Do Motorcyclists Have the Right of Way?

Motorcycle accidents are common for two reasons: (1) vehicle drivers may not see the motorcyclist, and (2) the motorcyclist may drive recklessly or suffer a mechanical failure. Motorcycle accidents are mostly preventable and usually result from driver negligence. Some people believe that motorcyclists have the right of way in most situations, but that’s not always the case. Every vehicle on the road, including motorcycles, mopeds, and bicycles, must adhere to the same rules of the road as vehicles with four or more wheels.

Who Has the Right of Way?

While laws do not necessarily grant the right of way, they do state when drivers must yield the right of way. If you fail to give someone the right of way, you could easily cause an accident.

You must yield the right of way:

  • When you come to a yield sign.
  • When approaching individuals with a seeing-eye dog or a white cane, whether it has a red tip or not.
  • When approaching individuals in a crosswalk.
  • When approaching intersections that other vehicles have already entered.
  • When on an unpaved road that intersects with a paved road.
  • When turning left, you must yield to both vehicles and pedestrians.
  • When you return to the road after being parked.
  • When two drivers come to a stop sign at the same time, the person on the right has the right of way.
  • When you reach an uncontrolled intersection after other vehicles, you must yield the right of way.
  • When encountering emergency vehicles.
  • To those traveling up a narrow mountain road, unless the vehicle traveling up the mountain has a better place to pull over enough for the other driver to squeeze by.

Sharing the Road With Motorcyclists

Because motorcycles are small and often prove difficult to see, you should always remain on the lookout, especially in the warmer months. You should also never forget that some people will ride during the cooler months, so keeping motorcyclists in mind year-round can help you avoid an accident in many cases.

Some tips for sharing the road with motorcyclists include:

  • Double-check your blind spots for motorcyclists, but do not forget to check the rest of the lane before you change lanes or merge onto a highway. Also, check for motorcyclists when you need to make a turn.
  • Keep your distance from motorcyclists. A bike can nearly stop on a dime, while it takes passenger vehicles much longer to come to a stop. If a motorcyclist wrecks because of debris in the road or a bike malfunction or has to come to a quick stop, drivers must take care not to run over the bike and driver.
  • Do not share a lane with a motorcycle. Treat motorcyclists as if they take up the entire lane. Standard lanes are not wide enough for a motorcycle and another vehicle to safely ride side-by-side. Doing so may cause the motorcyclist to wreck, or may push the motorcyclist off a bank or into a ditch.

Understanding the Differences

Knowing the difference in how a motorcycle handles can help you avoid accidents with a bike. When steering, a motorcycle does not always turn the wheel in the direction the bike is traveling. On a curve, the rider leans into the curve and keeps the wheel straight. You can tell where a motorcycle will travel by looking at the rider’s weight on the bike. For example, in a left curve, the rider will lean to the left.

Additionally, a motorcycle does not have the same maneuverability as a car. Riders cannot turn their bikes on a dime without dumping them. Thus, a motorcyclist cannot make a sharp turn to avoid an accident. If car drivers believe that they are about to collide with a motorcycle, it is up to the driver of the vehicle to take evasive action.

Finally, in poor road conditions, whether because of weather or an improperly maintained road, the motorcyclist could easily lose control. What might seem like a minor inconvenience for a car could pose a significant danger to a motorcyclist, including sand and rocks on the road.

Allowing a longer space between you and the motorcycle could save riders’ lives if they have to dump their bikes because of a sand pile, pothole, icy spot, a wet spot, or debris in the road.

Safety Tips to Help Protect Motorcyclists

You can avoid many accidents by watching for motorcyclists and by following these tips:

  • Never split lanes with a motorcyclist, even when coming up to a traffic control signal. Always stay behind the rider or pass in your own lane. You could startle the rider, or the airflow from your vehicle could push the motorcyclist off the road or into another lane.
  • Watch for turn signals. Many motorcycles still do not have self-canceling turn signals, even though they have existed since the 1970s. If you notice a rider has his or her signal on, fall back to give the rider plenty of space to turn, even if you believe the rider accidentally left the turn signal on. The motorcyclist might not realize that the turn signal is on until he or she is ready to make a turn.
  • Watch for riders changing speed or their positioning in a lane. A motorcyclist might slow down or move to a different spot in a lane to avoid a pothole or debris that could prove fatal.
  • Because a bike is a lot lighter than a vehicle, it does not take as long to come to a stop. Keep enough following distance to stop, especially if the motorcycle must quickly stop.
  • Wrecks often occur when car drivers make a left turn in front of an oncoming motorcyclist. Because the bike is smaller, it often proves difficult for someone in a vehicle to judge the motorcyclist’s speed accurately. Be sure to look in both directions more than once before making a left turn.
  • Leave plenty of space when passing a motorcyclist and merging in front. Always use your turn signal so that the rider expects the gust of wind that you create when you pass the rider. When merging back into the lane in front of the motorcyclist, stay several car lengths in front of the bike before you merge in front of it.
  • Watch for motorcyclists in inclement weather. Some people will ride their bikes in any weather, including snow. Sometimes, a bike is a motorcyclist’s only mode of transportation. Other times, the rider might be out riding when an unexpected storm crops up. Visibility for motorcycles and cars is poor when it is snowing, foggy, or raining, so keep an extra eye out for motorcyclists during such weather.
  • If you meet a motorcyclist at night, make sure your high beams are off if traveling in the opposite direction. Avoid passing a motorcycle at night, and make sure you leave plenty of distance between you and the rider.

