Separate collisions on the same day in North Carolina that left two motorcycle riders dead prompt the question of why so many car and truck drivers have trouble spotting and yielding right of way to motorcyclists when turning or merging.
On April 22, 2018, a negligent left turn from Highway 201 onto Annabelle Lane in Pender County set the stage for a deadly crash. Police from the nearby town of Hampstead told reporters that 58-year-old Thomas Anthony Allen turned in front of 46-year-old Williams Haines III. Haines initially survived the collision, but he later died from his injuries at a hospital.
Authorities issued a preliminary charge for misdemeanor death by motor vehicle against Allen. Making that charges requires gathering evidence that a driver unintentionally caused a crash by violating a traffic law other than driving while impaired, that the crash inflicted fatal injuries on an innocent person, and that the crash-related injuries led directly to the victim’s death.
The deadly motorcycle crash in Pender County happened within hours of a nearly identical fatal wreck in Cape Carteret, just a few dozen miles to the north.
In this tragic incident, according to state troopers, 54-year-old Nicholas Secchi of Cape Carteret entered NC 24 from Fox Drive and cut off a motorcycle driven by 56-year-old Dennis Williams of South Carolina. Williams died at the scene, and Secchi was charged with misdemeanor death by vehicle and failure to yield right of way while crossing a highway.
As Carolina wrongful death attorneys who have helped many families of motorcycle riders who got injured or killed by negligent drivers, we have heard many times that at-fault driver “never even saw” the people they hit. While often true, the explanation cannot stand as an excuse.
Motorcycles are small, making them difficult to pick out of a field of vision that includes so many other things. And, ironically, a single motorcyclist against a clear sky on an otherwise empty road can “disappear” simply because a viewer does not expect to see it. Then, once an object is missed at first look, it is likely to be missed again because what one sees in a familiar view is filled in by memory.
Further, the human eye has difficulty tracking the distance and speed of small objects as they move. Now add to this purely neurophysiological limitation the fact that too many drivers look once to the right, once to left, and then proceed with a turn or merge without rechecking either direction. What you get is a high likelihood that a driver will not see an approaching or nearby motorcycle because they did not look for one, did not confirm the absence of one, and assumed that one would not be in the vicinity.
As spring begins and summer approaches, drivers need to expect to encounter more motorcycle riders. Sharing the road safely requires making extra efforts to see and yield to riders.