The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) estimates that more than 9,000 motorcycle accidents occur on Florida’s roads and highways each year, resulting in thousands of injuries and several hundred fatalities. The vast majority of these accidents occur between motorcycles and motor vehicles.
Sharing the road safely requires that motorists and bikers keep their eyes out for each other to avoid accidents. While bikers occasionally cause accidents with motorists, research shows that those in motor vehicles are more often than not responsible for a crash between a car and a motorcycle.
It’s easy for bikers to see what’s going on around them due to the lack of blind spots and obstructions, and many must drive defensively to avoid accidents. However, the exposure that comes with riding a motorcycle also puts bikers at risk for dangerous accidents, severe injuries, and sometimes fatality when those in cars do not drive with the same care. In fact, it’s careless and reckless behavior behind the wheel that leads to the most crashes between cars and motorcycles.
If you have sustained severe injuries in a motorcycle accident because a negligent driver caused an accident, Florida law permits you to seek compensation for damages related to the accident and your injuries. Contact an experienced motorcycle accident lawyer as soon as possible to discuss the circumstances of your motorcycle accident, your injuries, and how they have affected your life.
Until you have the chance to consult with an attorney, this guide provides an overview of the negligent driver behaviors and common situations that often lead to crashes between cars and motorcycles, as well as some motorcycle safety tips to share the road safely with cars.
Changing Lanes Without Checking Blind Spots
Lane changes are one of the common causes of a crash between a car and a motorcycle. This is especially true when those in cars do not check their blind spots. Each motor vehicle has blind spots; the larger the vehicle, the larger the blind spots. Blind spots specifically refer to the areas of the road drivers cannot see when they look in their side mirrors and rearview mirrors. On most vehicles, blind spots are located on each side of the vehicle. Failure to check blind spots occurs because of inexperience or pure carelessness.
New drivers learn how to check their blind spots but might fall into bad habits when they are no longer driving with mom or dad or their drivers’ education instructor. Ignoring blinds spots is dangerous no matter what vehicle might be in a blind spot, but it is especially dangerous for bikers, who do not have the same protection afforded by those riding in motor vehicles. Many bikers know car drivers are not diligent about checking their blind spots, so they avoid them when possible. Yet, avoiding blind spots in heavy traffic is difficult, if not impossible.
Motorcycles are more difficult to see because they are smaller. When a biker cannot avoid a blind spot and a driver changes lanes without glancing over their shoulder and clearing their blind spot, the driver crashes into a motorcycle, causing an accident. When this occurs at high speed on a highway or interstate, bikers get pushed into other traffic or off the road, potentially leading to catastrophic injuries.
Sudden Turns and Lane Changes
Motorcyclists need ample time to react when cars make turns or lane changes. Using turn signals help inform bikers of maneuvers, but these quick moves can lead to severe accidents. Bikers, like their four-wheel counterparts, need to allow enough following distance to react appropriately when a car turns or changes lanes. Yet, even the most experienced motorcyclists struggle to avoid an accident when a car makes too sudden of a move. These sudden moves are often a result of an inattentive driver or a driver who is unfamiliar with the road.
Motorcycles have both front and rear brakes, and the front brakes control approximately 75 percent of the stopping power. Coming to a safe stop of slowing requires bikers to apply the front and rear brakes together. When cars make sudden movements, bikers have to slam on their brakes to avoid hitting the rear of the vehicle. Some motorcycles have anti-lock braking systems that prevent the bike from going into a skid after hard braking. However, bikes without ABS risk sliding into the car in front of them or losing complete control and crashing.
Sudden lane changes and quick turns are hazardous for motorcycles during rainy weather. Wet roads require more stopping distance, and tires can hydroplane on water. Attentive drivers who signal their turns and lane changes well ahead of time give motorcyclists, and everyone else, the opportunity to avoid a dangerous accident.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that drunk driving fatalities and crashes have decreased since the 1980s, yet they still occur far too often. FLHSMV estimates more than 5,000 alcohol-related car crashes in Florida each year, a portion of which involve motorcycles. Sharing the road safely with motorcycles requires motorists not only to see them but have the capacity to react to them on the road and at intersections.
