Motorcycle Accidents: Causes and Consequences

Any motor vehicle accident can cause serious injury. But motorcycle accidents cause serious and life-changing injuries at a rate that is four times as high as those that result from other motor vehicle accidents.

Motorcycle accident deaths occur at thirty-five times the rate of deaths from car accidents. Accidents with other vehicles result in approximately 56% of motorcycle accident deaths.

What are the causes of motorcycle accidents, and how can the number of accident-related injuries and deaths be reduced?

Special Risks to Motorcyclists

Even before considering risks from other drivers, pedestrians, animals that run into the road, and road conditions, motorcyclists face heightened risks of injury as compared to most other drivers. Key risks include:

  • Smaller Size: the smaller size of a motorcycle as compared to other motor vehicles makes the motorcycle less visible to other motorists.
  • No Protective Barrier: In a car accident, the car, and its crumple zones and restraint systems can provide significant protection from injury. A motorcyclist who is in an accident isĀ  likeley to have direct physical contact with the road.
  • Less Stable: Vehicles with two wheels are less stable than vehicles with four wheels, and some motorcycles may become less stable or wobble at high speeds.

With the lower visibility of motorcycles, there is a possibility that a motorist might not see an oncoming motorcycle due to inattention, or the motorcycle's being concealed behind other vehicles or objects during the moments before a collision. That lack of visibility is reflected in the fact that the overwhelming majority of motorcycle accidents involve the motorcycle being struck from the front (78%), while rear-end collisions with motorcycles are comparatively uncommon (5%).

Risks on the Road

Motorcyclists are required to get driver's license endorsements for a reason. It takes more skill to operate a motorcycle than a standard motor vehicle. High risk driving behaviors that would not significantly increase risk of serious injury to the driver of a car can be deadly to a motorcyclist.

What are some of the risks that occur on the road, that can create special dangers for motorcyclists?

  • Left-Hand Turns: When a car makes a left-hand turn, the operator may not be attuned to the fact that a motorcycle may be approaching from the front or the rear. A driver who fails to see an oncoming motorcycle can cut off the motorcyclist, potentially causing the motorcyclist to either have to dump the motorcycle or collide with the left-turning vehicle. A driver may also turn left in front of a motorcycle in an adjacent lane, having failed to notice that the motorcycle was in that lane before commencing the turn.
  • Passing: Especially while the other driver is turning, accidents are particularly likely when motorcyclists try to pass another vehicle within a single traffic lane. If a motorcycle is passing other vehicles in slowed or stopped traffic, it may not even occur to other motorists to check for their presence before accelerating.
  • Lane Splitting: Not all states permit lane splitting, and in jurisdictions where it is legal a high level of care must be exercised when sharing lanes with other vehicles. Accidents become more likeley due to the proximity of the vehicles to each other, and there is less opportunity to maneuver to avoid an accident.
  • Road Hazards: While defects in the design and maintenance of a road, and objects or debris on a road, can create risks for any driver, risks are particularly acute for motorcyclists. Why? Due to their lighter weight and lesser stability, a hazard that may be barely noticeable to a car or truck can potentially cause a motorcyclist to lose control.
  • Animals: While nobody wants to hit an animal while driving, a collision with a small animal in a car is usually not a significant incident and a collision with a large animal such as a deer usually results in a significant repair bill but, although tragic exceptions can occur, often occurs without injury to the driver or passenger. For a motorcyclist, a collision with even a small animal can result in a serious accident.

For a more complete discussion of car-motorcycle accidents, read this article.

Liability for Motorcycle Accidents

Injury claims for motorcycle accidents are typically brought under the laws of negligence. That is, the motorcyclist alleges that another person owed them a duty of care, and violated that duty of care in a way that the other person knew or should have known could result in injury. Basically, when you drive a car you have a duty to operate it safely, and if you cause an injury to somebody else through your carelessness, inattention or mistake, you can potentially be held liable for the damages that you cause to other people and property.

Liability for motorcycle accidents can also result from factors such as poor road design and maintenance and road debris. Owners of pets or livestock that let the animals escape or roam free, and enter a roadway, may potentially be liable for injuries to a motorcyclist who strikes one of their animals.

As motorcycle accidents often result in very serious injuries, and even death, most people injured in auto accidents are well-served by getting representation from a personal injury lawyer. A lawyer can also help a motorcyclist anticipate likely defenses, such as a claim that the motorcyclist caused the accident, claims that the motorcyclist was intoxicated, or that the damages award should be reduced because of the motorcyclist's actions leading up to the accident. If the motorcyclist was not wearing a helmet, a lawyer can also advise the motorcyclist about how their damages recovery may be affected.

Copyright © 2005 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 May 8, 2018.