Most of all, keep in mind that if you would not have the right of way if traveling the same path as the motorcycle, the motorcycle does not have the right of way. A motorcyclist must follow the same rules of the road that a car or truck follows.

Motorcycle Accident Injuries

Because a motorcycle offers little to no protection for the rider, injuries sustained in motorcycle accidents often prove severe, catastrophic, and/or fatal.

Some of the injuries that a motorcyclist could sustain include:

  • Road rash, which could lead to excessive scarring and disfigurement.
  • Scratches, scrapes, bumps, bruises, and cuts.
  • Face and eye injuries.
  • Internal injuries.
  • Simple and compound fractures.
  • Crushed bones that require amputation of a limb or digit.
  • Head, neck, and shoulder injuries.
  • Traumatic brain injuries.
  • Back and spinal cord injuries.
  • Strains and sprains.
  • Pulled muscles, torn muscles, and other soft tissue injuries.
  • Thermal and chemical burns.

Many injuries could lead to death within days or months after an accident. Some of these injuries could also lead to long-term or permanent disabilities, including psychological issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression.

Additionally, some injuries could exacerbate existing illnesses and injuries. Finally, certain underlying conditions, such as diabetes and other immunodeficiencies, and taking certain medications could cause secondary infections from open wounds. An accident victim can also recover damages for these and other secondary injuries.

Recoverable Damages

An accident victim can recover compensatory damages and punitive damages after an accident. Compensatory damages include economic damages, which have a monetary value, and non-economic damages, which do not have a monetary value.

An accident victim can only collect punitive damages they show grossly negligent or intentional driver actions or inactions. While the court orders compensatory damages in an attempt to make the accident victim whole again, courts order punitive damages to punish defendants and to deter others from the same behavior that the at-fault driver exhibited.

Economic Damages

Sometimes referred to as special damages, economic damages include:

  • Past medical expenses for those incurred because of the accident and before a settlement or a trial award.
  • Future medical expenses for those incurred because of the accident and after a settlement or a trial award.
  • Past lost wages for the time you could not work because of accident injuries before a settlement or a trial award.
  • Future lost wages for the time you expect to be out of work after a settlement or a trial award because of long-term or permanent disabilities caused by accident injuries. You could collect partial future lost wages if you find a job that you can do, and it does not pay as much as the job you did before the accident.
  • Replacement or repair of destroyed or damaged personal property, including your motorcycle, helmet, clothing, and any other personal property you might have been carrying on the motorcycle.
  • Funeral, burial, and/or cremation expenses if you lost a loved one in a motorcycle wreck.

Non-Economic Damages

General damages, sometimes referred to as non-economic damages, include:

  • Pain and suffering, including emotional distress. If you lost a loved one in a motorcycle accident, you could also recover compensation for emotional distress.
  • Loss of quality of life. If your injuries caused long-term or permanent disabilities that might require medication, ambulatory aids, or other medical aids for the rest of your life, you might recover compensation for loss of quality of life.
  • Loss of companionship if you cannot enjoy or take part in family activities and events.
  • Loss of consortium if you can no longer have a physical relationship with your spouse.
  • Loss of use of a body part, such as a hand or foot.
  • Loss of use of a bodily function, such as your bladder or eyesight.
  • Inconvenience if you have to hire someone to do the chores you usually do, such as home maintenance and repair, house cleaning, lawn maintenance, and grocery shopping.
  • Excessive scarring or disfigurement.
  • Amputation, whether the amputation happens as a direct result of the accident or because of a secondary injury.

The Cost of a Motorcycle Accident Lawyer

Andrew Finkelstein Jacoby & Meyers LLP

Motorcycle Accident Lawyer, Andrew Finkelstein

When you contact our office regarding a motorcycle accident, your initial case evaluation is free. Additionally, you do not pay for your lawyer’s services unless he or she wins your case for you. When you come in for your free case evaluation, your lawyer will discuss the fee structure, including the percentage he or she take if you settle your case or go to trial. He or she will also discuss the other costs of your case, such as court filing fees, investigations, depositions, arbitration, expert witnesses, and other expenses.

If you suffered injuries or lost a loved one in a motorcycle accident, contact an experienced motorcycle accident attorney today for a free case evaluation. During your evaluation, you can discuss the details of your case, ask questions about your legal options, and determine your best course of action. The attorney that you choose to represent you will pursue maximum compensation on your behalf, so you can focus on recovering from your physical and/or mental injuries.