And Seven Ways to Avoid Motorcycle Crashes
For many years, motorcycles have had higher accident rates than any other vehicles. The accidents often occur, not due to negligence or recklessness on the part of the motorcycle rider, but because of the negligence of other drivers.
Part of the problem has to do with how the brain processes traffic. When driving, the brain focuses on the patterns typically created by larger passenger vehicles. Most drivers know that they need to pay attention to the large vehicles moving around them. Unfortunately, motorcycles—and bicycles and pedestrians—do not fit the right visual pattern.
Consequently, drivers may overlook motorcycles, their eyes skimming straight past them. For this reason, drivers should learn to look twice for motorcycles, rather than allowing that road haze to take over. Unfortunately, many do not, so motorcycle riders must exercise special care to decrease the risk of accidents, especially in these common scenarios.
Scenario #1: Poor Weather Conditions
During poor weather conditions, motorcycle riders naturally experience difficulty controlling their vehicles. Other drivers also have challenges associated with poor weather conditions, many of which can significantly increase the risk of an accident.
Often, in poor weather conditions, drivers face limited visibility. Snow, fog, and rain can all create interference that makes it difficult for drivers to see what is happening around their vehicles. Many drivers also narrow their focus when driving in slick or dangerous conditions, since they may need to pay more attention to the direction of their path to navigate safely. Unfortunately, this may mean that drivers stop paying attention to what happens around them and have a higher risk of causing an accident with smaller vehicles.
Snow, ice, and rain can all cause slick roads, which may make it more difficult for many drivers to navigate safely. Turning abruptly on a slick road often sends a vehicle out of control. Some drivers also forget that they may need more room to stop and maneuver in slick road conditions, so they drive closer to other vehicles, especially motorcycles, than they should. Motorcycles can often come to a faster stop in slick conditions than larger passenger vehicles, which can lead to a larger vehicle rear-ending a motorcycle rider. Speeding vehicles also have an increased likelihood of spinning out of control or slipping on slick roads.
Scenario #2: Changing Lanes Abruptly or Unsafely
When sharing the road with motorcycles, especially in heavy traffic, drivers of larger passenger vehicles must carefully look around them before executing that lane change. Motorcycles fit easily into the blind spots of even small passenger vehicles. A driver who does not check their mirrors fully or who does not actually turn around to look to determine whether he has enough clear space in the lane to move over may inadvertently strike a motorcycle.
Motorcycle riders, to avoid this type of accident, must pay careful attention to their position around cars as they travel, especially on multi-lane roads. They should take care to stay out of other cars’ blind spots to help reduce the risk of a dangerous collision. Unfortunately, sometimes, motorcycles cannot avoid drifting into a car’s blind spot. Consequently, motorcycle riders must pay careful attention to other cars’ behaviors and be sensitive to any sign of lane-change attempts.
Scenario #3: Car Doors
It’s unlikely to cause another injury if a driver or passenger of a car opens their door into another car. On the other hand, if a driver or passenger opens his door into a motorcycle, it can cause serious injury to passengers of the motorcycle. An open door can cause a motorcyclist to swerve off course or lay over. Drivers may suffer road rash or broken bones. If the motorcycle rider is traveling at a high rate of speed, even cruising down a road at the speed limit, injuries can be even more serious, including spinal cord injuries and traumatic brain injuries.
Drivers and passengers in vehicles should always take care to look twice before opening their doors, especially on busy streets. Anytime a passenger vehicle parks on a street-side, the driver and their passengers should exercise special care to reduce accident risk and keep track of everything happening around them.
Scenario #4: Speeding
High rates of speed can substantially increase the risk of many types of accidents, including motorcycle accidents. The risk of serious injury with speed is as much as 3-4 times higher than of other passenger vehicles. For motorcycle riders and the drivers sharing the road with them, that can mean a substantial increase in accident risk, especially on dangerous or winding roads or in poor weather conditions.
