Motorcyclists are at a disadvantage in staying safe on the roadway. The slender profile of their vehicles makes it harder for other roadway users to see them, particularly at night. Their vehicles have less stability than four-wheeled ones, making them more prone to slipping on loose gravel or wet surfaces.
Additionally, when motorcyclists have accidents, there are no protective features such as an airbag or a seat belt to prevent them from being ejected. While motorcycle riders face many hazards, driver negligence is the most common cause of crashes between cars and motorcycles.
Negligence is a failure to take proper care in a given circumstance to avoid causing harm to others. Here is a look at some common negligent driving behaviors that frequently lead to accidents between cars and motorcycles.
Failure to Yield
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), most motorcycle accidents occur in urban areas, with many commuters using the same roadway. About 35 percent of all fatal motorcycle accidents occur at intersections. Intersections tend to be chaotic, as there can be multiple travel lanes with traffic traveling in all directions. Driver confusion, distraction, impairment, or even simply not wanting to wait through a red light can all lead to a failure to yield the right-of-way.
One of the most common accidents involving motorcycles in an intersection happens when the driver of a car attempts to make a left turn at an intersection that features a solid green light, as opposed to a green arrow. On the solid green light, the left-turning driver must yield to traffic traveling in the intersection and determine when there is a safe gap to complete the turn. Often, they will fail to see an approaching motorcycle and turn into its path.
Distracted driving causes many traffic accidents.
Three primary distractions lead to distracted driving accidents, including:
- Cognitive distractions cause the driver’s thoughts to stray from the task of driving safely. Common cognitive distractions include listening to music, talking to passengers, or daydreaming.
- Manual distractions cause the driver to take their hands from the wheel. Examples of manual distractions include eating or drinking, smoking, or adjusting the stereo or other vehicle controls.
- Visual distractions cause the driver to take their eyes from watching the roadway. Visual distractions include looking for something dropped on the floor, attending to children or pets in the backseat, or external distractions such as billboards, other people or cars, or accident scenes.
Cell phones fall into all three categories. While there is no national ban on texting while driving, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) notes that 48 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam enacted bans on texting while driving. Texting and driving is dangerous because it simultaneously involves all three types of driving distractions.
In the time it takes a driver traveling at highway speeds to read or reply to a text, they will have traveled the distance of a football field without looking at the roadway, without their hands properly positioned on the steering wheel, and without focusing on safe driving. That is ample time for a motorcycle to enter its travel lane unnoticed.
Speeding is another common cause of accidents between cars and motorcycles.
The hazards that increased speed present include:
- Less time for a driver to notice a hazard such as a motorcyclist entering in front of them.
- More distance for the vehicle’s brakes to pull the weight to a complete stop.
- More difficulty for other drivers to determine a safe gap in traffic to enter a travel lane.
- Increased crash severity.
- Less control of the vehicle.
Speeding causes approximately one-third of all fatal motorcycle accidents in the U.S.
Drunk driving kills more than 11,000 people on U.S. roadways each year, including motorcyclists, and that number has risen dramatically in recent years. All states have a legal impairment limit in which an individual is considered “too drunk to drive.”
In most states, this limit is .08 grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood for adult drivers who are not operating the vehicle on a commercial driver’s license (CDL). CDL-holders, including commercial truck drivers and bus drivers, have a reduced impairment limit at the federal level due to trucking regulations. Additionally, most states have reduced impairment limits for drivers under 21.
Unfortunately, many drivers fail to realize that alcohol can impair their driving ability long before they reach the legal impairment limit. The deficits alcohol has on a person’s ability to drive begin with one drink. A driver loses judgment and visual acuity at a 0.02 blood alcohol content (BAC).
By the time they reach the 0.08 impairment limit, they usually experience poor muscle coordination, difficulty detecting danger, loss of concentration and short-term memory, a reduced response in emergency driving situations, difficulty steering and controlling speed, and difficulty tracking moving objects such as motorcycles.
Tailgating refers to the act of one roadway user following another roadway user too closely. It’s the most common cause of rear-end accidents, where the front of one vehicle makes contact with the rear of another. When it involves two cars, this accident is often (but not always) minor. However, if it involves a motorcycle, it is usually catastrophic.