Sometimes drivers think, “I’ll just have one or two. It will be fine.” Unfortunately, the body becomes impaired before a driver is legally drunk at 0.08 blood or breath alcohol level, so drivers who only have one or two put bikers at risk.
The NHTSA reports the following predictable effects on driving at different blood alcohol concentrations (BAC):
- BAC 0.02 – Drivers suffer a decline in vision and struggle to track a quickly moving target. They also begin to lose their ability to perform more than one task at a time.
- BAC 0.05 – The ability to track moving objects further declines. Drivers also suffer from reduced coordination, difficulty steering, and reduced response to critical driving scenarios.
- BAC 0.08 – At the legal alcohol limit for operating a vehicle, drivers lose concentration, suffer from short-term memory loss, have difficulty controlling their speed, and experience a reduction in their capacity to process information. Drivers at the legal limit also have impaired perception.
- BAC 0.10 – At this BAC limit, drivers experience all the above but also have a lesser ability to maintain their lane position and brake appropriately at intersections, to make turns, or while driving in traffic.
- BAC 0.15 – Those who have a 0.15 BAC are completely inebriated and cannot control their vehicle or pay attention when driving. At this BAC level, drivers also have significant difficulties processing auditory and visual information to drive safely.
Even the smallest amount of alcohol can impair a driver enough to crash into a motorcyclist. Intersections are perilous; they are planned points of conflict that project massive amounts of information to drivers upon an approach. Drivers need to watch for oncoming traffic, cross-traffic, stoplights or stop signs, turn lanes, crosswalks, and other information.
As mentioned above, alcohol consumption impairs the ability to process information quickly. The human brain only processes one thing at a time, but it can do it quickly when not impaired. Slowing the process makes it next to impossible to react to all the information a driver encounters. Impaired drivers run red lights, speed, swerve, and make sudden maneuvers, leading to dangerous motorcycle accidents.
Another common cause of a crash between a car and a motorcycle is drowsy driving. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, responsible for regulating the trucking industry, has devoted ample time and resources to study the relationship between driving and sleep. Truck drivers demanding schedules often suffer from fatigue. Their research found that staying awake for 18 hours straight impairs the body to the same level as having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent. This is true for all drivers, not only those in semi-trucks.
Drowsy driving or fatigued driver often occurs when drivers do not get enough sleep or regularly deprive themselves of sleep, so they become fatigued. Drowsy drivers are not only impaired drivers, but they risk falling asleep at the wheel, too. Nodding off while operating a motor vehicle, even if only for a few seconds, can result in dangerous head-on accidents if a driver swerves into oncoming traffic. Even the safest bikers who wear helmets and all the proper gear are lucky if they escape death during a high-speed, head-on collision.
Drowsy driving and driver fatigue also stem from other issues besides lack of sleep. They include:
Time of Day
Research shows that drowsiness while driving is more related to the time of day someone is behind the wheel than the length of time they have been driving. The vast majority of those in cars are less alert at night, especially after midnight. Drowsiness, however, can get worse after someone has been driving for a long time.
Shift workers, taxi drivers, and rideshare drivers are especially vulnerable to drowsy driving. Whether driving to or from work or transporting passengers in the middle of the night, these drivers risk striking a motorcyclist if they haven’t had the proper rest before venturing out.
Those who regularly skip meals or eat at odd times sometimes suffer from fatigue. Additionally, going to bed without eating or right after consuming a heavy meal can make it difficult to fall asleep or interrupt sleep. People who have diabetes also risk drowsy driving. Diabetes impacts the body’s blood sugar, and when it is too high or too low, some feel sleepy.
The FMCSA’s research on sleep and driving also found that long hours, an unhealthy lifestyle, and sleeping problems were the main things that led to commercial vehicle drivers falling asleep at the wheel.
