Types of Motorcycle Crashes - Van Sant Law, LLC
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Types of Motorcycle Crashes

Motorcycle accidents are most easily separated into two types: those involving another vehicle and those not.

The former makes up approximately three-quarters of all motorcycle accidents according to an intensive study sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) known as the Hurt Report.

The latter–motorcycle accidents not involving another vehicle, such as when a motorcyclist crashes into a roadside guardrail–make up only one-quarter of all motorcycle accidents.

When Another Vehicle Is Involved

As mentioned, most motorcycle accidents involve another vehicle. Of these accidents, the most common cause is an automobile driver not seeing the motorcycle, often while making left-hand turns. In fact, according to the Hurt Report, the most common cause of motorcycle accidents is a driver violating the right-of-way of a motorcyclist. Right-of-way violations also include an automobile driver changing lanes on a highway into the lane of a motorcyclist.

These types of accidents can be especially dangerous since they often involve the vehicle striking the motorist from the front or side, which often results in rider fatalities. According to NHTSA statistics of 2011 motorcyclist fatalities, 38% of crashes that involved two vehicles and resulted in the death of the motorcyclist occurred when the other vehicle was making a left-hand turn.

Motorcycle Driving Ability

“Defensive driving” is a term often applied to automobile driving, but it is even more important when riding a motorcycle, since a rider’s visibility is lessened. The danger of two-vehicle accidents is worsened by the fact that many motorcyclists are poorly trained and inexperienced in driving defensively. The Hurt Report explains that while accidents are most often caused by the violation of a rider’s right-of-way, accidents could sometimes be avoided if a rider knew how to respond to an automobile violating his or her lane.

On top of this, right-of-way violations can also be caused by a motorcyclist. In fact, just under half of all motorcycle accidents involving more than one vehicle are caused by the motorcyclist. Ability and experience are unquestionably important for motorcyclists, but driving responsibly and safely is just as important.

When Another Vehicle Is Not Directly Involved In the Crash

The rest of motorcycle accidents – those that occur when another vehicle is not involved – are not as common, but are often more deadly. According to the Hurt Report, single-vehicle accidents account for just one-quarter of motorcycle accidents, yet they accounted for over fifty percent of rider fatalities in 2011.

Types of Single-Vehicle Motorcycle Accidents:

Right-Of-Way Violations

As with two-vehicle motorcycle accidents, a significant cause of single-vehicle motorcycle accidents (approximately ten percent) is the violation of a rider’s right-of-way. In these cases, however, the other vehicle is not directly involved in the crash. For example, this is the case when a rider swerves to miss an automobile that is violating the rider’s right-of-way, resulting in the single-vehicle accident.

Rider Error

The leading cause of motorcycle accidents is errors caused by riders, which accounts for approximately sixty-five percent of motorcycle crashes. This includes when a motorcyclist is operating his or her vehicle while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, which frequently results in rider fatality. Additionally, it can result from a rider speeding. According to the NHTSA, 35% of rider fatalities in 2011 were caused by the motorcyclist speeding.

Vehicle Failure

Another notable cause of single-vehicle motorcycle accidents is a mechanical failure of a rider’s motorcycle. Mechanical failure can be due to something outside of a rider’s control, such as a tire puncture. It can also be caused by improper maintenance practices that could result in the malfunction of the motorcycle. This cause accounts for almost ten percent of single-vehicle motorcycle accidents.

Other Potential Causes

Beyond these three primary causes, there are a number of other factors that could result in a single-vehicle motorcycle crash. For example:

  • Roadway defects, such as potholes
  • Phantom vehicles, which is the term used when a rider claims that he or she was run off the road, but there is no evidence (or witnesses) to support there was another vehicle present
  • Animals and pedestrians, which can results in crashes when the rider makes contact or when the rider swerves to avoid contact

The majority of motorcycle accidents involve another vehicle – either directly or indirectly – or some type of rider error such as a right-of-way violation. These types of accidents are largely avoidable, and point to the importance of both defensive and responsible driving.

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