Drivers learn to keep a safe distance between their vehicles and vehicles in front of them. Often, the recommended distance for following behind another vehicle is to remain three seconds behind them. However, many drivers fail to allow a three-second following distance, and there are situations in which three seconds is not enough time for a driver to realize the vehicle in front of them has slowed or stopped.
For example, the larger the vehicle, the longer it takes for the brakes to pull the weight to a complete stop. All vehicle types require more stopping distance on wet or icy roadways.
Another common hazard involving motorcycles is tailgating by commercial trucks. Large trucks have a significant blind spot in the front of the vehicle that can cause them to tailgate a motorcycle without even knowing it is there.
Dooring occurs when the occupant of a vehicle parked alongside the roadway opens their door into the path of an approaching motorcycle. This accident forces the motorcyclist to either collide with the door, risk a collision with another roadway user, or lose control of their motorcycle.
This accident most commonly occurs in urban areas featuring narrow-laned roadways and parallel parking. All states have laws requiring drivers to use caution when opening doors close to travel lanes.
“I didn’t even see them.”
These are perhaps the most commonly uttered words from drivers on the scenes of accidents involving a car and a motorcycle. As it turns out, many times, they’re telling the truth. Inattentional blindness refers to how the human brain processes information in a chaotic scene such as an intersection by focusing on the largest hazards while failing to notice smaller details.
Researchers conducted a study of 56 adults, asking them to examine photographs depicting routine driving situations from a driver’s perspective. The participants determined from the photograph if it was a safe driving situation. In the final photo, researchers manipulated the image to include an unexpected object, either a motorcycle or a taxi.
The study asked the participants if they noticed those objects. While nearly half did not notice either object, they were significantly less likely to notice the motorcycle than the taxi.
One of the researchers commented that motorcycles tend to be a low priority when the brain is filtering information. Researchers suggested that motorists should pay more attention to motorcycles.
While inattentional blindness refers to how a person's brain processes information, it doesn't eliminate the liability the driver faces if they crash their car into a motorcycle. Drivers must yield the right-of-way in certain circumstances and obtain the training and experience necessary to safely operate a motor vehicle alongside motorcyclists.
Why the Cause of the Crash Matters
When a motorcycle accident occurs, some investigations will follow, including investigations by law enforcement to determine if any laws were broken, by insurance companies to determine if their insured was liable, and by personal injury attorneys to gather evidence to prove liability. In other words: the cause of the crash matters because the one who caused the crash is responsible for compensating those who suffered injuries or property damage.
To seek compensation for the expenses and effects of injuries resulting from a motorcycle accident that a negligent driver caused, you must prove that the driver’s negligence caused the collision.
All users of public roadways owe a duty of care to other users. This duty means they must act reasonably to protect others from injury or property damage. These actions generally involve obeying all traffic laws and safely operating their vehicle.
To prove that a negligent driver was responsible for causing the accident causing your injury, you must show that they took actions contrary to the duty of care they owed. The above-listed common causes of crashes between cars and motorcycles show behaviors that constitute a breach of the duty of care, as they represent violations of traffic safety laws.
Once you and your attorney successfully prove that the driver owed you a duty of care and breached that duty of care, you must also prove that the breach in the duty of care caused the accident.
To satisfy all of the elements of negligence, an experienced motorcycle accident attorney will gather evidence to support your claim. This evidence can include information from the police report, like a citation issued to the driver or even the driver’s arrest at the scene or following the police investigation. Additionally, photographs or video surveillance, eyewitness or expert testimony, and even the driver’s statements can be evidence.
The Type of Compensation Available for Injured Motorcyclists
When an accident occurs involving a motorcycle, people often blame the motorcyclist. Unfortunately, many injured riders suffer from judgments even in the medical or legal communities simply because of their chosen method of transportation.
If someone else’s negligence injures you, you deserve the assistance of an attorney who understands that motorcyclists are permitted to use the roadways just like others. They are entitled to the same opportunity to pursue compensation for their injuries. An experienced motorcycle accident lawyer can assist you with your claim.
To receive a free case evaluation and answers to your questions about your legal options after a motorcycle accident, contact a motorcycle accident lawyer near you.