Motorcycles, broadly defined, include two- or three-wheeled motorcycles, offroad motorcycles, mopeds, scooters, and mini bikes. Motorcycle crashes frequently result in serious injuries or death because motorcycle riders have minimum protection, even if they are wearing a helmet and other protective gear. They do not have the safety features that many automobile passengers take for granted such as seatbelts, airbags, a protected enclosure (cabin), and the stability of four or more wheels. When a motorcyclist is hit by another vehicle or thrown off their bike, it often results in fatal or catastrophic injuries. Only 20 percent of car crashes result in injury or death compared to 80 percent for motorcycle crashes.
The general public sometimes has a preconceived notion that motorcycle riders are at fault because they take the risk of riding a motorcycle. However, many motorcycle accidents are caused by other drivers or by unsafe roadways. The vast majority of motorcycle accidents result in serious injury or death. When a motorcycle crash results in injury, there may be grounds for a personal injury motorcycle accident lawsuit. If an accident results in a death, there may be grounds for a wrongful death motorcycle lawsuit.
Motorcycle Accident Statistics
Both national and state statistics paint a grim picture in terms of motorcycle safety and highlight the need for better motorcycle safety awareness among both motorcycle drivers and those sharing the road with motorcyclists.
According to national statistics from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published in 2018:
- In 2016, there were 5,286 motorcyclists killed in accidents. The number of fatal motorcycle accidents has risen over the past two decades. By comparison, there were 2,320 fatal motorcycle accidents in 1994.
- In 2015 there were 88,000 non-fatal motorcycle injuries.
- Motorcycles made up only 3 percent of all registered vehicles in the United States in 2016, but per registered vehicles, the fatality rate for motorcyclists was six times the fatality rate for passenger car occupants.
- Per vehicle miles traveled in 2016, motorcyclist fatalities occurred nearly 28 times more frequently than passenger car occupant fatalities in traffic crashes.
- Most fatal motorcycle crashes (55%) involved collisions with other vehicles. In the majority (72%) of fatal accidents involving two vehicles, the motorcycle was impacted in the front. Only 7% were rear-ended.
- 23% percent of the motorcycles involved in fatal crashes collided with fixed objects
- In 41% of fatal motorcycle crashes involving two vehicles, the other vehicles were turning left while the motorcycles were going straight, passing, or overtaking other vehicles. Both vehicles were going straight in 594 crashes (23%).
- NHTSA estimates that helmets saved the lives of 1,859 motorcyclists in 2016. If all motorcyclists had worn helmets, an additional 802 lives could have been saved.
- In 2016, only 19 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico required helmet use for all motorcyclists.
- California ranks in the top 15 of the 50 states in fatalities.
- Motorcycle deaths in California accounted for 15.1 percent of total motor vehicle deaths in 2016.
- 14,400 motorcyclists in California were injured in 2016.
When is a motorcycle collision grounds for a personal injury case or wrongful death lawsuit?
A number of factors determine who is at fault for a motorcycle accident in Southern California. Some accidents are caused by inexperienced motorcycle riders, but many crashes are not the fault of riders. Sometimes hazards on the road or inadequate signs on the road contribute to the accident. Defects in a motorcycle or its tires or other parts can also be at fault. Most motorcycle accidents involve another vehicle. Many of these collisions are caused by the driver of the other vehicle, who may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, sleep deprived, distracted by talking on the phone, or simply inattentive. As indicated in the statistics above, more than a third of fatal motorcycle crashes were caused by a vehicle turning left while the motorcycle was going straight or passing.
Common Causes of motorcycle accidents
Below are some common causes of motorcycle accidents:
- Unsafe lane changes/vehicle turning left in front of a motorcycle – this is the most common cause of motorcycle accidents and typically occurs because the turning vehicle failed to see the motorcycle in the adjacent lane or in the same lane (especially if the motorcycle happens to be in the turning vehicle's blind spot). It therefore is important for drivers to check their mirrors, check their blind spot, and use their turn signal when making a turn or lane change. In 41% of fatal motorcycle crashes involving two vehicles, the other vehicles were turning left while the motorcycles were going straight, passing, or overtaking other vehicles.
- Lane splitting accidents – lane splitting occurs when a motorcyclist drives between two lanes of traffic, usually during slow traffic or when cars are stopped. Lane splitting creates a hazard by creating a tight and dangerous space between the vehicles. This limits the maneuverability of motorcycles. Also, a car or other vehicle may not expect a motorcycle to pass them in slow traffic and may inadvertently turn into them. California is the only U.S. state to allow lane splitting -- whether a motorcycle or other vehicle is legally liable for a lane splitting accident in California depends on various factors.
- Head-on collisions – accidents involving two vehicles hitting each other head-on are the most deadly. Head-on crashes typically occur when a vehicle crosses the centerline of road or when a vehicle is traveling the wrong way down a one-way road or highway. The underlying cause of such accidents may be driver fatigue, distraction, and driving under the influence. The design or condition of the roadway may also be a factor (narrow lanes, inadequate dividers or signage, etc). Two-lane rural highways with limited visibility are particularly vulnerable to such accidents.
- Defective and poorly maintained roads– poorly designed or maintained roads, potholes, debris, and a lack of proper signs or signals can all contribute to accidents. Because motorcycles provide less stability than four-wheeled vehicles they are particularly prone to road defects, debris, bumps, road cracks, oil spills, and potholes. Such road defects may not be easily visible or avoidable and can cause a motorcycle rider to lose control. Bad road design such as inadequate barriers/guardrails or shoulders, inadequate lighting and signs, blind curves, unsafe on/off-ramps, poor drainage design, narrow lanes, and excessive grades (overly steep roads) also increase the risk of accidents and serious injury. Construction zones are particularly hazardous if they do not have sufficient warning signs or if debris or equipment has not been cleared off the roads.