Unfortunately, some drivers fail to appreciate the greater risk of accidents with motorcycles. Impatient to reach their destination, drivers who speed are also often distracted in other ways. As such, they pose a substantial risk to motorcycle riders. At high rates of speed, drivers may have even more trouble seeing past the visual haze that prevents them from noticing motorcycle riders around them, and they are less likely to check their blind spots. Even if a speeding driver does notice a motorcycle rider, including one who seems to have trouble with his vehicle, he may not have enough time to stop or get out of the way.
Speeding can also significantly increase the damage suffered by motorcycle accident victims. The greater the rates of speed of the vehicles, the greater the force in a collision between them. That increased force causes greater injury, including more trauma to the neck and back, greater head trauma, and more trauma to the body.
Scenario #5: Inexperienced Drivers
Inexperienced drivers often lack the skills and knowledge to know how to navigate safely around motorcycle riders. Inexperienced drivers tend to have tunnel vision on the road, only looking at what occurs directly in front of them. As such, inexperienced drivers often fail to notice many things happening around them, especially at the sides or rear of the vehicle where there may be motorcyclists. Inexperienced drivers may also be unaware of how to effectively use rear-view and side mirrors to maximize their field of vision.
Thus, inexperienced drivers are more likely to completely miss the presence of motorcycle riders and their vehicles around them. They may change lanes without looking completely, stop abruptly, and fail to pay attention to many things happening around them.
Inexperienced, young drivers are more likely to end up in accidents generally and accidents resulting in severe injury and death. While there are many reasons for this, the CDC finds that young drivers can’t recognize dangers and are more likely to make critical decision errors. Young drivers are more likely to become distracted behind the wheel, lack the skills to avoid a collision, and may not have received specific instruction in how to share the road with motorcycles safely. Consequently, they pose a substantially greater risk of accidents to themselves and others.
Unfortunately, motorcycle riders cannot judge the experience of a driver from outside the vehicle. Motorcyclists might not realize that the driver has failed to notice them, or that they are near a new driver and need to keep more distance. For this reason, motorcyclists always need to drive defensively, assuming that another driver might not see them or be sufficiently skilled or in control to avoid hitting them.
Scenario #6: Mechanical Failure
Motorcycles require regular maintenance to keep running smoothly. A mechanical failure on a motorcycle can be especially catastrophic. A mechanical failure that would simply kill the engine and bring a driver to a stop in another kind of vehicle may, in the case of a motorcycle, result in the rider being ejected and sustaining serious injuries. Motorcycle riders are more exposed to injury in the event of a tire blowout. Failed brakes can make the motorcycle impossible to control, and motorcycle riders have less ability to bring their bikes to a safe stop than the drivers of larger passenger vehicles.
Unfortunately, even when they are kept maintained, motorcycles can still suffer mechanical failure. The manufacturer may put out a motorcycle with a design defect, or with a part that doesn’t reach regulatory standards to be safe to ride. These errors often go undetected until a mechanical failure occurs, resulting in severe injuries and death.
Mechanical failure in another vehicle can also pose a serious hazard to a motorcycle rider, especially if the rider does not have adequate time to respond or is not in a position to notice the malfunction. If a car’s brakes fail while behind a motorcycle, the vehicle may plow straight into the rear of the motorcycle before the rider has any idea and can try to make evasive maneuvers.
Scenario #7: Failing to Leave Motorcycles Adequate Room
Some drivers assume that motorcycles, because of their smaller size, need less room on the road than larger passenger vehicles. These may try to take advantage of that extra space for their own vehicles, encroaching upon the motorcycle’s space instead of holding to their own, or pressing a motorcycle to the side of a lane as the driver of the larger vehicle attempts to pass a slow-moving vehicle in his own lane.
These drivers are mistaken, and they need to leave just as much room for motorcycles as they do for larger passenger vehicles. Motorcycles need to occupy their entire lane, rather than cramming into a small space to accommodate larger vehicles. Part of this has to do with motorcycle riders’ exposure, and that they need more time and space to evade hazards that pose much graver consequences for them than other drivers.
