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Motorcycle Accidents: Most Common Causes and What to Do If One Occurs

Motorcycle Accidents: Most Common Causes and What to Do If One Occurs

Motorcyclists face many hazards on streets and highways - some that are shared with passenger vehicles and some that are unique to motorcycle operators. With a much smaller visual profile than passenger vehicles, motorcyclists are harder to see and at high risk of suffering a serious personal injury in a crash. In any collision, a motorcyclist is 28 times more likely to be killed than an occupant of a passenger vehicle.

Recent statistics are concerning. In 2020, the number of motorcyclists killed in a crash reached the highest number since the Fatality Analysis Reporting System was established in 1975. This was a double-digit increase from the year prior.

Most Common Causes of Motorcycle Accidents

As Indiana motorcycle accident attorneys, we have seen the devastation caused by catastrophic accidents. We believe it is valuable for any motorcycle operator to understand the causes of motorcycle accidents and areas where they can eliminate or mitigate risk. This blog post will explore the common causes of motorcycle accidents and what to do if you or a loved one is involved in a collision. 

Car Doors

Motorcyclists may have no time whatsoever to avoid collision with a car door that opens directly in front of them. Under such circumstances, an accident is simply unavoidable. Indiana does not have a “dooring law” like some states. Despite awareness campaigns, open car doors remain one of the primary causes of motorcycle accidents.

Reckless Driving, Speeding, and Alcohol Use

These three causes of motorcycle accidents are forms of reckless driving. Liability, of course, will come down to who was driving recklessly (the motorcyclist or the motorist). Proving negligence can be straightforward once you have proven that reckless driving occurred. 

Alcohol Use / Drug Use: Operating a motorcycle under the influence of alcohol or drugs is incredibly dangerous (and against the law). A higher percentage of motorcycle riders are involved in fatal alcohol-involved crashes than operators of passenger vehicles, light trucks, or large trucks. 

Speeding: The severity of any crash is increased with speed. Additionally, the effectiveness of devices like airbags and seat belts is compromised at higher speeds. 

Not Wearing a Helmet: Failure to wear a helmet does not cause a crash, but it can contribute to a fatality or severe brain injury. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that “Helmets are estimated to be 37 percent effective in preventing fatalities to motorcycle riders and 41 percent for motorcycle passengers.”. 

Another way of putting it: For every 100 fatal motorcycle accidents where the operator was not wearing a helmet, 37 motorcyclists could have survived if they had worn a helmet. The NHTSA recommends all motorcycle operators wear a helmet that meets the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 218.

Head-On Collisions

A car vs. motorcycle accident head-on collision can occur when a vehicle departs its lane and travels “head-on” into the path of an oncoming vehicle. While head-on impacts are rare events (just 2% of all vehicle collisions), they do account for a high proportion of fatalities and devastating injuries. 

Lane Splitting

Some states, like California, allow riding a motorcycle between lanes of slow-moving or stopped traffic. While the American Motorcyclist Association and other motorcycle advocacy groups endorse lane splitting and argue that it reduces motorcyclists' exposure, the practice is illegal in Indiana.

Lane Switching 

Lane switching accidents are a commonly used example of vehicle drivers not seeing motorcycles. Unfortunately, some drivers make just a quick glance in the mirror before initiating a lane change. This can be problematic if there is a blind spot - an area that is not visible in vehicle mirrors. Because motorcycles have narrower profiles, they are more vulnerable to being in a blind spot - and being struck by a lane-switching or lane-changing vehicle. 

Motorcyclists can mitigate the risk of being involved in these collisions by looking for signs that a driver may be beginning a turn and either speeding up or slowing down to get out of the blind spot. 

Weather & Seasons

Very few accidents are truly an “Act of God” or “Mother Nature’s fault.”. Just like pilots need to plan their flights, motorcyclists should plan their rides or commute, including checking the weather conditions en route. In rare cases, a city may be liable for failing to salt icy roads within a reasonable time period. 

Sudden Stops 

We’ve all come upon suddenly stopped traffic on fast-moving highways. These encounters do not cause a collision anymore for motorcycle operators than for passenger vehicle operators. However, they can be more deadly. Because motorcycles are not equipped with seat belts, a sudden stop can cause a motorcyclist to be thrown from their bike, either into another vehicle or into traffic. 

Inexperience & Inattention

Practice in a parking lot may not prepare motorcycle operators for the very real hazards on the open road. Unfortunately, many motorcyclists hop on a bike with very little understanding of hazards and risks. Training courses offered through Ride Safe Indiana or other programs may not be sufficient to prevent accidents or injury - and can even create false confidence. 

Inattention and distraction can be deadly. A motorcycle operator may not be distracted by anything, but if their mind wanders and they are not focused on defensive driving, their reaction time may be reduced when seconds are critical. 

Left-Turn Accidents

Indiana’s left-turn statute applies to all motorists, including motorcyclists. Failure-to-yield scenarios can occur when drivers of passenger vehicles do not see motorcyclists approaching an intersection. Collisions in intersections can be deadly for motorcyclists.