- Hazardous road conditions/weather – motorcycles do not have the stability of a four wheel vehicle. They also do not have windshield wipers. Consequently driving in rain or snow or on slick roads poses a particular hazard.
- Fixed object accidents – not all motorcycle accidents are the result of collision with another vehicle. According to NHTSA, 23% percent of the motorcycles involved in fatal crashes collided with fixed objects. Fixed objects include guardrails/barriers, cones, trees, telephone or light poles, buildings, parked or stalled vehicles, objects dropped or abandoned on roadways, and construction equipment.
- Speeding and reckless driving – excessive speeding not only increases the risk of an accident but also almost always increases the severity of the collision and injuries. Examples of reckless driving include excessive speeding, racing, tailgating, illegal passing (e.g. using the opposite traffic lane to pass), dangerously weaving through traffic, and ignoring traffic signs and signals.
- Driving under the influence – driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol greatly impairs a driver's judgment, coordination and motor skills, all of which increase the risk of an accident. The use of any drug, including prescription, over-the-counter, or illegal drugs, which impair a driver's ability to drive safely is illegal. According to NHTSA, motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes were found to have the highest percentage of alcohol-impaired drivers than any other vehicle types and 37% of motorcycle riders who died in single vehicle crashes in 2016 were alcohol-impaired.
- Car doors accidents – this occurs when a parked vehicle opens their door suddenly in front of an oncoming motorcycle.
- Corner turning accidents (lowsiders and highsiders) – typically these turning accidents are the result of the motorcycle rider error or inexperience, although slippery roads and/or unsafe or poorly designed roads (e.g. inadequate signage or lighting) can contribute to these types of accidents.
- A “lowsider” occurs when a bike loses traction, usually the result of the motorcycle rider going too fast around a turn. This causes the tires to slide. The bike falls down on its side (the low side) and the motorcycle and rider slide across the road surface. In less serious cases the rider may suffer scrapes and burns; in more serious cases they may hit a fixed object (barrier, pole, tree, etc.) or run into another moving vehicle.
- A “highsider” accident results from a loss of traction by the rear wheel, usually due to hard or excessive braking or applying too much throttle when exiting a corner, thereby causing a sudden and violent rotation of the bike around its long axis. This may flip the rider head first off the side of the motorcycle or over the handlebars. The rider may be thrown yards over the bike causing severe impact with the pavement, a fixed object, other vehicles, or even their own bike.
- Motorcycle defects – manufacturing or design defects affecting a particular model of motorcycle may contribute to an accident. Such defects may affect the stability, maneuverability, performance, durability, and/or safety of the motorcycle. If such a defect results or contributes to an accident or injury, the manufacturer and seller of the vehicle may be held liable. In some cases a manufacturer who is aware of a defect may issue a recall notice to registered owners of the vehicle and offer to repair/remedy the problem. However, in some cases the rider or manufacturer may not even be aware of defects until after an accident and investigation is conducted.
What type of injuries result from motorcycle crashes?
Limited protection for riders means that motorcycle rashes can be deadly and cause life-changing injuries. In order to minimize injuries, riders should always wear appropriate safety gear (helmet, eye protection, gloves, boots, etc.). Motorcycle accident injuries include:
- Head and traumatic brain injuries – Head injury is a leading cause of death and serious injury in motorcycle crashes, which is why helmets that meet or exceed federal safety standards should always be worn. Research studies show that motorcycle helmets are 37 percent effective in preventing fatal injuries and 67 percent effective in preventing serious brain injury.
- Neck and back injuries including spinal cord injury and paralysis
- Chest and abdomen injuries, including organ damage
- Soft tissue injuries - Injuryto tissues that connect, support, or surround other structures and organs of the body. They include muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, fat, fascia, blood vessels, and membranes.
- Amputation of limbs
- Fractures - especially of the radius, ulna, tibia, and fibula.
- Severe burns and road rash
- Lacerations (deep cuts)
Depending on the types of injuries you sustain, you may require expensive medical care such as reconstructive surgery, vocational rehabilitation, permanent medical equipment, and medications. You may suffer lost income and a diminished quality of life. In order to recover compensation for injuries sustained in a motorcycle crash, you must show that the crash was the fault of another driver or entity.
One serious psychological consequence often associated with motorcycle accidents is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To read more about this, please click here.
How we can help
When a motorcycle accident results in injury it may be grounds for a personal injury lawsuit. If an accident results in a death, it may be grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit. If you have been seriously injured in a motorcycle accident, you may have a personal injury case if you can prove that the collision was caused by another driver, a problem with an unsafe roadway, or a defect with the vehicle or its parts. Motorcycle accidents are complex in nature and determining who was liable for an accident may involve careful scientific, forensic, and legal analysis of numerous factors – therefore, you should consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer to help you determine who is at fault. You should not assume that you were at fault for the accident – an investigation may reveal that another driver, road conditions, or a problem with the bike contributed to the accident. Our law firm has extensive experience and the resources to handle motorcycle accident cases and maximize your recovery. If you or a loved one were injured in a motorcycle accident, please contact us for a free, confidential, and no-obligation review of your potential legal claim and see how we can help!