Motorcycles are difficult to ride. Because motorcycles have only two wheels, motorcyclists need experience and balance to stay upright. These vehicles also have a lot of power for their weight and require skill to maintain control.
As a result, there are a lot of motorcycle accidents. In 2022, San Diego County had over 1,500 motorcycle crashes that caused at least one injury or fatality. These crashes happened for many reasons, but most were preventable through safer driving by riders or drivers.
How Motorcycle Crashes Happen
Motorcycle crashes tend to happen in only a few scenarios. These include the following:
About 40% of police-reported motorcycle crashes involved only the motorcyclist. These single-vehicle crashes highlight the difficulty of riding a motorcycle. Many of these happened when the motorcyclist lost control of their vehicle and either hit a fixed object, ran off the road, or laid the motorcycle down.
Single-vehicle crashes can also happen when the motorcyclist is impaired. Drugs and alcohol can interfere with a rider’s judgment. An intoxicated rider will often take more risks while riding, such as speeding. At the same time, their ability to estimate speed and distance and react to road and traffic hazards may be dulled. As a result, the rate of impaired driving crashes is higher for motorcycles than for passenger vehicles.
Another cause of single-vehicle motorcycle crashes includes near-misses. In these situations, motorists drive carelessly around motorcycles. While making an evasive maneuver, the rider tips over or collides with an obstacle.
Careless Left Turns
This scenario is the most common type of motorcycle collision. In this situation, the motorcyclist is proceeding straight when a driver turns left in front of, or into, the motorcycle. This most commonly happens at intersections, but it can also happen mid-block when a driver is turning into a parking lot or driveway.
Drivers have many reasons for turning, including:
- Failing to see the motorcycle
- Misjudging the speed or distance of the motorcycle
- Impatiently trying to beat the motorcycle
These crashes often result in severe or catastrophic injuries to the motorcyclist. The passenger vehicle often hits the motorcycle’s side, crushing the motorcyclist’s leg and tipping the motorcycle over onto the other leg.
Knocked off Course and Run off the Road
These crashes happen when drivers sideswipe motorcycles. When two cars sideswipe, you may have a couple of damaged doors, but the matched weight of the vehicles usually prevents serious injuries.
Conversely, when a passenger vehicle sideswipes a motorcycle, the weight difference results in a massive crash energy transfer to the motorcycle. The impact can knock the rider off balance and tip the motorcycle over. Even when the rider maintains control, the impact might push them off the road or into a lane of oncoming traffic.
“Looked but Did Not See”
Drivers have a hard time spotting motorcycles on the road. A big reason for this is a well-documented phenomenon called inattentional blindness. This cognitive blindness happens because drivers are not attuned to spotting motorcyclists. As a result, the motorcyclists spotted by the driver’s eyes get filtered out by the driver’s brain as noise. It is the same reason you do not “see” every tree you drive past.
Inattentional blindness causes “looked but did not see” crashes. In these crashes, the driver maneuvers as if the motorcycle is not there. It’s common for drivers to pull out of driveways or parking lots in front of an oncoming motorcyclist. After the crash, many of these drivers will claim they never saw the motorcycle coming.
Motorcycle Crash Prevention Tips
With these crash scenarios in mind, motorcyclists and drivers can reduce their crash risk with the following five behavioral changes:
1. Take a Training Course
All motorcycle license applicants under 21 must pass a motorcycle training course. For applicants over 21, the course is optional. But if you pass the course, the state waives the road test for licensing.
You should take a training course. Even if you have a lot of practical experience, you might learn something new, and additional practice cannot harm you. More importantly, the safety course includes instructions on controlling your motorcycle, particularly during emergency maneuvering. This training might help you avoid a single-vehicle crash.
2. Ride Sober
Sober riders have both the mental and physical fitness to ride safely. This means they are free from both alcohol and THC. Many riders assume that they can drive while stoned now that California has decriminalized recreational cannabis. But impaired driving crash rates spiked in the state after decriminalization.
3. Look for Motorcycles
Drivers can overcome inattentional blindness by paying attention. Recognizing motorcycles as fellow road users increases your ability to spot them on the road. This, in turn, will help you avoid pulling out in front of them when you enter traffic.
4. Yield to Motorcycles
Yielding to motorcycles will prevent collisions involving a left turn. You can try to remain patient. You can also pause when you see a motorcycle coming to judge whether you can clear its path before it arrives. Slowing down your vehicle and your thinking could save a motorcyclist’s life.
5. Check Your Blind Spots
Many motorcycles get run off the road by drivers who fail to check their blind spots. When drivers change lanes without looking, they can hit motorcyclists riding next to them. A related tip for motorcyclists is to pass vehicles quickly and stay out of drivers’ blind spots.
Riding Safely in California
You can ride your motorcycle safely in California by riding sober and using your training. Drivers can avoid hitting motorcyclists by making an effort to see them. Together, drivers and motorcyclists can avoid collisions that injure and kill riders and their passengers.
Other Useful Resources:
- Why Are Motorcycle Crashes So Serious?
- Motorcycle Accidents vs. Car Accidents: Facts, Statistics & Trends
- 9 Common Causes of Motorcycle Accidents in the US
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