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7 Common Causes of Motorcycle Accidents and How to Avoid Them

Motorcycles are more common on California roads than any other U.S. state, and it’s no wonder, with the fine weather year-round, in most of the state. As such, there are more accidents on the Gold Coast than any other state. The top 7 most common causes of motorcycle accidents, some more surprising than others, can often be avoided with proper training, planning, and vigilance.

Motorcycles are Inherently Risky

The freedom of driving a motorcycle is something that few can put into words. However, with this freedom comes serious risks of injury, even death. The vulnerability of motorcyclists on the road makes them much more prone to accidents, whether it was the other motorist or the motorcyclist’s recklessness or poor choices for safe motorcycle operation.

The anatomy of a motorcycle makes these vehicles much more dangerous than the typical car. Just think if your car suddenly had no doors, protective pillars, windows, or a seatbelt, and you were exposed to the elements: that’s a motorcycle, in short. Not to mention, a motorcycle weighs less than a car by hundreds of pounds, and they are much harder to detect on the road than an ordinary car or truck, due to the smaller size.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that in 2015 alone, there were 4,976 fatal motorcycle crashes in the United States, an increase of 8 percent from the previous year.2 To put that in perspective, motorcycles only accounted for only 3 percent of all registered vehicles in the U.S. in 2015, yet per registered vehicle, the motorcycle crash fatality rate was 6 times higher compared to passenger car occupants – motorcycles accounted for 14 percent of all traffic fatalities. In addition, approximately 88,000 motorcyclists were injured, in 2015.

fatal motorcycle crashes in the US 2014 vs. 2015

  1. No Formal Motorcycle Operation Training

According to the Hurt Report, a benchmark in motorcycle crash research first published in 1981, 92 percent of motorcycle riders involved in accidents receive no formal training on how to ride a motorcycle, instead learning from family or friends. Training on safe motorcycle riding significantly reduces accident involvement, and injuries in the event of an accident. Inexperienced, untrained motorcycle riders are much more likely to have an accident, as more than half of the accident-involved motorcycle riders had less than 5 months of experience, according to the Hurt Report.

Motorcycle riders without proper experience can have significant collision avoidance problems, where riders over-brake the rear wheel and under-brake the front wheel, which impairs their ability to avoid a collision by counter-steering or swerving.

An estimated 27 percent of U.S. motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes in 2015 were riding without valid motorcycle licenses.

27% of motorcycle fatal crash without license

How to Avoid a Car due to Improper Training

According to California motorcycle laws, basic motorcycle training is mandatory for new riders under the age of 21. Riders can receive motorcycle training from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) and be instructed in explanation of different types of motorcycles, motorcycle controls, how to operate motorcycles, and safe riding tips, such as maneuvering and bike handling, and avoiding road hazards.

In most states, motorcycle licenses are not mandated by law; however, it is the single most effective way to ensure the operator is able to safely handle their vehicle and avoid common road hazards that an untrained motorcyclist might miss.

A key way to stay safe on a motorcycle? Get the proper training, and a motorcycle license. Even experienced riders with years of experience can benefit from a motorcycle safety course, regardless if the laws of their respective states require it.

  1. Driving Under the Influence

Whether it is the other motorist involved, or the motorcyclist, alcohol and drugs are a dangerous combination when operating heavy machinery. In fact, driving while intoxicated accounts for an astounding half of fatal motorcycle accidents, according to The Hurt Report. Updated data from 2015 found that motorcyclists were responsible for their own deaths in an accident in 42 percent of all motorcycle accident fatalities.

Operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 is illegal in all 50 U.S. states. And yet, motorcyclists still are the most commonly-intoxicated motorists on the road compared to their car and truck-driving counterparts. In addition, motorcyclists who decide to drive drunk or high are much more likely to forego wearing a helmet – NHTSA data has shown that only half of drunk motorcyclists wear a helmet, compared to 65 percent of those who are not intoxicated.

