Motorcycles are a fun and economical alternative to four wheel vehicles, but riding a motorcycle in Orange County is often dangerous and sometimes deadly. There were 977 motorcycle accidents that resulted in death or injury in Orange County in 2012.
Between 2010 and 2012, fatal motorcycle accidents in Orange County increased by 15 percent. In that same period, motorcycle registrations increased by only 5 percent.
The explanation for the Orange County increase in fatal motorcycle accidents is unclear. The causes of motorcycle accidents are easier to understand. Some are the fault of the rider. The blame for other accidents falls on careless drivers of cars and trucks. Orange County's dangerous roads add to the problem.
Explaining the increase in motorcycle fatalities
Why did the increase in fatalities occur? According to a KPCC report, traffic experts don't know the answer to that question. They suggest that rising gas prices may have induced inexperienced riders to put away their gas guzzling vehicles and to use motorcycles as their primary form of transportation. Experts point to a statistical correlation between rising gas prices and an increase in motorcycle accidents.
Increasing congestion on Orange County's highways may also be causing riders to rely on their motorcycles as primary transportation. Since California riders are permitted to engage in the practice of lane splitting, they have an advantage in stalled traffic that they would not have in a four-wheel vehicle.
Experts also speculate that the improving economy may have spurred recreational motorcyclists to spend more time (and money) pursuing their weekend hobby. Orange County's mountains and canyons provide a stimulating experience for recreational riders, but the thrill of riding on a winding road may be offset by the greater danger that a rider who takes a curve may collide with an oncoming vehicle that crossed the centerline.
Causes of Orange County motorcycle accidents
About half of all motorcycle accidents in the United States involve a collision between a motorcycle and another vehicle. Collisions endanger the vulnerable motorcyclist more than the occupants of a four wheel “cage.”
Broadside accidents are the biggest killer of riders in California motorcycle collisions. Those usually happen when a car makes a left turn in front of an oncoming motorcyclist, causing the motorcyclist to crash into the side of the car.
Head-on collisions and sideswipes account for most of the other two-vehicle accidents involving motorcycles. While rear-end collisions also injure motorcyclists, they are less common.
Some motorcycle accidents that do not involve a collision are nevertheless caused by careless drivers. When motorcyclists lose control while swerving to avoid a collision with a car that unexpectedly turned in front of them, the accident is reported as a “single vehicle crash” even though another vehicle was responsible. Unfortunately, in many of those cases the negligent driver fails to stop and is never identified.
Of course, some single vehicle motorcycle accidents are caused by riders who speed, take turns too quickly, or ride while intoxicated. Only safe and sober riders can manage the risk of riding a motorcycle on the busy streets and highways of Orange County's streets and highways.
Dangerous roads for motorcyclists
The California Highway Patrol has referred to Santiago Canyon Road as one of the most dangerous roads in Orange County. That assessment is confirmed by the number of motorcycle accidents that occur on the road. A motorcyclist was killed last year when a driver pulled out from a stop sign to make a left turn onto Santiago Canyon Road in front of the oncoming rider. Also last year, a collision with a pickup truck on Santiago Canyon Road injured a rider and passenger. Two motorcycles traveling on the road in the same direction collided in 2012.
A rare head-on collision between two motorcycles occurred on Santiago Canyon Road in 2010 when one rider crossed the center line. Both riders died. A trailing motorcycle carrying a rider and passenger were also involved in that collision. Other motorcyclists have been injured or killed while rounding a curve on the dangerous road.
Other dangerous roads for motorcyclists in Orange County include Laguna Canyon Road and the Ortega Highway (S.R. 74). Both roads feature dangerous curves that invite impatient drivers to attempt an unsafe pass on open stretches. In 2010, three motorcyclists died and 27 were injured on Ortega Highway alone.
Of course, any road can be dangerous if the driver of a four wheel vehicle is not paying attention to motorcyclists. Orange County riders should always ride defensively, with a keen awareness of the fact that drivers of cars and trucks may be oblivious to their presence.