What Are the Main Causes of Motorcycle Accidents?

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main causes of motorcycle accidents

Of all vehicles on the road, motorcycles are by far the most dangerous to operate or ride on. Passengers are exposed and open versus enclosed in a traditional car; motorcycles have less safety features; and they are less visible to other motorists, especially in blind spots or during lane changes.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motorcycles account for three percent of all registered vehicles in the United States but have a 14 percent fatality rate in traffic accidents. In 2019 alone, the NHTSA reported an estimated 84,000 motorcyclists were injured in motorcycle accidents. Additionally, the Insurance Information Institute reports that in 2020, nearly 5,000 motorcyclists were killed in accidents, almost half of all motorcycle accidents resulted in serious injuries, and motorcyclists are 29 times more likely to suffer fatal injuries than those in cars. Both organizations report that helmet use can reduce the risk of head injury by more than 65 percent and the risk of death by half.

What Are Common Causes of Motorcycle Accidents?

Although they can be fun, motorcycles are inherently dangerous modes of transportation, especially at high rates of speed, during bad weather, and in congested traffic. However, the best deterrent to avoid a potentially life-threatening accident is to utilize safety features and educate yourself on the more common causes of accidents to help you avoid one, such as the following:

  • Cars turning left: One of the most common causes of accidents involving motorcycles occurs when vehicles make left-hand turns. This type of accident is often deadly as well. According to the NHTSA, nearly half of all fatal motorcycle accidents in 2019 were caused by a left-turning vehicle striking the motorcyclist. This type of accident typically occurs at intersections and is due to low visibility of the motorcycle, speeding, and driver distraction. 
  • Collisions: Motorcycle drivers are especially vulnerable during a collision because they are not protected by a car frame or airbags, and are almost always thrown from the bike, resulting in serious injuries or death. Common collisions include:
    • Head-on: Nearly 75 percent of fatal motorcycle accidents are due to head-on collisions with another vehicle. The unevenly distributed force generated when a vehicle strikes a motorcycle head-on makes this type of collision the most dangerous for the motorcycle driver and frequently results in the driver’s death.
    • Rear-end: Motorcycle drivers are also frequently killed in rear-end collisions from the force of impact, especially if the car is traveling at a high rate of speed. Not only can drivers be thrown from the motorcycle, but also they can be thrown into the path of other vehicles, as rear-end accidents almost always occur at an intersection. Even if the driver manages to not be thrown from the motorcycle, the force can shove the motorcycle into the path of oncoming cars and potentially struck by other cars.
    • Fixed objects: Collisions with fixed objects, such as a guardrail, fence, or tree, are often fatal for motorcyclists, as they are thrown from the motorcycle into the object or into the path of oncoming traffic.
  • Road hazards: Owing to the motorcycle’s small size and instability, uneven surfaces, railroad tracks, gravel, and even wet leaves increase the chance of having an accident.
  • Lane splitting: Bikers who snake in and out of lanes of stopped or slowly moving cars put themselves at serious risk of injury or death. When maneuvering around stopped or slowed cars, motorcyclists often drive in spaces not meant for driving and passing and unexpected by other drivers. This makes the motorcycles difficult for other drivers to see and avoid.
  • Impaired driving: Driving any vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs is dangerous, even more so for motorcyclists. In 2019, approximately 30 percent of motorcyclists killed in an accident were intoxicated.
  • Speeding: Speed is often a significant factor in all types of vehicular accidents and the cause 34 percent of motorcyclist fatalities. Young motorcycle drivers between the ages of 21 and 24 are more likely to speed and account for over half of all motorcyclists killed in accidents.
  • Helmet use: The NHTSA reports that out of every 100 motorcycle riders killed in accidents, 37 of them could have survived had they been wearing a helmet. Laws regarding helmet use vary by state and not all require riders to wear them, although some states have different laws based on age.
  • Behavior: Motorcyclists who engage in risky behavior, such as speeding, darting in and out of lanes, and driving in the space between cars, greatly increase their chances of having an accident. 

Does Maryland Have Motorcycle-Specific Traffic Laws?

Motorcyclists are required to follow all the same traffic laws as any other motorist. There are, however, additional laws pertaining to motorcycles to help ensure the safety of the driver and others on the road and decrease the likelihood of accidents. The additional laws for motorcycles pertain to licensing, safety equipment, and road rules:

  • Safety requirements: Maryland motorcycle laws require drivers and riders to wear specific safety gear. Failure to do so can result in traffic violations, fines, or license suspension. Maryland requires motorcyclists to:
    • Wear a helmet that meets the Motor Vehicle Administration safety specifications
    • Wear eye protection, such as helmet shields or goggles while operating or riding on motorcycles without a windscreen
  • Motorcycle-specific safety gear: In addition to wearing safety gear, Maryland also requires specific safety features with which the motorcycle be equipped:
    • At least one headlight
    • Two brakes
    • Red rear and brake lights
    • White light illuminating the license plate
    • A horn
    • Two mirrors
    • Two sets of separate footrests for both the driver and passenger
  • Operating a motorcycle: Maryland motorcycle laws also dictate how a motorcycle should be driven. It is important to understand and abide by these laws, especially if an accident should occur. Insurance companies will fight to prove motorcyclists were not following these laws to avoid paying damages; therefore, it is key to follow the state’s operating requirements at all times:
    • Drivers and passengers must ride facing forward, straddling the seat with one leg on each side
    • Motorcycles must have permanent seats that are attached to the bike
    • Only motorcycles equipped for more than one person with an attached rear seat are permitted to carry another rider
    • Motorcyclists are forbidden to carry passengers, packages, or other equipment that interfere with the driver’s ability to keep both hands on the handlebars.
  • Lane splitting: In Maryland, motorcyclists are not allowed to dart in and out of stopped or slowed traffic by using the space between cars or passing vehicles in the same lane. This is known as lane splitting. However, Maryland does permit lane sharing for two motorcycles traveling side-by-side in the same lane.

It is especially important to strictly adhere to all traffic and motorcycle laws in Maryland, owing to the state’s contributory negligence law. The law of contributory negligence determines each party’s contributing fault in the accident and awards damages accordingly. Under contributory negligence, if you are found to have been even one percent responsible for the accident, even if you are the injured party, you will not receive any compensation. For this reason, it is highly recommended to hire an attorney to help guarantee your best possible outcome to your injury claim.

Baltimore Motorcycle Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Represent Clients Injured in Accidents Involving a Motorcycle

Maryland’s contributory negligence law can make filing an accident and personal injury claim quite challenging for those operating any vehicle. Those operating motorcycles may have even more difficulty challenging fault in an accident, especially with the state’s motorcycle-specific traffic laws. The Baltimore motorcycle accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton have many years of experience representing clients injured while operating or riding on a motorcycle. Call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

We have offices in BaltimoreGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, allowing us to represent clients in Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn Oak, Brooklandville, Dundalk, PikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.