OTC and Prescription Medication
A wide range of over-the-counter medications and prescription drugs can cause drowsiness or fatigue. Most medications that make people drowsy come with warning labels that warn users not to operate vehicles after taking the drug. Yet, drivers do it all the time. It’s obvious that tranquilizers and sleeping pills make drivers drowsy, but some do not realize that allergy medications and many cold medicines can also induce drowsiness. Additionally, some drugs do not induce drowsiness unless a driver mixes them with alcohol. These things are a recipe for disaster when a driver is sharing the road with a motorcyclist.
Untreated Sleep Disorders
Sometimes people go through life and do not realize they have a health issue, or they choose not to seek treatment. Those who deal with untreated sleep disorders, sometimes unknowingly, often suffer from driver fatigue when they are behind the wheel. If they do not fall asleep while driving, they still suffer from other impairments that make it difficult for them to safely operate a vehicle, putting bikers at risk for accident and injury.
Three of the most common sleep disorders include:
- Insomnia occurs when someone cannot fall asleep or stay asleep. Sometimes those who have insomnia wake up early and cannot fall back asleep. Regardless of the exact way a person experiences insomnia, the result is often excessive drowsiness during the day. Those who have not sought treatment for insomnia put others at risk for a crash if they get behind the wheel during broad daylight.
- Narcolepsy refers to excessive sleepiness during the day punctuated with uncontrollable urges to sleep, sometimes called “sleep attacks.” Narcolepsy is characterized by the fact that those who suffer from it often experience the urge to sleep at really inconvenient and unusual times. Someone who has untreated narcolepsy can easily fall asleep at the wheel while driving a car.
- Sleep apnea is likely the most common untreated sleep disorder. Sleep apnea refers to a condition where someone stops breathing during their sleep. Heavy snoring is a common sign of sleep apnea. Once someone falls asleep, they repeatedly wake up gasping for air, which interrupts their sleep. Those who suffer from sleep apnea do not get the rest they need and also suffer from excessive sleepiness during the day.
Driving while distracted is not new, but the growing popularity of cell phones and drivers using their phones behind the wheel has catapulted it into the everyday discourse about driving safety. Most experts and government agencies agree that a driving distraction includes any activity that keeps a driver’s eyes off the road, hands off the wheel, or mind off driving.
State governments, including Florida’s, have given special attention to texting and driving because it is a visual, manual, and mental distraction—a triple threat. Drivers who use their cell phones while operating a vehicle put others on the road at risk, including motorcyclists.
With so much attention devoted to cell phone use behind the wheel, some forget about other common driving distractions that can lead to dangerous accidents between cars and motorcycles. Some examples include:
Food & Drink
Whether swinging through a fast-food drive-thru to grab a combo meal or stopping at a convenience store to grab a snack and a drink, the overwhelming majority of motorists eat and drink—at least occasionally—while operating their vehicles. Drinking and eating while driving can serve as a visual distraction, but is always a manual distraction. Drivers who grab for their food or drink have to take at least one hand off the wheel, making it difficult to keep control of their vehicle and respond appropriately when sharing the road with a motorcycle.
It’s not uncommon for those who are running late to school or work to engage in personal grooming while driving. For some, this means combing or brushing their hair. Others put on a full face of make-up including everything from foundation to mascara to lipstick or lip gloss. Personal grooming visually and manually distracts drivers from watching the road and driving.
Today’s cars come equipped with oodles of features for drivers to adjust. Safe drivers make adjustments when they are parked or stopped in traffic. Pushing one button to engage a feature or make an adjustment typically is not a safety hazard that leads to accidents. Yet, when drivers take their eyes away from the road and focus on some features, they succumb to a distraction that could lead to a dangerous crash between a car and a motorcycle. Programming a GPS, adjusting the radio, and adjusting mirrors are examples of activities that could lead to an accident.
