Ten Common Causes of Motorcycle Accidents and How to Avoid Them

While motorcycles account for only two percent of the registered vehicles in New York City, they make up around 14 percent of traffic fatalities. For example, a 27-year-old EMT was killed recently after a crash that caused the motorcycle she was riding to burst into flames. The late-morning accident occurred about two blocks from where the motorcyclist lived. While traveling northbound on the roadway, the woman’s motorcycle struck an unoccupied, double-parked truck. The subsequent fire caused the woman to suffer severe burns and she succumbed to her injuries at the scene.

A four-year study into the city’s motorcycle accidents revealed that New York City’s motorcycle fatal crash rate is nearly twice the statewide fatal crash rate. In addition, the rate is significantly higher than the national rate. Each year in the United States, more

than 5,000 motorcyclists die due to traffic-related accidents, and many more are seriously injured. What causes motorcyclists to crash? Read on for more information about ten common causes of motorcycle accidents and how to avoid them. To learn about your specific rights after a motorcycle accident, contact an experienced motor vehicle accident injury attorney today.

Cause #1: Less Visibility

With a slimmer profile and fewer lights, motorcycles are less visible than cars. Additionally, they can accelerate and decelerate a lot faster than other vehicles. Low visibility and variable speeds make it difficult for even the most cautious drivers to judge the distance between themselves and an oncoming motorcycle.

Motorcyclists are urged to make themselves more visible to drivers. Riders can increase their visibility on a motorcycle in a variety of ways, including:

  • Choose a brightly colored motorcycle.
  • Wear bright clothing, such as a high visibility riding jacket or helmet.
  • Use reflective tape on visible areas of your motorcycle, such as the front of the forks and other areas that stand out.
  • Avoid riding in a vehicle’s blind spot.
  • Tap your brakes, which will illuminate your taillight to increase your visibility to drivers behind you.
  • Use your high beams during daytime driving.
  • Add auxiliary lights on the front and rear of your motorcycle, which can increase your visibility for other motorists and also provide additional light to help you see at night.
  • Use your horn to alert drivers of your presence.

Cause #2: Cars Making Left-Hand Turns

Left-turn accidents are a major risk for all motorists, but particularly for motorcyclists. Oftentimes, drivers fail to observe an oncoming motorcyclist or accurately judge the bike’s speed when making a left turn. As a result, the vehicle may either turn into the motorcycle or create an unavoidable obstacle in the rider’s path. Even if the driver is turning left at a relatively low speed, motorcyclists often suffer severe injuries.

While not all left-hand turn accidents can be avoided, many can be prevented by motorcyclists who practice defensive driving and utilize the visibility tips above. Defensive driving on a motorcycle means driving with the assumption that other drivers cannot see you. If you practice staying alert while operating a motorcycle, you may avoid unexpected hazards. By paying extreme attention to what is going on around you, you may have time to evade a distracted or unaware motorist.

Cause #3: Collisions With Fixed Objects

The news story at the beginning of this post referred to an accident involving a motorcyclist colliding with a fixed object. Collisions with fixed objects account for nearly a quarter of all motorcycle accidents. Many accidents involving a fixed object occur due to error on the part of the motorcyclist, such as inattentiveness, speeding, or driving while impaired. However, many also occur due to the actions of other parties and the conditions of the road.

Some common causes of collisions between motorcycles and fixed objects that involve a third party include:

  • The motorcyclist swerves to avoid a roadway hazard such as an unexpected pedestrian or a pothole, causing them to collide with a parked vehicle.
  • The motorcyclist strikes a traffic cone or barrel that was previously hidden by a larger vehicle.
  • A distracted or impaired driver swerves out of his or her lane and forces the motorcyclist off the roadway and into a roadside object.
  • A vehicle drops unsecured cargo onto the roadway and the motorcyclist collides with that cargo.
  • As in the news story, a vehicle is illegally parked, creating a roadway hazard that the motorcyclist is unaware of until there it is too late to safely stop.

To prevent this type of accident from occurring, motorcyclists must employ defensive driving tactics and avoid distracted riding. Motorcyclists should bypass heavily damaged or trafficked roadways. Riding is safest during times when there is less traffic, with fewer distracted drivers and fewer opportunities for obstacles in the roadway.

Cause #4: Alcohol Impairment

Alcohol impairment by drivers and riders is a major contributing cause in all types of motor vehicle accidents. Alcohol consumption produces pronounced deficits in the functions needed for safe driving long before reaching the legal limit of 0.08 Blood Alcohol Content (BAC).

Common deficits include the ability to:

  • Concentrate and make good decisions;
  • Stay in one’s own lane;
  • Control one’s speed; the ability to steer and brake effectively; and
  • Respond quickly to hazards and perform emergency driving maneuvers.

You should never ride your motorcycle after you consume alcohol because impaired riding skills and defensive abilities could cost you your life. Additionally, motorcyclists should be wary of riding alongside a driver who is exhibiting signs of impairment. Motorcyclists should maintain a safe distance from cars that are drifting in and out of travel lanes, driving too fast or slow for the road conditions, or making unexpected lane changes or turns.

