What Other Drivers Need to Do to Keep You Safe
In one recent year, people registered more than eight million motorcycles across the United States, an increase from about four million 15 years ago. With the number of motorcyclists doubling on the roads, so has the risk of motorcycle accidents. For this reason, motorcycle safety laws are more important than ever.
Motorcycles are motor vehicles, just like cars, SUVs, pickup trucks, and large commercial trucks. Drivers of larger motor vehicles must abide by the many laws and regulations in place to help them share the road safely with motorcycles. Unfortunately, many drivers violate these laws and end up crashing into a motorcycle, often causing serious and potentially life-changing injuries.
The following are some examples of safety laws that help to protect motorcyclists, but that drivers sometimes ignore with devastating consequences.
Driving Under the Influence (DUI) of Alcohol or Drugs
There is no doubt that driving while intoxicated by alcohol or drugs is a highly dangerous decision. These substances alter a person’s senses and abilities, including the ability to operate a motor vehicle safely. This is why strict laws criminalize impaired driving in all 50 states.
Unfortunately, too many drivers ignore these laws and the risks of drunk or drugged driving.
They get behind the wheel while impaired and might:
- Have delayed reflexes and longer reaction times
- Lose focus on the road and surrounding traffic
- Have blurred vision
- Doze off at the wheel
- Use poor judgment, such as speeding
- Swerve from their lanes
- Drive the wrong way
All of these behaviors and more can easily lead a drunk driver to hit a motorcyclist and cause severe damage and injuries. In fact, drunk driving is a leading cause of death on the roads in the U.S.
Speed limits are in place to ensure that vehicles travel at a safe speed on specific roads based on the road conditions and surroundings. Engineers and experts spend time analyzing the risks of a particular road or highway and determining what the maximum safe rate of speed might be.
Even with speed limits clearly posted, and the threat of costly fines for speeding, a significant number of drivers simply ignore speed limits. On nearly every road, you can find someone exceeding the posted speed limit and, often, by a lot.
When a driver is speeding, and they suddenly come across a motorcyclist, they might not slow down or stop in time to avoid a collision. In addition, speeding drivers can lose control of their vehicles and crash into multiple surrounding vehicles, including motorcycles.
Following Too Close or Tailgating
Another traffic regulation that many drivers ignore requires a certain distance between two vehicles on the road. If a driver follows someone else too closely, they likely will not have ample space or time to stop to avoid a crash if traffic suddenly halts. This commonly leads to rear-end crashes, which can be particularly dangerous for motorcyclists.
In addition, some drivers can become aggressive and intentionally tailgate a motorcycle. This might be in an attempt to force a slower motorcyclist to switch lanes so the driver can pass. Even if a driver is frustrated with a slower motorcyclist, they still have no excuse to violate the law and tailgate. This presents the immediate risk of a rear-end collision and devastating injuries to the motorcyclist.
The law expects all drivers to remain alert and focused on the road and traffic around them. However, we all know that many different things can cause distractions, taking our eyes or minds off the road or our hands off the wheel. When this happens – even for a few seconds – drivers can cause serious crashes, including with motorcycles. Distracted driving is another leading cause of traffic accidents, and experts guess that this type of dangerous driving is grossly underreported.
Many distractions can cause drivers not to see motorcyclists and hit them.
Using a smartphone is one of the most common—and most dangerous—distractions, and many laws across the country restrict smartphone use while driving in various degrees:
- 48 states ban writing or reading text-based communications while driving for all drivers (Missouri and Montana are the only states with no texting ban in place)
- 22 states and Washington, D.C., ban all handheld smartphone use while driving for all drivers
- There are no laws against hands-free smartphone use for all drivers, but numerous states ban hands-free communications for novice drivers and school bus drivers
Drivers in all states continue to violate these laws and use their smartphones in various risky ways while behind the wheel. All it takes is a few seconds looking down for a driver to depart from their lane or hit a motorcycle in front of them.
In addition, drivers avoid these distractions:
- Eating and drinking
- Reaching into the backseat, including to tend to children
- Paying attention to GPS or the radio
- Having distracting passengers
- Reading books or maps
Even though these activities do not specifically violate the law, it can result in other violations. These can include failing to see traffic, failing to maintain a lane, and more.
In short, distracted driving can endanger those in other vehicles, especially those on smaller vehicles like motorcycles.
Unsafe Lane Changes and Passing
There are specific rules regarding when drivers can change lanes and pass one another. The lines on the road indicate when lane changes and passing are allowed, but drivers still must make sure there is enough room to change lanes. This means carefully checking their blind spots and mirrors to see if there is traffic in the lane they want to move into.
Motorcycles are small vehicles that are particularly good at disappearing in blind spots. If a driver does not look carefully enough, it is all too easy to miss a motorcycle and try to change into a lane where a motorcyclist is already driving.