Drivers who typically do not carry other occupants or passengers do not have to deal with their distractions. Yet, multiple people in one vehicle can lead to dangerous cognitive, and sometimes manual and visual distractions, that lead to accidents. Parents speak to children in the car, reach for things to give them, or sometimes must deal with multiple children crying or fighting. However, adults are as guilty of arguing or having heavy discussions while driving, which makes it difficult for drivers to concentrate behind the wheel.
Drivers need to stay mentally engaged with operating a vehicle when they are behind the wheel. For some, a long drive is an opportunity to reflect on their day, their job, their personal relationships, and whatever else is happening in their life. Sometimes drivers lose mental focus on driving because they are daydreaming about other things. In other cases, drivers lose mental and visual focus because they are watching another event, often a traffic accident, outside the vehicle. Losing mental focus creates dangerous inattention that sometimes leads to dangerous crashes between cars and motorcycles.
When motorists enter or exit a freeway and need to merge into traffic, they sometimes put motorcycle riders in dangerous situations. Much like lane changes, if motorists do not check their mirrors, they might not see a motorcycle in their blind spot. Failure to yield to a motorcycle that is already cruising along can lead to treacherous accidents. In these cases, cars sometimes run a biker off the road if they do not crash into them. In other situations, a driver might notice the biker at the last second but still ends up cutting off the motorcycle and causing an accident.
Open Car Doors
Open car door accidents typically occur on city streets where the speed limit is much lower than on the highway. An open door crash occurs when a motorist is entering or exiting their car, most often on the side of a street. The street is narrow enough that a motorcyclist cannot avoid an open car door and crashes into it. Sometimes bikers have enough time to slow or stop to avoid the accident, or they can swerve if there is no traffic in their way. Other times, drivers open their door too quickly, making it impossible for a motorcyclist to avoid accidents and injuries.
Similarly, an open car door in heavy traffic forces a motorcyclist to hit the door or swerve into another vehicle. Although these crashes are typically not fatal, they can cause severe injuries for those on motorcycles. Like many other crashes between motorcycles and cars, the faster the speed when the crash occurs, the higher likelihood of severe or fatal injuries.
Driving instructors drill their students to keep a safe distance between their car and other vehicles on the road, including motorcycles. Yet, tailgating is pervasive in Orlando, in Florida, and across the nation, regardless of how much experience the person behind the wheel has. Tailgating is sometimes a result of bad driving habits, but other times it’s a direct result of aggressive driving. Perhaps motorists are running late, so they are rushed, or they are simply impatient.
Rear-end collisions can be minor when two vehicles are involved, but there is no such thing as a small fender-bender when cars and motorcycles crash. If a car follows a motorcycle too closely, severe injuries often occur if it strikes the motorcycle. Bikers do not have the same protection afforded by motor vehicles, so they risk getting thrown from their bike or pushed into another vehicle when a car rear-ends them.
A Crash Between a Car and Motorcycle Leads to Serious Injuries
Sometimes motorcyclists walk away from crashes with little to no injury, but more often than not, bikers suffer severe, sometimes catastrophic injuries during an accident. Some serious injuries that bikers face when a car and motorcycle crash include:
A motorcycle accident with a car can leave a biker with multiple fractures or crushed bones. These injuries are not only painful, but they often require corrective or reconstructive surgery. Even with doctors’ best efforts at repair, a motorcyclist sometimes must cope with lifelong discomfort and pain.
Those under age 21 must wear a helmet when operating a motorcycle in Florida, but others have the choice to opt out of the helmet law if they purchase a separate motorcycle insurance policy. Bikers can suffer a brain injury from a traffic crash with or without a helmet, but wearing a helmet can prevent permanent damage or death. Brain injuries have mild to severe long-term consequences for many, including struggles with memory, motor functions, and cognition.
Neck & Back Injuries
Anytime a collision happens between a car and a motorcycle, a biker faces minor to severe neck and back injuries. They can include minor soft tissue injuries such as sprains and strains or more serious tears. More severe neck and back injuries include fractured vertebrae, herniated discs, and spinal cord injuries. Trauma to the neck or back that causes damage to the spinal cord can lead to permanent paralysis in some or all of the body.