Scenario #8: Distracted Drivers
It takes careful attention to safely share the road with a motorcycle. Drivers must pay attention to what the motorcycle does and keep an eye on motorcycles’ movement around them, especially in tight traffic or before navigating a lane change or stop. This necessary level of attention can be defeated by behaviors that distract a driver, from texting or using a phone to eating and drinking and being too engaged with others in the vehicle.
Some drivers are distracted by functions they believe are appropriate or necessary, such as managing a GPS app to figure out how to get to their destination. Others may try to make up for running late by applying makeup or trying to handle other morning prep tasks in the vehicle.
Unfortunately, regardless of the perceived importance of any other task than driving, such tasks draw a driver’s attention away from things taking place around them, including the movement of motorcycles. A distracted driver has a lower likelihood of noticing motorcycles in the first place and may prove more likely to fail to track the motorcycle’s movements around them. Distracted drivers may also change lanes, stop, or swerve through traffic, and fail to notice a rider before it’s too late to avoid a collision. Distractions of any kind can prove catastrophic for motorcycle riders.
Scenario #9: Inebriated Drivers
Inebriated driving substantially increases the risk of accidents. Inebriated drivers’ senses of coordination and judgment are severely impaired. They may operate their vehicles erratically, making it difficult for motorcycle riders to predict their next move or to figure out what to do to avoid an accident. Inebriated drivers may speed, swerve, or drive aggressively. Conversely, inebriated drivers may drive very slowly to avoid an accident, which may increase the risk that they will cause one, such as on a highway where the faster flow of traffic becomes interrupted.
Inebriated drivers forget or ignore the rules of the road, make erratic maneuvers, or come to unexpected stops, instead of taking the time to signal and slow. Their behavior can be unpredictable. Motorcycle riders struggle to determine what an inebriated driver’s next move will be. If the inebriated driver does cause an accident, they may panic and react in a way that causes even more damage, slamming on the gas instead of the brake, for example. Inebriation can also have a significant impact on drivers’ reflexes, which means the inebriated driver may respond more slowly and increase the impact of an accident.
Due to these factors, inebriated drivers may cause more severe injuries when they have an accident with a motorcycle rider than sober drivers.
Scenario #10: Left Turn Accidents
Turning left requires carefully checking both oncoming traffic and the traffic moving through your own lane. Taking left turns also requires carefully looking for the presence of motorcycles, pedestrians, and smaller vehicles, which might not be as easy to notice, and can be even more difficult to pick up on while juggling the different focuses necessary to complete a left turn. Leaving enough space for any motorcycle ahead of you and watching for motorcycles in oncoming traffic are especially critical in making left turns.
Scenario #11: Sudden Stops
Sudden stops can pose a particular danger for motorcycle riders, whether they are at the front or the back, more so the closer the other driver is. Often, the drivers of standard-sized passenger vehicles fail to properly judge the distance between their vehicle and the motorcycle. They may fail to consider the fact that the motorcycle can stop faster than they can.
Most of the time, motorcycle riders consider this when slowing or coming to a stop, giving the vehicle behind them adequate room to complete the necessary maneuver. Sometimes, however, motorcycle riders may need to stop more abruptly than anticipated. Another vehicle may come to a sharp stop in front of them, or they may need to stop fast to avoid an accident in front of them.
The vehicle behind a motorcycle rider, however, may not have the ability to stop as quickly. Though the driver may slam on their brakes as soon as they recognize the risk of an accident, they may still slam directly into the back of the motorcycle or even plow over the top of it. Motorcycle riders injured in rear-end collisions often suffer especially severe injuries.