This can result in:
- The car sideswiping the motorcycle, which can often knock the motorcyclist off the bike
- The motorcyclist having to swerve out of the way, which might cause them to lose control or cross over into oncoming traffic
In other situations, drivers might try to pass on the right or in a no-passing zone across a double-yellow line. Passing on the right can often take motorcyclists by surprise, and they might lose concentration and crash. When a driver tries to pass another vehicle in a no-passing zone, they might not see an oncoming motorcycle. This can result in the passing car hitting the motorcycle head-on, which is often deadly.
In addition, drivers need to make sure they have enough room before they pull into a lane in front of a motorcycle. If a driver pulls over into the lane too soon, they can essentially cut off the motorcyclist, which can result in a rear-end crash or run the motorcyclist off the road.
Failure to Yield
All types of motor vehicles use our roads and highways, including making turns, entering and exiting highways, changing lanes, merging, and more. All drivers must understand and follow the rules regarding when to yield to other vehicles.
As is the case with most traffic laws, violations occur, and drivers can fail to yield properly. This can happen while entering the highway, making a left-hand turn at an intersection, making a right-hand turn on a red light, and more. When one driver does not yield, a motorcyclist likely is not expecting it and might not have time to properly react to avoid a crash.
Traveling Too Fast for Conditions
Obeying the posted speed limit is not enough in all types of situations. In heavier traffic, adverse weather conditions, construction, or other possible road hazards, drivers must slow down below the posted speed limit. When they do not, the law refers to it as “driving too fast for conditions.”
Often, drivers in larger vehicles are overly confident about their ability to drive faster in the rain or other conditions. They also might try to speed despite heavy traffic. This puts all other motorists at risk – especially motorcyclists who are already vulnerable in these situations.
Running Red Lights and Stop Signs
One of the first things you learn when you are driving is you must stop at red lights and stop signs. Even small children are generally aware that red means stop and green means go. Despite this, some drivers still disobey traffic signals and signs.
Some drivers might not be paying attention and miss a stop sign. Others might try to sneak through an intersection as the light turns red so they can avoid waiting. Others simply blow through red lights for unknown reasons – even when there is traffic flowing perpendicular to them.
When drivers run red lights or stop signs, they can easily crash into any vehicles in the vicinity, and this can often result in a broadside collision. When a broadside crash involves a motorcycle, the front bumper of a car often collides directly into the side of the motorcycle. This type of force can cause life-threatening injuries to the motorcyclist.
Many states have a criminal violation called “reckless driving,” which generally involves a combination of dangerous driving behaviors.
Some behaviors that might combine to constitute reckless driving include:
- Impaired driving and speeding
- Drag racing and running red lights
- Speeding and tailgating
- Dangerous lane changes and speeding
- Speeding a running a red light
When a driver combines any violations of traffic safety laws, they make it highly dangerous for motorcyclists who are simply trying to share the road.
How Violations Impact Motorcycle Accident Claims
When a driver causes a motorcycle accident due to negligent conduct, the law holds that driver liable for all of the injuries and losses to the motorcyclist.
These losses can include:
- Medical bills for past and future care
- Past and future lost wages and earning power
- Physical and mental pain and suffering
- Permanent disabilities and disfigurement
To obtain compensation for these losses, injured motorcyclists must prove that the driver was negligent and should be liable. To do so, they must present sufficient evidence of negligence to the insurance company or jury if they file a lawsuit.
Proving negligence can be challenging in many situations – for example, how do you prove that a driver was distracted when they caused the accident? Your lawyer might subpoena cell phone records, but if it was a non-electronic distraction, you cannot get inside the driver’s mind and prove they were not paying adequate attention.
However, the law sets out a principle called negligence per se. This principle sets out that if someone violated a safety law and caused injuries that the law intended to prevent, that individual will be automatically negligent. This means that if an injured motorcyclist can show evidence that a driver violated the law to cause the accident, they will not need additional evidence to prove negligence and liability.
After a motorcycle crash, police officers should arrive on the scene and assess whether a driver violated the law. An officer can issue a citation for violating a minor traffic law, or they might arrest a driver for a more serious criminal offense, such as driving under the influence or reckless driving.
If a court convicts a driver of a traffic violation or crime, the conviction can serve as evidence of negligence per se. This can often make the process of proving liability go much faster, and the injured victim will only have to present additional evidence of damages. An experienced attorney can advise a motorcyclist whether this is a possibility in their case.
No matter what causes a crash and injuries, drivers should be accountable when they fail to safely share the road with motorcyclists. Motorcycle accident victims should always seek the help they need from an experienced motorcycle accident lawyer who can evaluate their rights and help them seek full financial recovery.