Bikers, who do not have the protection of a vehicle, can suffer road rash if they get thrown from their bike during an accident. The impact of a crash sometimes throws a person from their bike and their body continues to slide on the ground. Protective gear helps mitigate some damage from road rash. Those who have thin clothing or no gear risk painful road rash that can remove layers of skin until the bone is visible. Open wounds from road rash often contain dirt, sand, and other particles that sometimes cause serious infections.
Motorcycle Safety Tips to Share the Road Safely with Cars
Even the most experienced motorcyclists need to prioritize safety to avoid accidents with cars and survive an accident if one occurs. As a biker, you cannot control other motorists, but you can take steps to help reduce the likelihood of an accident and ensure your survival if a car crashes into you. Here are some crucial motorcycle safety tips:
Don’t Skimp on Safety Gear
The safety gear you wear while riding is the only thing that protects you during a crash between a car and your motorcycles. Wearing the right gear reduces the chances of severe injuries and increases your chances for survival.
The right helmet, clothing, eyewear, and footwear is crucial to safely operate your bike:
- Helmets. If you wear a helmet while riding your motorcycle, you reduce your chances of dying during a crash by almost 40 percent and reduce your chance of suffering a brain injury by about 70 percent. Always buy a helmet that meets the Department of Transportation (DOT) guidelines and replace it every five years, even if you cannot see visible wear.
- Clothing. Protective clothing benefits you two ways when you are riding your motorcycle. First, choosing bright colors makes you more visible to cars, reducing your chances of a crash. Second, padded motorcycle jackets and leather gear protects you from road rash, burns, and other injuries you might suffer during an accident.
- Eyewear. You need the best possible visibility when riding your motorcycle. Protective eyewear allows you to see better in all weather conditions and protects your eyes from water, dirt, and debris, giving you the best chances to avoid a potential accident with a car.
- Footwear. Quality motorcycle boots protect from damages to feet, ankles, and legs during a crash, and they offer stability during an accident that does not come with wearing sandals, sneakers, or other types of footwear.
Learn How to Handle Your Motorcycle
Bike handling skills are vital for surviving a motorcycle accident and avoiding them.
To really know how to handle your bike:
- Make sure your motorcycle fits your body. All motorcycle enthusiasts have dream bikes, but not all bikes and riders are a good fit. When you buy a motorcycle, it needs to fit your body like a glove. Both feet should rest flat on the ground when you are sitting on the bike, and you should reach the handlebars when seated. Your bike should also be light enough for you to handle.
- Invest in motorcycle safety courses. New motorcycle riders need to develop good habits and experienced bikers sometimes need to break bad habits. You can find a wide range of motorcycle safety courses for beginners, intermediate riders, and those with ample experience. New riders must take a basic course to receive their first motorcycle endorsement. These classes provide classroom instruction about safe operations, as well as hands-on experience. More advanced classes focus on advanced bike-handling skills to benefit those with experience.
Use Emergency Motorcycle Maneuvers
Sometimes bikers see a crash with a car coming because they cannot avoid it.
You can increase your chances of surviving the accident and reduce your chance of dying in a crash by following some of these maneuvers:
- Slowing down. When you reduce your speed as you collide with a car you reduce the impact of the collision. Avoid slamming on your front brakes and skidding, but you want to slow down as much as possible.
- Keep upright. It’s easy to lay down your bike in an accident, but you risk pinning your leg or body under your heavy bike. Do everything you can to stay upright. Yet, you should also know when you have to let go. Sometimes you cannot stay on your bike, so your best option is to tuck and roll and let go of your handlebars.
- Pick a crash spot. Try to steer your motorcycle to a safe place to put it down. Try to avoid traffic and look for a soft surface, likely grass.
If you’ve suffered injuries in a crash between your motorcycle and a car, contact a motorcycle accident lawyer today for a free case review.