for a new one, get used to handling it before you drive at highway speeds
Motorcycle accident lawyers know that safe driving doesn't prevent every accident. We also know that motorcycle riders are particularly vulnerable in a collision. Constant awareness of that vulnerability should help motorcyclists enjoy the ride while riding defensively.