Motorcycle Accidents: An Overview

Motorcycle riders face unique risks on the road, and filing an injury claim after a motorcycle accident can bring unique challenges.

Updated by , J.D.
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  • Motorcyclists are in a uniquely vulnerable position on the country's roads and highways:

    • In 2019 alone, 84,000 motorcyclists were injured in traffic accidents, and over 5,000 motorcyclists were killed, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
    • Motorcycle accidents aren't just particularly dangerous for riders, they also present some unique issues when it's time to figure out who was at fault and make a claim for injuries against the at-fault driver.

    Why Is Motorcycle Riding So Risky?

    Motorcycles are much smaller and lighter than cars, have only two wheels, and do not enclose the rider in a reinforced box. These characteristics, along with others, make motorcycle riding riskier than driving or riding in a car. As compared to car accidents, motorcycle accidents are more likely to result in death or serious injury.

    A motorcyclist is 29 times more likely to be killed in a traffic, when compared with someone driving or riding in a passenger vehicle, says the NHTSA.

    Some of the risks unique to motorcycle riding include:

    Less Visibility to Cars

    Because motorcycles are smaller and more easily concealed by objects on or off the road, cars are less likely to see them, especially at intersections.

    Road Hazards

    Things that might little-to-no effect on a car, like debris, uneven road surfaces, small objects, or wet pavement, can cause a motorcycle to crash. Learn more about common road hazards that might cause a motorcycle accident.

    No Barrier Between Rider and Road

    Unlike passengers in a car, bikers are not protected by a container of metal. Motorcycles also don't have seatbelts, and most don't have airbags. Wearing a motorcycle helmet can offer some protection to bikers, and motorcyclists who don't wear helmets are more likely to die in an accident than those that do. Around 70 percent of motorcyclists wear a proper helmet when riding, according to 2019 data from the NHTSA. Learn more about how motorcycle helmet laws can affect a motorcycle accident injury claim.

    Less Stability

    Vehicles with two wheels are less stable than those with four, especially during emergency braking and swerving. Also, some motorcycle accidents are caused by front wheel "wobble" that can occur at high speeds.

    Skill Level and Difficulty

    Riding a motorcycle requires more skills than driving a car. Unskilled riders account for a disproportionate number of motorcycle accidents. It's estimated that around one quarter of all motorcyclists killed in crashes did not have a proper motorcycle license.

    High-Risk Behavior

    Lighter and more powerful motorcycles such as sport and supersport bikes can encourage speeding, fast accelerating, and other high-risk behavior.

    The good news is that bikers can take steps to reduce the risk of being in an accident, including getting professional training, being aware of and avoiding road hazards, maintaining the bike, and not sharing lanes with cars. Other steps, such as wearing proper protective clothing and a helmet, can reduce risk of injury in motorcycle accidents. (Get more motorcycle safety tips from Nolo, and check out the NHTSA's Motorcycle Safety Resources.

    Who's at Fault For a Motorcycle Accident?

    Liability in most motorcycle accidents is governed by the legal principle of "negligence." A person is negligent when he or she behaves in a thoughtless or careless manner and causes injury to another person. A driver must use care to avoid injuring other motorists, passengers, or pedestrians—basically, anyone that he or she encounters on the road. If a driver is not reasonably careful and injures someone as a result, the driver is liable for injuring the accident victim. (Get the basics on negligence in traffic accident cases.)

    In many motorcycle accidents, it is the driver of another car or truck that is negligent. The driver can be negligent by doing something that he or she should not have done (for example, speeding through a red light) or by failing to do something that he or she should have done (for example, failing to check mirrors before making a left-hand turn).

    Of course, the motorcycle rider might be the negligent one. An inebriated biker that swerves in front of a car, causing the car to crash, would most likely be liable for injuries suffered by the car's occupants. Get more details on common causes of motorcycle accidents.

    Proving Negligence After a Motorcycle Accident

    There are four elements to a negligence claim. The plaintiff (the person suing or making the claim) must show that:

    • The law required the defendant (the person who is being sued) to be reasonably careful. In car and motorcycle accident cases, this is a given. Motorists must exercise care when riding or driving.
    • The defendant was not careful. In determining if the defendant was careful, the law compares the driver's conduct to that of a "reasonable person."
    • The defendant's conduct caused the plaintiff's injuries.
    • The plaintiff was injured or suffered losses. If the motorcyclist didn't get hurt or can't prove any damages, he or she can't recover anything, even if the defendant behaved in a careless manner.

    Defenses In a Motorcycle Accident Case

    There are times when a driver of a car is negligent or reckless and causes injury to a motorcyclist, but the motorcyclist also did something that contributed to the crash. In such cases, the vehicle driver might raise the motorcyclist's behavior as a defense to the negligence claim. In some states, such a defense, if proven, might reduce the amount of the motorcyclist's recovery. In others, the motorcyclist's behavior might prevent the motorcyclist from getting any monetary recovery from the defendant. Learn more about contributory and comparative negligence in traffic accident cases.)

    Getting Legal Help After a Motorcycle Accident

    if you've been injured in a motorcycle accident, taking on the at-fault driver's insurance company isn't something you want to try on your own. Having a qualified legal professional on your side can make all the difference. If you're ready to reach out, you can use the tools on this page to connect with a motorcycle accident lawyer in your area. And learn more about how a lawyer can help with a traffic accident case.

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