Corner-Turning Accidents 

A motorcyclist entering a corner or a turn too fast can lose control and be thrown from a bike. These solo-vehicle accidents sometimes occur when a motorcyclist is riding with a group and may be operating beyond their comfort limits in an effort to keep up. This can lead to other motorcyclists losing control as well. 

Loss of control accidents on corners can be avoided by operating a motorcycle at a safe speed. Entering a turn at a safe speed is crucial - a good rule of thumb is riding around turns and corners is ”slow in, fast out”.

Dangerous Road Conditions 

Some road conditions might not cause a passenger vehicle any problems but might kill a motorcyclist. Government agencies have a responsibility to address hazards when they are made aware of them. Dangerous road conditions can include: 

  • Failure to cover speed limit signs in construction zones 
  • Lack of guardrails 
  • Poor lighting
  • Road construction debris
  • Non-functioning traffic signals
  • Cracks
  • Uneven pavement.

Slippery road surfaces also pose a particular danger to motorcyclists because a two-wheeled vehicle can lose balance much easier than an automobile. 

Cases against government agencies are challenging, but not impossible. You can increase your chances of a positive outcome for your case by hiring a knowledgeable personal injury or wrongful death attorney who has experience going against government agencies and knows the complexities of dangerous road condition litigation. 

Motorcycle Defects

A design or manufacturing defect may cause or contribute to an accident, and when an accident causes serious injuries, the damages can be substantial. Like road defect cases, motorcycle defect cases are also challenging and require an experienced and knowledgeable attorney.

In one case years ago, a 27-year-old man was rendered a quadriplegic due to a design defect in the kickstand of his motorcycle that caused his bike to spin out of control during a turn. The man sued Honda, the manufacturer, but they refused to agree to a settlement. At trial, a jury awarded the man $19.8 million for his injuries. 

Physical & Emotional Impairment 

Operating a motorcycle requires focus and engagement. There is no “autopilot” for riders, and daydreaming or allowing the mind to wander can be dangerous. Motorcyclists are susceptible to loss of focus, distraction, and hazardous attitudes that can cause or contribute to a collision, including riding while emotionally upset, tired or drowsy, angry, and engrossed in deep thought. 

Motorcycle operators can benefit from borrowing the aviation industry’s IMSAFE checklist to assess fitness for flight before hopping on a bike. The Mnemonic is: 

  • I: Illness
  • M: Medication
  • S: Stress
  • A: Alcohol
  • F: Fatigue 
  • E: Emotion 

The theory is - even if you are legal and able to operate - there are times when you simply should not. It may be safer to make the trip another day or take alternative means of transportation such as a passenger vehicle or Uber/Lyft. Of course, operating a vehicle when you are not fit to operate can lead to accidents and result in liability for damages. 

What to Do If You’ve Been Injured in a Motorcycle Accident? 

If you’ve been involved in a motorcycle accident (either as the motorcyclist, a passenger, or the occupant of another vehicle), there are two main things you need to do: 

  • Get medical care immediately;
  • Contact a motorcycle accident lawyer as soon as possible. 

If you contact a lawyer soon after an accident, they can assist with obtaining important evidence, obtaining the police report, documenting your damages, negotiating the best possible settlement, and taking your case to trial, if necessary. 

Motorcycle Accident Injuries You Can Include in a Claim

In just a few seconds, a motorcycle accident can cause severe, life-changing injuries that can dramatically change someone’s future. Some of the serious injuries that may be the basis for a personal injury claim include: 

  • Traumatic brain injuries: The physical effects of brain injuries are far reaching and include everything from dizziness and fatigue to personality changes and hearing problems. There is a definite spectrum of brain injuries and the effects can be anywhere from mild to severe. 
  • Spinal cord injuries: Injuries to the spine are one of the most catastrophic injuries. Loss of nerve function below the site of an injury can result in paralysis of the arms, trunk, legs, and pelvic organs. 
  • Broken bone injuries: Motorcycle accident victims can suffer fractures to any bone in the body. Lower extremity injuries are common, including fractures and breaks in the pelvis, femur, fibula, and tibia. 
  • Road rash injuries: Road rash or road burn can result from being thrown from a bike onto the asphalt. As the name implies, they are extremely painful. They are also associated with bleeding and infection. 

When a motorcyclist is thrown from their bike, they are extremely vulnerable and may be struck by another vehicle or bike. 

Types of Damages in a Motorcycle Collision

Damages available in a motorcycle accident include:

  • Medical expenses (ambulance transport, emergency room care, hospitalization, diagnostic imaging, surgeries, physical therapy, etc.) 
  • Lost earnings 
  • Lost future earning capacity 
  • Pain and suffering. 

Do not speak with an insurance representative or accept any compensation offer without speaking with a lawyer. You may be entitled to receive substantially more compensation than is initially offered. 

Why Hire an Attorney After a Motorcycle Accident? 

An experienced motorcycle accident attorney can help you obtain the justice you deserve following a motorcycle accident. The sooner you contact a lawyer, the sooner you can recover the compensation you are entitled to. If you’d like to speak with a lawyer about your case, contact Stracci Law Group for a free consultation. We will explain the process for your case and the options you have available.

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It is a fact that personal injury cases of all kinds can be very expensive to litigate.  A law office needs to make countless calls to insurance adjusters

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