Cause #5: Speeding

Like alcohol impairment, speeding is a major cause of collisions involving motorcycles as well as other vehicles. Driving faster than the posted limit makes it difficult for other motorists to accurately gauge exactly how fast you’re traveling. As a result, they may overestimate the amount of time they have to make a left turn or pull out onto a roadway. Both circumstances may lead to a failure-to-yield accident.

Speeding also reduces the time that a driver or rider has to respond to a roadway hazard, increasing the distance required to come to a complete stop. Speeding makes it harder to control and maneuver any type of vehicle. Additionally, driving at excessive speeds can increase the force of the collision, resulting in more severe damage.

Be mindful of posted speeds while riding your motorcycle and the risk that speed combined with low visibility poses. You should be alert for drivers who are speeding on the roadway and avoid traveling in the same lane or alongside them. When encountering a speeder, you should move to a lane as far from them as possible and slow down to allow them to safely pass. In many jurisdictions, there are phone numbers posted on road signs that motorists can call to report speeding and other aggressive driving practices.

Cause #6: Lane Splitting

Lane splitting is when a motorcycle rides between two lanes of stopped or moving vehicles traveling in the same direction. While riders practice lane splitting to quickly bypass traffic congestion, the tactic poses hazards. A vehicle occupant may open a door into the path of a motorcyclist or attempt to change lanes without realizing the motorcyclist split the lane. California is the only state that currently recognizes lane splitting as a legal driving maneuver. Other states, including New York, explicitly prohibit the practice. New Jersey’s motor vehicle laws do not specifically address lane splitting, but those engaging in the practice can be cited for a failure to keep right.

As a motorcyclist, it is not only your responsibility as a user of the roadway to obey traffic laws, but your safety depends on it. Riders should avoid lane splitting, which is particularly dangerous at high speeds when the rider has less opportunity to respond to hazards.

Cause #7: Dooring

Dooring occurs when the occupant of a parked vehicle opens the door to the vehicle directly in the path of an oncoming motorcyclist. The motorcyclist may either collide with the vehicle door or cause a subsequent accident while swerving to miss the door. Motorcyclists can prevent accidents caused by dooring by avoiding the door zone. Motorcyclists should not position themselves in the far right edge of the lane. Of course, this isn’t always practical or possible, especially when vehicles are double-parked.

Riders should also be alert to the potential of a door opening into their lane and ride slowly and cautiously in high-risk areas, such as narrow downtown blocks. Motor vehicle occupants can also do their part to avoid dooring collisions with motorcycles by using their right hand to open the car door. Drivers using their right hand are forced to turn around, which helps them remember to check their blind spots for approaching traffic. Motorists should ensure that they are not double-parked to further prevent this type of accident.

Cause #8: Lack of Experience

Most states require a motorcyclist to undergo training and practice to obtain a motorcycle license or endorsement. Unfortunately, this additional training is often not enough to ensure drivers are competent for driving safely in the real-world. The most dangerous time for a motorcycle rider is within the first month of learning how to operate a bike. Motorcyclists with less than a year of riding experience are four times more likely to crash than more experienced motorcyclists.

If you’re new to motorcycle riding, you should gain as much education through classes and experience as possible. Practice should be performed in areas where there is little or no traffic before riding in busy or congested areas. Inexperienced motorcyclists should first learn how their bike operates and responds without simultaneously learning how to avoid collisions in heavy traffic. Even seasoned riders should regularly engage in refresher courses to increase their knowledge and learn new skills in a controlled environment.

Cause #9: Road Defects

In some cases, motorcycles can slip past small defects in the road. However, in almost all cases, road defects can pose a significant risk for riders. With only two wheels and a narrow frame, even the smallest pothole can be seriously dangerous.

Other common issues with roadways that can cause a motorcycle accident include:

  • Gravel roads, where riders may have difficulty gaining and maintaining traction.
  • Debris, such as leaves or slippery substances, which can cause a loss of traction.
  • Areas where the road is icy or wet.
  • Intersections, where vehicles have been idling, causing a buildup of oil and exhaust residue that can create slick road surfaces.

To avoid an accident caused by road defects, riders should avoid routes where they know there is damage to the road, such as potholes. Additionally, motorcyclists should use caution in areas where trees have dropped their leaves. Riding should be avoided, if possible, on days when there has been snow or rain.

Cause #10: Motorcycle Defects

Manufacturers and distributors of motorcycles and motorcycle parts, have a responsibility to ensure the products are safe when used properly. Failure to do so can lead to serious accidents with extensive injuries. If a product defect contributes to an accident, manufacturers and distributors may be liable for any resulting damages.

Riders should regularly inspect their motorcycles to detect any need for repairs. Before heading out, look for any visible indication of a maintenance issue or defect. Riders should always pay special attention to the condition of the tires, as well as the braking system. Improperly maintained tires and brakes commonly cause motor vehicle accidents. When riding, if you notice that your motorcycle is not operating properly, you should seek an examination by a qualified motorcycle mechanic as soon as possible.

If you were injured in a motorcycle accident that someone else’s negligent or reckless actions caused, you may pursue compensation. Contact an experienced motorcycle accident attorney can help you understand your legal options during a free case evaluation.

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