The 12 Most Common Causes of Motorcycle Accidents
While the causes of motorcycle accidents are varied, one factor will always be constant for motorcyclists: Preventing accidents before they happen is paramount.
We take many approaches to accident prevention, doing everything we can to ensure drivers on the road can see us and know we’re coming.
Highly-visible and highly-reflective clothing, louder exhaust pipes, brighter lights, brighter signals: You name it, we’ve tried it.
But despite our best efforts, distracted driving or bad judgment can still lead motorists into our paths, leading to serious injury or even worse.
What’s even more concerning is that according to a 2019 study on driver psychology by the ACRS, even when a driver is looking right at you, their brains may still fail to “perceive” motorcycles as vehicles, and they may go right on driving as if you weren’t there at all.
Below we’ll take a look at some of the most common causes of motorcycle accidents we come across as attorneys, all of which are 100% preventable and could be liable for compensation.
Unsafe Lane Changes
Nothing fits snugly into a vehicle’s blind spot quite so well as a fast motorcycle.
Which is bad news for us riders, because many motorists will give little or no warning when changing lanes if they think the coast is clear.
Combine that with the fact that a motorcycle is much more agile and better equipped to navigate through busy traffic, whether they’re splitting lanes or moving between smaller spaces between vehicles, and you’ve often got a sure-fire recipe to trade some paint with an oblivious driver from an unsafe or illegal lane change.
Front End Crashes
Motorcycles are equipped with much higher performing brakes than other vehicles on the road, but even the latest fire-breathing race bikes out there can only stop so fast.
That’s why when a leading driver makes an abrupt or unwarranted stop (or has no idea that their brake lights aren’t working in the first place), even motorcycles following at a safe distance can wind up parked in the rear bumper of a car while the rider may find themselves flying through the air unexpectedly.
A front-end crash can also occur when we’re forced to take evasive maneuvers to avoid other drivers or unsafe road conditions that end in collisions with fixed objects.
Added together, these two scenarios have made front-end crashes one of the most common causes of motorcycle accidents we deal with in our practice, and we’ve often found that motorcyclists are not at fault when front-end crashes occur.
While we motorcyclists are well aware of the power of our front brakes described above, most motorists have no idea how quickly a motorcycle can come to a stop in an emergency situation.
This creates a higher probability of experiencing a rear-end collision as a motorcyclist, which is even further compounded when we consider the fact that a great deal of the braking done on a motorcycle is done through downshifting or “engine braking” rather than using the brakes at all.
While it’s always a best practice as a motorcyclist to use some amount of brake when slowing down to signal to the vehicle behind you, it’s certainly not your fault should you happen to forget, and it definitely isn’t your fault if the vehicle behind you slams into your rear end in either scenario.
Rear-end collisions are often simple fender-benders when two cars are involved, but even the lowest speed rear-end accident can be serious on a motorcycle.
Without the benefit of seats, headrests, seat belts, or impact-absorbing bumpers, there’s really nothing keeping us safe from brain, back, or neck injuries, and often we can find ourselves thrown off the bike altogether, leading to even more potentially serious injuries.
Left-Hand Turn Accidents
According to the NHTSA, 40% of the fatal two-vehicle motorcycle crashes reported in 2014 involved left-hand turns, making them one of the most serious causes of motorcycle accidents we handle for our clients.
Left-hand turn accidents for motorcyclists are typically caused either by drivers who don’t see us coming before they turn across traffic, or by drivers who fail to yield the right-of-way to motorcycles altogether.
It’s also fairly common for drivers to misjudge the speed a motorcycle is traveling or accelerating toward an upcoming turn, and once they’ve made the decision to pull into oncoming traffic, there’s just no time for either party to react quickly enough to prevent disaster.
T-Bone and Intersection Collisions
T-Bone and intersection collisions are typically caused by the same factors as left-hand turn accidents, although a driver’s failure to obey traffic signals (like red lights and stop signs) comes into play more often than we’d like as well.
Apart from negligence on the driver’s part, a simple failure to see motorcycles in traffic is also a common cause of accidents.
Whether that’s due to the motorcycle being obstructed from view behind another vehicle, an object along the roadway or in the intersection, or due to the “Look-But-Fail-To-See” phenomenon we mentioned above, collisions at intersections are common, and often very serious due to the speeds of oncoming traffic.
Now we’re not going to pretend that motorcyclists all have a passion for obeying posted speed limits.
If your bike couldn’t exceed 55 miles an hour, chances are you wouldn’t have bought it in the first place.
But there’s a time and a place for high speeds (preferably on a closed course), which is a fact that many drivers seem all too willing to ignore, leading reckless driving to be one of the most common causes for motorcycle accidents in the country.
Motorcyclists often fall victim to motorists exceeding the limits of their vehicles around turns and coming into their lanes head-on, or drivers running excessive speeds who don’t see us until it’s too late.
