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Beyond the Stereotypes: Understanding the True Causes of Motorcycle Crashes

Many drivers today still view motorcycle riders as reckless, with little regard for the rules of the road. They assume motorcycle riders are the major cause of motorcycle accidents. Truth be told — that’s simply not accurate.

Men and women from all walks of life ride motorcycles. They have jobs, a mortgage to pay, and a family to return to at the end of the day. Like everyone else on the highways, they want to make it home safely and without incident.

However, some stereotypes still exist surrounding motorcycle accidents, including:

Myth: Most motorcycle accidents are caused by motorcyclists’ own mistakes.
Reality: Motorcycle accidents can occur due to various reasons, including the actions of other drivers. In many cases, car or truck drivers fail to notice or properly yield to motorcycles, leading to collisions.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 40% of all motorcycle accidents are caused by other drivers breaching the motorcyclist’s right-of-way by turning left with the motorcycle proceeding straight ahead.

Myth: Motorcycle accidents primarily happen at high speeds.
Reality: While high-speed accidents can result in severe injuries, not all motorcycle accidents occur at high speeds. In fact, a significant number of accidents happen at lower speeds, often in urban areas or at intersections. Factors such as sudden stops, failure to yield, or misjudging distances can lead to collisions even at lower speeds.

Knowing their risk is higher on the road due to their exposure, most motorcyclists don’t ride with reckless abandon. While motorcycle crashes can happen at any speed, the overwhelming majority ride conservatively. One study known as the Hurt Report, conducted at the University of Southern California and commissioned by the NHTSA, concluded that the average speed of a motorcyclist was 28.9 mph when the danger first presented itself.

Myth: Motorcyclists are more likely to be at fault in accidents.
Reality: Studies have shown that in many motorcycle accidents involving collisions with other vehicles, the fault lies with the driver of the other vehicle. Due to the smaller size of motorcycles, they can be harder to see, making it easier for drivers to overlook them. This often results in drivers violating the right-of-way of motorcyclists, causing accidents.

Myth: All motorcycle accidents involve reckless driving or impairment.
Reality: Because people choose to ride a motorcycle, they are often stereotyped as reckless thrill seekers. Thrilling? Yes! Reckless? Not necessarily. In fact, studies have shown that hitting the open road on two wheels can relieve stress and improve mental focus.

Other Reasons for Motorcycle Crashes

Factors like distracted driving, failure to check blind spots, and a lack of motorcycle awareness contribute significantly to accidents involving motorcycles. Other causes include:

  • Road conditions
  • Glare from the sun
  • Visibility issues (Since motorcycle riders are on two wheels rather than four, they present low and narrow profiles which makes them difficult to see in traffic, even when it’s daytime.)
  • Being rear-ended

Distracted Driving

The fact that drivers of motor vehicles can be in enclosed spaces seems to reinforce their attitudes toward distracted driving. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, distracted driving consists of any activity that takes a driver’s attention from driving. We can be distracted in any one or more of three ways:

  • It could be visual, like looking at a phone.
  • It might be manual, requiring us to remove our hands from the steering wheel or the handlebars.
  • It could be cognitive, like taking our minds off of safe driving or riding.

Although we don’t see many motorcyclists on the phone when we’re on the road, many drivers of motor vehicles are guilty of talking or even texting while driving.

Motorcycle Safety Tips

In the interests of motorcyclist safety, the Governors Highway Safety Association has published numerous motorcycle safety tips. Helmet use is at the top of the list. It advises in no uncertain terms that whenever you’re on a motorcycle, you should wear a helmet. Riders without a helmet are 40% more likely to suffer a head injury. Other motorcycle safety tips include:

  • Taking a motorcycle safety or refresher class.
  • Wearing proper safety equipment, including leathers and boots.
  • Being aware of wet roads, leaves, sand and gravel.
  • Keeping an eye out for distracted drivers.
  • Being aware of the motorcycle’s blind spots.

Make Sure You Have Adequate Training

Believe it or not, some people don’t know that they need a motorcycle license to ride a motorcycle on any California roadway. In California, motorcycle training is mandatory for anybody under age 21 who is seeking to obtain a motorcycle license.

Many riders are taking motorcycle safety courses and often receive extensive training, and we’d all be safer if this training was mandatory for any rider across the United States. Even experienced riders will benefit from a refresher safety course.

Understanding the true causes of motorcycle crashes gives plenty of reason to throw out the stereotypical opinions that surround motorcyclists.  The truth is, accidents on the roadways can happen to anyone, and we all need to do our part to drive defensively, stay aware of our surroundings and share the road safely with all motorists — whether two-wheeled or four.