Motorcycle Accidents: The Basics

An overview of what to expect when making an injury claim after a motorcycle accident.

Many motorcyclists say that one of the best things about riding is the unique feeling of freedom it brings. But with that freedom comes vulnerability. Motorcycle riders don't enjoy much in the way of protection between their bodies and the road—a helmet and road leathers at most. And basic physics will tell you that a 450-pound bike is no match for a 4,500-pound SUV if a collision occurs.

A look at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data for the year 2020 bears out the risks associated with riding a motorcycle:

  • An estimated 82,528 motorcyclists were injured in motorcycle accidents.
  • An estimated 5,579 motorcyclists were killed in motorcycle accidents.
  • Motorcyclists made up 14% of all traffic fatalities and 18% of all occupant (driver and passenger) fatalities.

Just as motorcyclists are in a unique position on the road, special issues exist in most insurance claims and personal injury lawsuits arising from motorcycle accidents. This article touches on a few common issues in many motorcycle accident cases, and offers links to more in-depth information.

How Helmet Laws Might Affect Your Case

Most states have some sort of law related to helmet use by motorcycle riders. In states like California and Georgia, all motorcycle riders must wear a helmet. In Arizona and Connecticut, riders under 18 must wear a helmet. In other states, helmet laws are more complicated. In Ohio, for example, helmets are required for all riders under the age of 18, and all riders during the first year in which they are licensed to ride. And finally, lawmakers in a few states have left helmet use off the books altogether—in Iowa and New Hampshire, for example.

A motorcycle accident claim may turn on the rider's compliance with applicable helmet laws, especially in cases involving head and neck injuries.

Road Surface Hazards and Motorcycle Accidents

Road hazards that are fairly common for car drivers can spell doom for riders of two-wheeled vehicles. Potholes, sewer grates, and train tracks are just a few of the hazards that motorcyclists face on the road. Learn more about motorcycle accidents and road hazards.

Is Lane-Splitting the Difference?

A lot of motorcyclists do it, but that doesn't necessarily make it a good idea, and it doesn't make it legal. As of 2022, a handful of states have legalized some form of lane splitting. Many states ban it entirely. The remaining states don't explicitly allow lane splitting or prohibit it. Instead, law enforcement officers and courts are left to decide whether an act of lane splitting is unlawful under catch-all traffic rules that prohibit unsafe maneuvers and risky practices.

Even in states where lane-splitting is legal, like California, it's only allowed if it's done safely.

For motorcyclists who were lane-splitting at the time of their accident, the road toward compensation for injuries—via an insurance claim or lawsuit—can get pretty rough. Learn more: Is Lane-Splitting Legal, and How Does It Affect an Accident Case?

Tips for Helping Your Claim

Unfair as it may be, there are people out there who see motorcyclists as thrill-seeking daredevils for whom the nation's roadways are simply one big race track. And these kinds of prejudices can even be found in the minds of the people who will end up making crucial decisions on the merits of your case—from insurance adjusters to jurors in a civil court case (and yes, even the judge). So you need to do everything you can to combat these misconceptions and help your own case. To learn more about what you can do, see Attention Motorcyclists: Tips for Helping Your Claim After an Accident.

Getting More Information and Assistance

To learn more about factors that could affect a motorcycle accident claim, and to understand what to expect at every step in your case, get How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim by Joseph L. Matthews (Nolo). And to best protect your legal rights, especially after a motorcycle accident resulting in significant injuries, talk to a lawyer. Learn more about hiring a car accident lawyer. You can also connect with a lawyer directly from this page for free.

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