When other drivers fail to obey local traffic laws, execute unsafe lane changes, drive drunk, or otherwise exercise negligence behind the wheel, motorcyclists often suffer from life-changing injuries. It often takes a good motorcycle accident lawyer to untangle liability issues and the compensation an injured motorcyclist deserves.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that motorcyclists account for 14 percent of all crash-related fatalities despite only representing three percent of traffic flow. Lack of driver awareness, including unfamiliarity with downshifting, lane splitting, and right-of-way laws, leaves riders especially vulnerable to serious personal injuries. By obeying the following five motor vehicle safety regulations, passenger vehicle operators might avoid preventable motorcycle collisions.
Following Too Closely
National studies indicate that rear-end collisions account for almost one-third of all motor vehicle accidents. Unfortunately, the size and weight differential between passenger cars and motorcycles often mean riders sustain more substantial injuries in rear-end crashes.
Factors contributing to dangerous tailgating accidents include:
- Driver distraction, such as by texting
- Equipment failures, such as brakes
- Sudden stops
- Unsafe lane changes, such as by cutting off other vehicles
- Roadway debris
- Slick road conditions
- Poor visibility
- Delayed reaction times due to drugs and alcohol
Due to the dangers rear-end collisions pose to smaller automobiles, traffic laws require drivers to maintain an appropriate stopping distance between themselves and other vehicles based on speed and roadway conditions. This gap should provide a buffer zone that allows cars to safely decelerate and stop in time to avoid rear-ending a motorcycle.
For example, vehicles traveling 25 mph should leave approximately 100 feet between themselves and motorcycles while cars traveling 75 mph should leave about 300 feet between themselves and riders. By keeping a safe stopping distance between larger vehicles and smaller motorcycles, drivers may prevent a substantial number of motorcycle accidents and deaths each year.
Failure to Yield
Riders have the same right of way as passenger vehicles on public roadways; however, many drivers mistakenly believe motorcyclists must yield to larger vehicles. Dangerous intersection, merging, and left turn (crossing path) accidents often occur when motor vehicle operators cut off motorcycles while changing lanes.
Failing to understand the right of way laws applicable to changing lanes, turning, and traveling through intersections account for over one-third of motorcycle-related fatalities in the United States. Generally, vehicles making a left turn without a designed left turn arrow must yield the right to motorcycles traveling straight. They may not turn in front of a bike if the rider would need to suddenly slow down or change course to avoid colliding with the larger vehicle.
States set local speed limits based on comprehensive safety analyses. While adhering to designed speed limitations often helps to prevent accidents, zone-specific speed limits also mitigate the damage caused by inevitable motor vehicle collisions. Most states require vehicles to slow down in residential areas, work areas, and school zones so that, if a collision occurs, exposed pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists have a higher chance of avoiding severe and fatal injuries.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, pedestrians have a 90 percent chance of surviving a direct vehicle impact at 23 mph but only a 10 percent chance of surviving a crash at 58 mph. The same dangers generally apply to riders.
Motorcyclists often suffer from the following preventable injuries when larger passenger and commercial vehicles speed:
- Compression and spiral fractures
- Internal organ damage
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Spinal cord injuries, including paralysis
Drivers may reduce the force of impact with a motorcycle by obeying posted speed limits, reducing the severity of fractures, internal bleeding, concussions, and spinal trauma.
Inattention (Failure to See)
All drivers must pay attention to roadway conditions, hazards, traffic devices, and motorcycles when operating their vehicles. Many drivers report cutting off or unintentionally colliding with motorcyclists simply because they didn’t see their bikes. Passenger and commercial vehicle operators often strike riders because (1) they were riding in one of the vehicles’ blind spots, (2) they weren’t looking out for motorcycles, or (3) they were distracted.
Distracted driving causes numerous traffic accidents in the United States, including motorcycle accidents. Anti-driver distraction laws, such as statutes prohibiting texting while driving, help operators keep their eyes and mind on the road. While motorcyclists can ensure their visibility by wearing reflective clothing and avoiding semi-truck blind spots, drivers must legally look out for other vehicles, including motorcycles.
Driving Under the Influence of Drugs or Alcohol
Every state prohibits drivers from operating motor vehicles while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance. If any substance, including legal marijuana, prescription drugs, or alcohol, impairs a driver’s reaction time or decision-making skills, that driver likely violated local DUI laws.
Drugs and alcohol delay drivers’ ability to process and respond to visual stimuli, including red lights, traffic signs, and other vehicles. An impaired driver may see a motorcycle ahead but fail to recognize he must slow down to avoid colliding with the rider. For many riders, a minor delay in a driver’s reaction could mean the difference between life and death.
Penalties for Violating Motorcycle Safety Laws
Most motor vehicle collisions involve one or more traffic safety violations. By identifying the specific traffic violation that caused a motorcycle accident, the rider’s attorney can often request an expedited judgment or financial settlement under a legal theory called negligence per se.
This legal principle allows juries to assume drivers operated their vehicles carelessly merely because they violated a relevant motorcycle traffic safety law. Further, drivers might even face reckless driving charges and additional financial liability for violating two or more traffic safety laws before striking a motorcycle (for example, by speeding and texting).
Motorcyclists injured when other drivers violate the rules of the road can often recover financial compensation for their injuries, lost wages, pain, and bike damage. Many traffic safety laws exist to protect motorcyclists, pedestrians, and other vulnerable persons from the danger associated with motor vehicle impacts. Failing to see riders and mistakes regarding the right of way do not excuse or mitigate a passenger driver’s liability for a motorcycle accident.
Connect with local legal counsel to discuss local motorcycle safety laws and your lifestyle rights. The right motorcycle accident lawyer can help you obtain any financial recovery you deserve.