Try as we might to be as seen and heard as possible for safety’s sake, the fact still remains: Our motorcycles are smaller and more agile than their four-wheeled counterparts, which makes them more difficult for reckless drivers to see in time to react.
Single Bike Accidents
We’ve all been halfway through a tight turn only to find a nice patch of gravel or a pothole the size of a manhole cover waiting for us at the opportune moment.
If we’re lucky, we have time to correct our line or get on the brakes in time to avoid these obstacles altogether, but sometimes disaster strikes, leading to what we refer to as a “single bike accident.”
Single bike accidents are those accidents in which no other vehicles are involved, but a motorcyclist still crashes due to hazardous road conditions at no fault of their own, whether they hit them head-on or have to take evasive maneuvers that end in a crash.
Distracted Driving Accidents
We’ve all seen the bumper sticker “Look Twice, Save A Life – Motorcycles Are Everywhere.”
If only solving the distracted driving epidemic in the USA was that simple.
Unfortunately, all the bumper stickers in the world haven’t kept distracted driving from remaining as one of the leading causes of vehicle accidents in the country.
They still contribute to over 3,000 deaths a year in the United States alone according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
It seems nowadays no motorcycle ride is complete without a near-death experience on the freeway.
These close calls are typically followed by a look over at the driver who almost cashed your check only to find they’re still completely oblivious, fumbling with their GPS, playing with their radio, or (everyone’s favorite) still staring down at their phone.
So it may come as no surprise to you that the National Safety Council found that 1 in 4 accidents in the US is now attributed to cell phone use while driving.
Which is particularly concerning to motorcyclists, as we often find ourselves at the mercy of other motorists and don’t have the safety net of bumpers or seatbelts to keep them at arm’s length in the event of an accident.
U-turns can be tricky for motorists, but from a legal standpoint the facts are clear.
Generally speaking, the person making a u-turn is responsible for yielding the right of way in just about every scenario, and may still be making an illegal maneuver depending on where the turn was made.
When a motorist makes a careless or illegal u-turn in front of a motorcyclist, rear-end and t-bone accidents often occur.
Again, they may not have seen the motorcycle coming at all, or may have misjudged its speed, but u-turn accidents resulting in a collision are almost always the fault of the driver making the turn.
Motorcycle Accidents Caused By Drunk Drivers
According to the NHTSA, at least one person is killed in the United States every hour by a drunk driver.
That’s over 10,000 deaths since 2019 alone.
In fact, 29% of all fatal vehicle crashes involved an alcohol-impaired driver in 2018 according to responsibility.org.
With the odds already stacked so highly against motorcyclists in the event of an accident, adding alcohol into the mix makes for a dangerous cocktail.
Both motorcyclists who are the victims of drunk driving, and motorcycle passengers who are injured as the result of an impaired operator should seek legal counsel immediately as they are likely eligible for compensation for their injuries.
Lane splitting accidents are another one of the common causes for motorcycle accidents, and typically fall into one of two categories.
The first being that a driver wasn’t paying attention and made an abrupt lane change on a busy freeway (often without signaling).
The other scenario is, unfortunately, one we have all experienced to one degree or another, and that’s what we bikers might describe as “jealousy-induced accidents.”
For whatever reason, some motorists just can’t stand the thought of allowing motorcycles to squeeze happily by while they sit and suffer in traffic.
Even in states like California where lane splitting is not only perfectly legal, but well understood and widely adopted, there are always going to be a handful of drivers that just aren’t willing to let you pass by.
We’ve all seen drivers crowd the lane intentionally, or even worse, try to force motorcylists out of the lane once they’re already alongside their vehicles.
Regardless of whether lane-splitting accidents are caused by negligence or road-rage, if the maneuver is legal, chances are you’re not at fault.
Parking Lot Accidents
Conventional wisdom often tells us that parking lot accidents aren’t subject to “fault” or compensation because they occur on private property.
That just isn’t true.
Parking lots can be particularly tough for motorcycles. Low-speed maneuvering combined with high traffic and pedestrian activity requires the utmost caution and attention from a motorcyclist.
You’d think we could expect the same degree of caution from motorists, but some folks are willing to do anything for that front row parking spot, or just don’t bother to check before backing into a spot you already occupy.
Parking lot accidents don’t have to be caused by other motorists though.
If you sustain an injury while riding in a parking lot due to the lot itself, whether it be from a dangerous layout or physical hazards on the lot, the property manager may be liable for compensation.
Injured in a Motorcycle Accident? Call Chicago Legal Group
Located in Glenview, Chicago Legal Group focuses exclusively on the representation of personal injury victims, including those injured in motorcycle accidents. We use our experience, tenacity, and advocacy skills to get our clients the compensation and resources they need to move forward with their lives. Your initial consultation is free, and you pay nothing in attorney’s fees until we obtain compensation for you.
Please contact Chicago Legal Group today to arrange for your free consultation.
Special thank you to Kurt S. for his contributions to this article.
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