As fun as they are, motorcycles have a reputation for being dangerous. Most won’t be surprised to turn on the news or traffic report on any given day to hear about a motorcycle accident. And these accidents often kill riders or passengers. While one’s instinct may be to point to motorcyclists as a danger to the public, the reality is that most motorcycle accidents happen because of the negligence of other vehicle operators, failing to notice or drive carefully around motorcyclists.
You can operate motorcycles safely, However, when they are on the road with large vehicles, especially in heavy traffic, these small rides expose their operators to severe and fatal consequences. Being so small and inconspicuous, motorcyclists often go unnoticed by other drivers, who may then collide with a motorcyclist without taking any kind of evasive maneuver or action to mitigate the impact. Keeping motorcycles safe depends on everyone on the road being vigilant and aware, and on motorcyclists to be especially defensive and cautious in riding.
Why Do Most Motorcycle Collisions Happen?
The most prevalent cause of motorcycle accidents is other negligent drivers on the road. Vehicle driver negligence is the biggest culprit for most accidents with motorcycles and the injuries and fatalities of its riders. Passenger vehicles are bigger and faster than ever, and while they come with state-of-the-art safety technology and features to help drivers avoid collisions, these measures do not prevent all collisions. All passenger vehicle drivers still must remain alert to the presence of motorcyclists.
Motorcycles also may fall victim to aggressive and reckless drivers. Whether in a steady flow or congested traffic, drivers become impatient and engage in aggressive driving behaviors; motorcyclists can become easily trapped with nowhere to go and unable to avoid a sudden and unexpected collision. Motorcycle riders can become at the mercy of drivers who push their way around the road, creating hazardous scenarios.
The Biggest Dangers to Motorcyclists on the Road
Other drivers are generally a safety hazard to motorcyclists. But there are certain driving conditions and behaviors that pose even greater risks for motorcycle accidents.
Poor Driver Visibility
Any influence or impact on a driver’s visibility can put a motorcyclist in danger. Whether it is a physical deficiency that impairs eyesight or an external force affecting the driver’s line of sight; poor driver visibility is a significant danger to motorcyclists. Motorcycles and their riders are much smaller objects to view on the road compared to cars, trucks, SUVs, and semi-trailers. While many drivers can recognize an oncoming vehicle during strained visibility, like heavy rain, they often have more difficulty identifying a motorcyclist, especially when traveling at higher rates of speed.
Drivers Changing Lanes
Merging onto highways and lane changes by other vehicles present significant risks to motorcyclists. Often, drivers will change lanes abruptly, at high speeds and with no turn signal to alert others of their intentions. The lane-changing vehicle places motorcyclists behind and alongside in grave danger, as they have little to no time to react and maneuver out of the way.
Impaired or Distracted Drivers
Drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs and drivers distracted by their phones or other activities pose a particularly high threat of severe injury and death to motorcyclists and others on the road. These drivers often have nothing inhibiting them before the collision. Their senses are too impaired for them to realize there is a motorcycle in front of them and that they need to apply the brakes, or they’re looking at their phone and have no idea of what’s going on around them on the road. In such circumstances, collisions with motorcyclists are often fatal.
Roadwork presents obvious hazards due to closed lanes, abruptly changing speed limits, and congestion. Roadwork also presents many subtle dangers to a motorcyclist. Debris along the road, or gravel and torn-up roads under construction, can go undetected by a motorcyclist until underneath them, when they have already lost balance and are likely to lose control of their bike and crash. Other vehicles around can also be affected by debris and other objects lying around roadwork in ways that indirectly impact motorcyclists, such as wheels kicking up gravel into a motorcyclist’s field of vision.
Hazardous Weather Conditions
Slippery roads are a danger to all motorists, but motorcyclists, with just two wheels, have lesser stability and are at the highest risk of death or injury when rain or snow covers the roadways. Slippery roads tend to accompany inclement weather, which compounds the danger by impairing the visibility of the surrounding car drivers, making it more difficult to stop quickly or maneuver away from an unexpected rider.
Street-Side Parked Vehicles
A vehicle parked on the side of the road may seem to pose little danger to the public. However, to motorcyclists, they can end up being hazardous. Drivers and passengers who abruptly exit a parked vehicle toward the street, without looking both ways along a road, can come completely out of nowhere for a motorcyclist, especially if along a line of apparently empty parked vehicles.
Typically, there isn’t enough room on the road for the motorcyclist to drive far enough over to avoid the length of an open car door. When a motorcyclist is riding along a road and a door opens in its path, they may have little time to avoid the obstacle ahead. If they strike the door, the impact and force of the momentum may injure them, and if they attempt to avoid the door, it may cause them to lose control of their bike and fall over or swerve into other objects or vehicles.
