Who Causes Motorcycle Accidents | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

Just under 90 motorcycle riders died as a result of crashes on Virginia roads and highways during 2018. Reports collected by the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles also indicated that another 1,495 motorcyclists suffered injuries in wrecks that year.

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If historical trends held, only around one-third of those fatal and serious crashes could be blamed on errors by the motorcyclists. Research thoroughly debunks the myth that people who ride motorcycles are thrill-seeking risk-takers.




A 1981 study funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed the following facts about 4,500 motorcycle accidents:

  • 75 percent of collisions involving a motorcycle and another vehicle were wrecks between bikes and passenger cars.
  • 65 percent of the time, a car’s driver violated the motorcyclist’s right of way.
  • “The failure of drivers to detect and recognize motorcycles in traffic,” the study states, “was the predominate cause of motorcycle accidents.”
  • The greatest proportion of crashes occurred at intersections because “the driver of the other vehicle involved in a collision with a motorcycle did not see the motorcycle before or until it was too late to avoid the collision.”
  • At-fault drivers often ran red lights or stop signs, or failed to yield before attempting to turn.

The lessons, which emerge time after time from analyses of motorcycle crash data, are that drivers of larger vehicles do not watch out for riders and fail to share the road respectfully and responsibly. As Virginia personal injury and wrongful death attorneys, we know these truths too well.

As for why drivers hit and injure or kill motorcyclists, the National Safety Council offers four explanations:

  • Motorcycles are relatively small and drivers don’t see them.
  • Drivers don’t anticipate motorcycles’ movements.
  • The driver’s view of the motorcyclist is obstructed, often by the vehicle’s blind spots or other vehicles.
  • The driver is distracted.

What Happens When Drivers Make Mistakes Around Motorcycles

Motorcycle riders are particularly at risk for being hit by drivers making left turns, changing lanes and approaching from behind. Regardless of how a collision occurs, the consequences for the rider are often severe.

Even when a motorcyclist heeds all the advice to wear a properly fitted and structurally sound full-enclosure helmet along with other protective clothing, the lack of a surrounding support structure and airbags make a rider extremely vulnerable.

In somewhat bloodless language, NHTSA stated the problem this way:

More than 80 percent of all reported motorcycle crashes result in injury or death to the motorcyclist. The motorcycle itself provides no head injury protection to the rider or passenger. Ejection from the motorcycle is a common injury pathway. If a motorcycle comes to a sudden stop and the rider is ejected from the motorcycle, the rider will forcibly strike objects in the path as well as the ground.

Frequent injuries to motorcycle riders are brain injuries, broken bones, spinal trauma and paralysis. And those are high prices to pay for other drivers’ lack of recognition or distraction.