Scenario #12: Aggressive Driving
Some people simply do not like the idea of sharing the road with motorcycles. Others feel they need to hurry to reach their destinations. These drivers often may operate their vehicles aggressively, stopping without warning, changing lanes abruptly, or swerving through traffic. Aggressive drivers may suffer from road rage or simply feel rushed and fail to exercise adequate care. Unfortunately, sometimes, those drivers may be less considerate of motorcycle riders, specifically.
Aggressive drivers can prove dangerous for everyone on the road, but that danger increases significantly for motorcycle riders. Aggressive drivers can prove much more difficult to predict. They also, like distracted drivers, may fail to be aware of things happening around them, which makes them more likely to miss the presence of a motorcycle or to properly track the motorcycle’s path. Aggressive drivers tend to speed and attempt rapid maneuvers, such as sudden lane shifts, which all significantly increase the risk of a severe accident.
Scenario #13: Failing to Yield
Motorcycles have the same right to take a right of way as any other vehicle. Some drivers of larger passenger vehicles choose to ignore this, and charge into a motorcycle’s space. For instance, some car drivers fail to come to full stops at intersections while motorcycles are passing through. These drivers often even fail to notice the presence of the motorcycle in the intersection at all. Driver’s of passenger vehicles should not just yield to motorcycles, but give stay vigilant about watching for them and give them as much space as possible.
Scenario #14: Merging Challenges
Merging onto a busy highway or interstate can pose challenges, especially to inexperienced drivers. While merging, a driver must pay attention to many things at the same time. They must watch the road ahead, match speeds with the vehicles in the next lane to merge into the flow of traffic, and carefully adjust into a lane, keeping enough space from other drivers.
Whether it’s a motorcycle merging or a car merging next to a motorcycle, merging challenges can be particularly hazardous for motorcycle riders. A motorcycle rider boxed into a lane might occupy their position legally and safely. When larger vehicles fail to slow down and adjust their merge to account for the stacked lanes at exits on a freeway, for instance, they can jeopardize the safety of motorcyclists.
During merging accidents, the larger vehicle may cause significant damage by striking the motorcycle or simply by clipping the motorcycle’s side. In some cases, drivers may pull over on top of the motorcycle or push the motorcycle into the other lane of traffic, hitting other vehicles. Motorcyclists also have trouble where they are the ones trying to merge and larger vehicles either fail to move over to make room for them to merge or suddenly merge from the left to the right lane where the motorcycle is headed.
Keeping Yourself Safe on Your Motorcycle
Most motorcycle accidents often occur due to the negligence of another party; most frequently, it is a driver who fails to take adequate precautions to protect the riders sharing the road. As a motorcycle rider, however, you just want to arrive home safely at the end of your trip, regardless of how other drivers may operate their vehicles. Below are some precautions motorcycle riders can take to reduce their risk of accidents, even when other vehicles do exercise due care.
1. Stay focused, avoid distractions.
On a motorcycle, you may have access to fewer distractions in your immediate reach than in a passenger vehicle: for example, you may not have any food or drink to possibly reach over to like you would if you had a passenger seat to the right of you. But riders still get distracted, whether by things they still can reach for or even by their own thoughts. Motorcycle riders should not check their GPSs while driving or look down at their phones, even “just for a moment.” Riders with passengers should also be mindful not to become distracted by a conversation, and should never turn around, taking their eyes off the road ahead.
2. Monitor drivers you closely
Motorcycle riders always need to be defensive drivers, keeping an eye out for other drivers who drive distracted or dangerously. Riders cannot always predict the behavior of other drivers on the road.
However, riders can be aware of the different negligent and dangerous practices some drivers engage in and keep watch for signs of such driving.
- Aggressive drivers. Many motorcycle riders learn to see aggressive drivers coming from a great distance. These drivers may proceed quickly through traffic, swerving around and taking up more space than they need. They may change lanes frequently or tailgate other vehicles. Keep an eye ahead or behind to give yourself enough time to avoid such drivers.