How to Avoid a DUI: Simple, don’t “drink and ride.” Riding a motorcycle takes specialized training, not to mention coordination and balance. When under the influence of alcohol, balance, coordination and balance are all impaired. It’s important to research how alcohol affects you based on your age, size and gender, and to know when you have hit your limit. For most adults who weigh approximately 150 pounds, 2 alcoholic drinks (such as 2 glass of wine or 2 beers) is already enough to be intoxicated with a BAC of 0.08.

The best policy is if you do plan to drink, don’t plan to drive. Have a friend as a designated driver, or use an app to order a ride from Uber or Lyft.

  1. Being in an Intersection with Left-Turning Cars

For a motorcyclist, one of the most dangerous places to be on the road is, in fact, waiting at a traffic light at an intersection. Even for two regular cars, an intersection can be dangerous; but for bikers, it’s even more so, seeing how they are less protected on the motorcycle than the driver of a car.

Many times, a car driver simply fails to see the motorcycle. It has been proven that drivers often fail to see motorcycles, even if they’re in plain sight. A 2018 Study published in Human Factors titled “Allocating Attention to Detect Motorcycles: The Role of Inattentional Blindness,” found that car drivers do not perceive motorcycles because they are too focused on looking for other cars and trucks, and they are bombarded with other sensory information to process.

A car driver is also more likely to miss a motorcyclist in a “looked but fail to see” crash because the driver misjudges the motorcycle’s speed, and abruptly turns in front of the motorcycle, and striking the motorcyclist.

Another scenario where a motorcycle is at risk in an intersection is cars making left-handed turns as the motorcycle goes straight. The reason why this accounts for so many accidents is because a fellow motorist in a car collides with a motorcycle while the motorcycle goes straight through the intersection and the driver of the car is making a left turn.

How to Avoid Motorcycle Crashes at an Intersection:

Motorcycles, being smaller than cars, are harder for motorists to detect at first glance, but fortunately, motorcyclists have some ways to protect themselves while riding:

  • Check for cars waiting to turn left in an intersection, especially looking for a turn signal from other vehicles.
  • If there’s a gap in traffic in front of the motorcycle, be cautious, as someone may be waiting to turn left.
  • Look at the other motorist: if s/he looks quickly in both directions, it is often an indication that s/he intends to turn at the intersection.
  1. Cars Changing Lanes without Warning

Cars changing lanes in front of them is another hazard for motorcyclists. This is particularly true in the state of California, which is the only state in the nation where lane splitting is legal. A 2014 study found that 80 percent of California bikers will split lanes on the freeway6. While there is conflicting data on the safety of lane splitting, it can easily be abused by motorcyclists. Also, there is the danger of the motorcyclist being struck by a car that changes lanes, when the car driver doesn’t detect the motorcyclist until it’s too late to avoid.

A car driver might not be able to see a motorcyclist simply because they are moving too quickly, or because of the smaller size of the bike, they fail to detect it in their blind spot when looking over their shoulder in the process of changing lanes.

How to Avoid a Lane-Changing Accident:

Motorcyclists can protect themselves, again, by watching for clues from their fellow motorists, such as:

  • Look for turn signals.
  • Look at the car’s wheels and notice if they begin to turn.
  • Watch car drivers to see if they are checking their mirrors, especially if they are looking over a shoulder at their blind spots.
  • If you do split lanes, only do so with proper training and experience. Do not split lanes when traffic is moving at a decent speed.
  1. Head-On Collisions Where a Car Strikes the Motorcycle

When a car strikes a motorcycle from the front end, it is, in most cases, a fatal accident for one or both parties, but usually for the motorcyclist, the injuries are severe and life-threatening. Especially because a head-on collision usually happens at a high speed, whether neither the car driver nor the motorcyclists are able to safely get out of the way in time.

Depending on the circumstances of the accident, a head-on collision can crush the motorcyclist to death, or cause the rider to catapult through the air on impact. Either scenario is potentially deadly.



