Car-Motorcycle Accidents


Many people have a negative attitude toward motorcyclists, a sentiment that 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. That negative perception may affect both how motorcyclists are treated by other drivers while on the road, and may also lead people to assume that the motorcyclist is at fault for an accident even when the only negligent conduct was on the part of the other driver.

Almost all accidents between motorcycles and other vehicles result in injury. Almost half result in serious injury. After colliding with a motorcycle, it is common for the drivers of other vehicles to say that they didn't even see the motorcycle before the collision.

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.

Due to the increased risk of serious injury and public perceptions of motorcyclists, a person injured in a collision between a motorcycle and another motor vehicle will generally benefit from consulting a lawyer who is experienced with handling motorcycle accident cases.

Dangerous Driving Conduct

Dangerous driving conduct by both motorcyclists and other vehicles is a leading cause of accidents. Certain driving conduct by motorcyclists also affects public perceptions of other riders. Driver conduct that increases the likelihood of an accident includes:

  • Failure to Yield When Turning - Many accidents with motorcycles occur when the drivers of other vehicles fail to observe a motorcycle in an oncoming traffic lane prior to making a turn, particularly a left turn. Drivers must respect that they share the roadway with motorcyclists, and pay appropriate attention when turning. Motorcyclists must 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 in adjacent lanes 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 are normally able to stop more quickly and over a shorter distance than a car or other vehicle, and may 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 that 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, passing on the shoulder may constitute illegal passing. Motorcyclists need to be on guard for drivers who may try to pull onto the shoulder, whether to pass or stop, or who may nose their vehicles onto the shoulder to try to see around the vehicles in front of them when trying to determine the cause of a traffic backup. Motorcyclists must also be on guard for the presence of debris, obstructions, or poor shoulder 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 movements by other drivers, such as a lane change or a sudden stop, do not result in collision.

High Potential for Injuries

Motorcyclists are at very high risk for injury in collisions, particularly if the rider is thrown from a motorcycle or dragged underneath the chassis of another vehicle, due to the fact that they are largely unprotected.

Even the best safety equipment -- a helmet, leathers and boots -- can provide only limited protection from a road. Both motorcyclists and drivers should respect the vulnerability of those on motorcycles.

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.

When a motorcycle is involved in a collision there is a significant chance that a fuel leak will occur, creating a serious fire hazard.

Helmet Use and Injury Prevention

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 safety equipment -- helmets or other eye protection, such as 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 that complies with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 218 will significantly reduce the chance of a head injury. There is no evidence that helmet use will make it more difficult for a motorcyclist to hear critical traffic sounds, limit the pre-crash visual field, cause fatigue or loss of attention, or otherwise make an accident more likely. Helmeted riders are less susceptible to neck injuries than riders who don't wear helmets.

Helmet laws notwithstanding, it is ultimately 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.

Copyright © 2006 Aaron Larson, All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder. If you use a quotation, excerpt or paraphrase of this article, except as otherwise authorized in writing by the author of the article you must cite this article as a source for your work and include a link back to the original article from any online materials that incorporate or are derived from the content of this article.

This article was last reviewed or amended on Jul 20, 2016.