Drivers Making Left-hand Turns
One of the deadliest maneuvers a driver can make towards a motorcyclist is a left-hand turn against an oncoming rider. Passenger-vehicle drivers may look out for cars ahead before making a left-hand turn, but often fail to see an oncoming motorcyclist, or they misjudge how far the motorcyclist is from an intersection and how much time they have to make the turn before the motorcyclist enters. Motorists often have trouble judging the speed of vehicles coming towards them and it often proves even more difficult to gauge a motorcyclist’s speed and proximity to an intersection.
How Frequent Are Motorcycle Accidents in the U.S.?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that one a year, about 5,000 motorcycle riders die in traffic accidents. And thousands more are seriously injured every year, in ways that deliver life-changing consequences.
Motorcycle Accidents Are Disproportionately Fatal
The sobering reality is that motorcyclists are more likely to face fatal injuries than the drivers and passengers of other vehicles on the road. In fact, the statistics from NHTSA show that a motorcyclist is 29 times more likely to die in a traffic-related accident than an occupant of a passenger vehicle. This astounding finding has led to many campaigns by the agency to promote motorcycle safety and remind passenger-vehicle drivers to be aware of motorcyclists and share the road.
The explanation for the dramatically higher risk of death for motorcyclists is what you’d probably expect—completely exposed to the air atop a motorbike, one is much more vulnerable in a crash. There is no steel cage, airbags, or seatbelt to protect a rider, whether from the road in a single-vehicle accident or another vehicle in a collision.
A motorcyclist’s safety measures are limited to a helmet and other protective clothing. In crashes of minor to moderate severity, a helmet can significantly reduce the chances of death and serious injury of a rider. However, in more catastrophic accidents, the impact from a motor vehicle with significant force may result in a fatality or serious injury, regardless of the rider’s safety equipment.
Common injuries suffered by motorcycle riders include:
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Neck or back injuries
- Broken bones
- Internal bleeding and injuries
- Road rash
What Motorists Can Do to Help Make Roads Safer For Motorcyclists
There is often much emphasis placed on safety precautions that motorcyclists should take to protect themselves on the road. While motorcyclists need to drive defensively and protect themselves at all times, even more important are the measures motor vehicle drivers can take to make roads safer for motorcyclists. It is passenger vehicle drivers that are often the cause of motorcycle accidents. The following are some of the most important ways motorists can make the roads safer for motorcyclists.
Maintain a Safe Speed
Drivers who remain within the speed limit and modify their speed to respond to changing environments, weather, and other conditions are more likely to notice motorcyclists and stops or take evasive maneuvers to avoid collisions.
Drivers Must Stay Alert
Drivers should expand their attention from looking out for passenger vehicles to keeping watch for motorcyclists as well. The number of vehicles on a road on any given day will far outnumber motorcyclists, and they can get lost in the crowd of passenger cars. But if drivers actively look and listen for motorcycle riders nearby, they can avoid collisions.
Drivers Must Stay Back
Passenger vehicles must maintain a proper distance from any vehicle in front of them, but especially motorcycles. While a rear-end collision is often nothing more than a fender bender between two vehicles, a rear-end collision into a motorcycle can easily result in the death of the motorcyclist and their passengers. When a driver sees a motorcyclist ahead on the road or at a traffic light, they must remain an ample distance behind when traveling along city streets, and an even greater distance along interstates and highways.
Driver Should Be Aware of Blind Spots
One of the most common accident scenarios with motorcyclists involves motorists crashing into motorcyclists in their blind spots. Drivers must always be vigilant about checking their blind-spots for motorcyclists—just because you’re sure another car couldn’t have snuck its way in there doesn’t mean a motorcycle couldn’t A motorcyclist in a driver’s blind spot can be easily struck from the side, knocked off their bike or run off the road. Drivers must know their blind spots and make every effort to check and double-check for motorcyclists, especially during lane changes and mergers onto roadways.
The Proper Use of Turn Signals
Many drivers treat turn signals on vehicles as optional rather than a necessity. During rush hour and heavy congestion, vehicles weave in and out of traffic with no prior notice of their actions or intentions. While this is an annoyance and overall disruptive behavior to traffic flow, it’s also highly dangerous to motorcyclists around these vehicles. Motorcyclists, more than anyone, rely on the turn signals of vehicles ahead to help them process their decision-making on the road. When a driver fails to indicate an upcoming lane change or turn with their turn signal, the motorcycle rider’s time to react is greatly reduced and increases their risk of an accident or injury.
Motorcycle Safety Depends on Motorist Awareness
At the end of the day, motorcyclists depend on motorists around them to keep safe. A motorcyclist can do everything right and still face an accident with an oncoming vehicle. If motorists can remain aware and considerate of motorcycle riders on the roadways, they can drastically reduce
the threat to motorcycles.