By Aaron Larson
Due to the increased risk of serious injury and public perceptions of motorcyclists, a person injured in a collision between a motorcyle and another motor vehicle will generally benefit from consulting a lawyer who is experienced with handling motorcycle accident cases.
Many people have a negative attitude toward motorcyclists, which emerges in part from the driving conduct of a minority of motorcyclists, in part from misperception, and possibly in part from stereotypes from movies, TV, and fiction. This can affect both how motorcyclists are treated by other drivers while on the road, and also can lead people to assume that the motorcyclist is somehow at fault for an accident even when the only negligent conduct was on the part of the other driver.
Dangerous driving conduct by both motorcyclists and other vehicles can contribute to the likelihood of an accident. Certain driving conduct by motorcyclists also affects public perceptions of other riders.
Failure to Yield When Turning - Many accidents with motorcycles occur when the drivers of other vehicles fail to observe them in an oncoming traffic lane prior to making a turn, particularly a left turn. Drivers must pay due attention to the possibility that a motorcycle will be on the roadway. Motorcyclists should be aware that drivers often fail to observe them, and should exercise appropriate care at intersections.
Lane Changes - Drivers may fail to notice a motorcyclist in their blind spot, or may otherwise fail to notice a motorcycle when shoulder-checking or looking in their mirrors before changing lanes. Drivers must exercise appropriate care to observe motorcycles and to respect their presence on the road. Motorcycle riders should be aware that drivers may not observe them, and should take care when passing cars.
Failure to Observe a Safe Following Distance - Motorists sometimes fail to respect the vulnerability of motorcycles, or to recognize that a motorcycle may be able to stop more quickly than a car, and fail to follow at a safe distance.
Slowing Traffic - Sometimes a group of motorcyclists will drive at an inconsistent speed, or will drive below the overall speed of traffic, causing cars to queue behind them. When this happens, drivers may fail to follow at a safe distance, or may attempt to pass the group of motorcyclists in an unsafe manner.
Passing on the Shoulder - Sometimes when traffic is dense, motorcyclists will zip past backed-up cars on the shoulder of the roadway. Depending upon state law, this may constitute illegal passing. Motorcyclists need to be on guard for cars which may try to pull onto the shoulder, whether to pass or stop, or which may nose over to try to see the cause of the backup. They must also watch for debris, obstructions, or poor surface conditions.
Weaving - Sometimes motorcyclists pass cars by weaving between lanes. Drivers may not see a motorcyclist approaching in this manner from behind them, and motorcyclists should take care that unexpected driver conduct (such as a lane change or a sudden stop) does not result in collision.
It is very common for a driver to state, after colliding with a motorcycle, that he didn't even see the motorcycle before the collision.
Motorcyclists are at very high risk for injury in collisions, due to the fact that they are largely unprotected, particularly if the rider is thrown from a motorcycle or dragged underneath the chassis.
Even the best helmet, leathers and boots can provide only limited protection from a road. Both motorcyclists and drivers should respect the vulnerability of those on motorcycles. Almost all accidents between motorcycles and other vehicles result in injury. Almost half result in serious injury.
Motorcyclists should also take care that their motorcycles are in good working order, and that their tires are sound. Tire punctures and blowouts are a major cause of motorcycle accidents. Recall also that there is a very high chance of a fuel leak following a collision, creating a serious fire hazard.
Motorcyclists are at particular risk when they have less than six months of experience on a motorcycle, even if they have prior riding experience on other bikes. Alcohol use significantly increases the risk of a fatal accident.
Motorcyclists often find admonishments about wearing a helmet to be tedious and preachy. That's fair enough. But those who deal with the aftermath of motorcycle accidents don't suggest the use of helmets (or other eye protection, leathers, gloves, or sturdy boots) because they like to hear themselves talk. They know how serious a motorcycle accident can be, and how quickly flesh and bone can give way to concrete.
There is absolutely no question but that the use of a safety helmet which complies with FMVSS 218 will significantly reduce the chance of a head injury. There is no evidence that helmet use will result in attenuation of critical traffic sounds, limit the precrash visual field, cause fatigue or loss of attention; or otherwise make an accident more likley. Helmeted riders are less susceptible to neck injuries than riders who don't wear helmets.
Ultimately, helmet laws notwithstanding, it is a motorcyclist's right to choose his own safety equipment. But please have patience with those who would just as soon not see another seriously injured motorcycle enter an emergency room or law firm waiting room.
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