How to Avoid a Head-On Collision: According to the National Safety Council, or NSC, motorcyclists should follow “the 4 R’s” to avoid a head on collision, including:

  • Read the Road Ahead: It’s important to keep a high line of vision, on the horizon ahead. That means looking up and over hills, curves and overpasses and always maintaining an awareness of your surroundings on the road, and by politely communicating with other drivers such as by honking the horn and using headlights.
  • Drive to the Right: Motorcyclists who see an oncoming car near the center line should begin braking and move to the slight-right side of their respective lane.
  • Reduce Your Speed. Driving at a reasonable speed is always important, but especially to avoid a car that is in oncoming traffic.
  • Ride off the Road if Necessary. Motorcyclists who spot an approaching vehicle should not jerk the handles, slam on the brakes, or make an abrupt turn, but rather, steer out of the way of the path of impact by riding off the road. Yes, even if it means smashing into a stationary object – it’s less likely to cause as serious of an injury as head-on impact with a car.
  1. Being hit from behind

Like a fender bender with two cars, a motorcycle can also be hit from the backside, and the consequences can be deadly rather than a simple inconvenience. Although this is a harder one to avoid, seeing how a motorcyclist cannot help what the car drivers behind them are doing, there are ways to stay safer.

How to Avoid Being Hit From Behind:

A “crumple zone” is a place where a motorcyclist can pull in front of other cars, thereby creating an area where any impact would hit the cars behind him/her rather than directly impacting the motorcycle. If there are no crumple zones, the biker may try stopping to the side of his/her lane, rather than staying in the center of it. Tapping the brake sets the brake light off, and can help alert car drivers to the presence of a motorcycle.

As with most safety tips listed here, situations are even more dangerous in times of inclement weather, particularly if it’s foggy, misty, or there’s overall bad visibility. Motorcyclists should also be especially wary of riding after midnight on weekend nights, when bars let out and there is a higher chance of sharing the road with a drunk driver.

  1. Exceeding the Speed Limit

Injury severity increases with speed – this is especially true for motorcycles, and even more so in inclement weather. A speeding motorcycle, too, is even harder for other motorists to detect, and it gets even more dangerous if the speeding motorcycle is lane-splitting.

In a 2015 report, the NHSTA found that one-third of all motorcycle riders fatally injured were killed as a direct result of their speeding. Compounding this, those who speed may also not be wearing a helmet – the single most effective way to prevent injuries while riding a motorcycle.

How to Avoid a Crash from Riding too Fast:

This should go without saying, but slow down! Always pay attention to the road – it’s harder to do carefully if you are speeding down the freeway, especially while splitting lanes. Remember that in inclement weather, it’s also important to slow down.

Remember that getting somewhere more quickly is not nearly as important as arriving alive.

Other Tips for Safer Motorcycle Operation

Improper Attire is a glaring issue among motorcycle riders, and simply wearing protective gear, including a helmet, is one of the best ways motorcyclists can protect themselves in the event of an accident. However, as of August 2018, only 19 states and the District of Columbia currently legally mandate it, according to Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.1

Wearing a safety helmet while operating a motorcycle is, in fact, the single most critical factor in preventing or reducing the severity of a head injury. However, according to the Hurt Report, more than half of motorcyclists were not wearing a helmet at the time of an accident. Over one-fourth of those surveyed said helmets were uncomfortable or inconvenient, while about half said they had no expectation of being involved in an accident.

The Value of an Experienced Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney

Even the safest, most qualified motorcyclist can find him or herself in a serious, debilitating accident. That’s why it’s imperative to collect as much evidence as possible, in addition to vehicle insurance findings and medical reports, to provide your Los Angeles personal injury lawyer. As personal injury attorneys, motorcycle accident lawyers can determine the facts of the case by examining the collected evidence and help motorists determine who was truly at fault and help get motorcyclists their due compensation.

The skilled motorcycle crash attorneys at Wilshire Law Firm can help you in the following ways, if you’ve found yourself or a loved one involved in a motorcycle crash:

  • Spouses can receive compensation for fatal accidents.
  • Children, as well, are eligible for compensation.
  • Surviving relatives are eligible for medical and funeral cost compensation.
  • Survivors are also eligible to receive money making up for the loss of future earnings of the motorcyclist.
  • Mental pain and suffering is also a factor in determining compensation.

If you or a loved one has experienced a motorcycle accident in Southern California, call Wilshire Law Firm right away at (866) 703-5073 or email us We are available 24/7.

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