- Inexperienced drivers. In the same way that motorcycle riders might see aggressive drivers coming, riders can sometimes see inexperienced drivers coming. Inexperienced drivers miss things, swerve, or fail to maintain consistent speeds. Again, keep watch for these signs and have a plan to evade such drivers if necessary.
- Distracted drivers. You may notice distracted drivers drifting into the next lane or struggling to keep up with the traffic around them. They may stop abruptly at lights, or they change lanes faster than necessary. You can sometimes see clearly enough to observe a driver being distracted, whether by their phone or anything other than the road in front of them.
If you notice any of these dangerous behaviors in drivers around you, you may want to take steps to avoid them. If you cannot get past those drivers safely, consider allowing your speed to drop so that you can get behind the dangerous vehicle and have more time to respond. You may even want to consider changing your route or getting off the road for a little while to avoid the progress of a particularly dangerous driver. If you suspect a driver of inebriation, you may want to get off the road and call 911 to report the danger. Do not attempt to engage these drivers yourself.
3. Do not split lanes.
On your motorcycle, you may want to ride the line closely, and even ride between lanes. Riders sometimes do so to get through stopped or slowed traffic. In general, however, you should avoid this practice, known as “lane splitting.” Keep to the middle of your own lane.
4. Adhere to the rules of the road.
As a motorcycle rider, you must adhere to the same rules as any other driver on the road: maintaining the speed limit, following traffic signals, and keeping your vehicle safely in your lane. But motorcyclists face the same temptations to break these rules as well. Motorcycle riders can tend to speed, in particular. These riders enjoy the feeling of the wind racing around them and get caught up in the moment. But with other drivers already breaking the rules, you only compound your risk of getting in an accident by failing to follow them yourself. Heed all traffic laws closely.
5. Pay attention to your position relative to other vehicles.
When you share the road with larger passenger vehicles, pay particular attention to where you place your motorcycle in relation to adjacent vehicles. You cannot count on the driver of another vehicle to look out for you. Instead, assume that the driver may miss your presence, especially if you sit in a vehicle’s blind spot for a long time. Try not to allow yourself to sit in a vehicle’s blind spot. In tight traffic, or if you notice that you have traveled alongside the same vehicle for a long time, consider allowing your speed to drop until you fall out of the vehicle’s blind spot, rather than matching speed with it.
6. Avoid aggressive or reckless driving habits.
On a motorcycle, you may feel freer than to speed, swerve between lanes, or generally move about as you please. You can stop faster and take some maneuvers more easily. But aggressive driving habits are just as dangerous when a motorcycle rider engages in them. While you might be in full control of your vehicle, other drivers may have more trouble coming to quick stops. As mentioned, it is already hard enough for some drivers to notice motorcycles.
When motorcycles appear suddenly, swerving up and through traffic, they may never see a motorcycle before they’ve made a move, and it’s too late to avoid a collision. Erratic driving can also make your behavior more difficult to predict, so even drivers who pay attention to your location on the road may have trouble figuring out what you will do next.
Never be in a rush on a motorcycle. Many drivers become more likely to speed when they know they need to make up time, even though speeding might not significantly decrease the time needed to reach their destination anyway. Stress or getting in a hurry can also increase the risk that a rider will ignore the rules of the road or participate in dangerous behaviors that increase the risk of an accident.
7. Maintain your motorcycle and keep an eye out for recalls.
Make sure that you take care of any routine maintenance, including brake and tire replacements, and oil changes. If you or your mechanic notice any problems with your motorcycle, don’t ride again until you’ve figured out whether it is safe to do so. While you may not always notice every potential danger, you can go a long way toward decreasing your accident risk by keeping a close eye on maintenance.
Also, register your vehicle and keep an eye out for recalls. Often, manufacturers realize even years after a vehicle release that the vehicle bears a defect that poses a substantial danger. If you do find out about a recall for your vehicle, take your motorcycle straight to the specified location and follow directions about how to fix the issue or get a new vehicle. Don’t wait for the defect to start making noise before taking it in.