Common Causes of Motorcycle Accidents

Motorcycle riding comes with unique risks, but many motorcycle accidents share a common cause.

Compared with car-versus-car collisions, traffic accidents involving motorcyclists often end with significant injuries, usually to the rider. The statistics tell the story:

  • In 2019, there were approximately 84,000 motorcyclists injured in traffic accidents in 2019, according to the most recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
  • Motorcyclists were 29 times more likely to die in a traffic crash than someone in a passenger vehicle.
  • Avoiding accidents is paramount when riding a motorcycle.

Let's look at some of the more common causes of motorcycle accidents, and why they often lead to injuries for motorcycle riders.

Poor Road Conditions

With a normal car or truck, poor road conditions are often more of a nuisance. But with motorcycles, even minor problems with the road can lead to serious consequences. Common road problems that can lead to motorcycle accidents include:

  • Uneven roads. Whether from potholes, expansion joints between bridges and roads, or uneven pavement, these kinds of problematic road surfaces can cause a motorcyclist to lose control of their bike.
  • Loose gravel. When small rocks and pebbles are on the road surface, they can act like ball bearings, causing motorcycle tires to lose traction. This problem gets worse around turns.
  • Wet or icy roads. These cause problems for any vehicle, but since motorcycles have only two wheels making contact with the road's surface, riders are at particular risk in wet or icy conditions.
  • Animals. An animal of any size can cause a motorcyclist to crash, whether the rider tries to avoid hitting the animal or actually hits the animal.
  • Missing or Faulty Road Signals. A malfunctioning traffic light or knocked- down yield sign can have serious consequences for any rider.

Learn more about traffic accidents involving road hazards.

Unsafe Left Turns by Drivers of Passenger Vehicles

The NHTSA reported that in 2019, 41% of fatal accidents involving a motorcycle and another vehicle occurred when the other vehicle was turning left. Left turns are common causes of accidents, even among cars and trucks. But they often occur with motorcycles because motorcycles can be harder to see, either because they're in the driver's blind spot, or because they're hidden among traffic. It's also often harder for other drivers to judge the speed of a motorcycle.

If you've been hit by a passenger vehicle while riding, get tips on helping your motorcycle accident injury claim.

Lane Splitting

Also referred to as lane sharing, lane splitting takes place when a motorcyclist rides between two lanes. This often occurs in traffic, where cars might be slowly moving or stopped, but the motorcyclist can ride at near-full speed between vehicles.

Lane splitting is dangerous for motorcycles because other drivers rarely anticipate them. And if a truck or car decides to turn or change lanes in front of a lane-splitting motorcycle, there's no room for the motorcyclist to maneuver to avoid an accident. Instead, the motorcycle has no choice but to crash into the turning vehicle or another vehicle on either side of the motorcycle.

Driver Negligence or Recklessness

This applies to both vehicle drivers and motorcycle riders: negligent and reckless driving/riding, in some form, is behind most vehicle accidents. But careless and reckless conduct is sometimes more prevalent with certain types of motorcycle riders who enjoy pushing the limits of their riding abilities. Examples of negligent or reckless road behavior include:

  • speeding
  • driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • racing
  • tailgating
  • distracted driving
  • aggressive driving

Head-On Collisions

If there's a benefit to riding a motorcycle, it's that getting read-ended is relatively rare. Of all two-vehicle fatal accidents involving a motorcycle, only 7% involved the motorcycle getting read-ended. However, in 76% of these fatal accidents, the motorcyclist got into a head-on collision.

It's no wonder these accidents lead to the death of the motorcyclist given how little protection they have from physical trauma. Unlike someone in a modern vehicle, there's no front or curtain airbags or physical cabin to protect the rider from impact, or from getting flung onto the road.

Collisions With Fixed Objects

If there's an accident between a vehicle and a fixed object, it's statistically more likely to involve a motorcycle. In 2019, 23% of fatal motorcycle accidents included a collision with a fixed object. Fatal accidents between fixed objects and other vehicles break down as follows:

  • passenger cars = 16%
  • light trucks = 13%
  • large trucks = 4%

Inexperienced Riders

Just because you can ride a bicycle doesn't mean you can operate a motorcycle. The concept of staying on two wheels could be similar, but there are other operations new motorcycle riders need to learn.

There's a reason motorcycle riding classes exist. Riding requires special skills and new habits that aren't intuitive to someone who's always driven a passenger vehicle, or ridden a regular bicycle. This lack of experience can lead to mistakes on the road, and an accident could follow.

Getting Legal Help

If you're a rider who has been injured in a traffic accident, getting the best outcome for your injury claim means having a skilled legal professional on your side. To reach out to a motorcycle accident lawyer in your area, use the tools right on this page. You can also learn more about when you need a lawyer after any kind of traffic accident.

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