Who’s to Blame When a Driver Turning Left Hits a Motorcyclist? | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

A crash between a car and a motorcycle in Greensboro, North Carolina (NC), left the motorcyclist dead and police trying to determine exactly why the collision occurred. The deadly wreck may also illustrate a common problem in which drivers simply fail to see motorcycle riders.



The crash happened at around 8:45 pm on May 26, 2018. Local police told reporters that the driver was attempting to turn left from Summit Avenue onto Textile Drive when she collided with the motorcycle rider. The driver escaped injury, but the motorcyclist was taken to Moses Cone Hospital and later died.

Authorities did not make a public statement about the cause of the fatal collision, and they did not issue charges against the surviving driver. Before doing either, investigators will first need to figure out whether the woman in the car or the man on the motorcycle had right of way.

The intersection at Summit and Textile is controlled by stoplights, and a dedicated left turn lane is provided. There is no turn arrow, however, so both the people involved in this wreck presumably would have had green lights. In that situation, North Carolina law makes it clear that the person intending to turn left at the intersections must yield to the person traveling straight. If, however, the motorcycle rider was speeding or operating in some other unsafe manner, the driver would not necessarily be at fault for causing the crash.

Another issue that investigator must explore is whether the driver recognized that the motorcycle rider was approaching. One of my North Carolina wrongful death law firm colleagues recently explained why so many drivers truthfully claims they never saw the motorcyclist they hit and injured or killed. The extremely short answer boils down to a combination of physiological limitations and mental assumptions in which a driver’s eyes blur a motorcycle into the background and a driver does not expect to spot a motorcycle in an area that he or she had scanned just a second or two before.

Both problems lead to tragedies. During 2016, a total of 151 motorcyclists died in crashes on North Carolina roads and highways. While the state Division of Motor Vehicles does not provide a breakdown of causes for those deaths, surely some occurred in the seven fatal wrecks attributed to improper turns and in the 140 wrecks blamed on a failure to yield right of way.