If you’re in a motorcycle crash and able to walk away afterwards, you’re lucky. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, crashes killed over 4,000 motorcyclists in 2014. The accident conditions vary, but in general, motorcycles are less visible on the road than cars. They also travel at higher speeds and lack the protection an enclosed vehicle offers, so when a collision occurs, the rider is much more likely to be injured or killed.
Motorcycle crashes can usually be attributed to one of two causes:
- Motorist error: Many drivers don’t see the motorcyclist until it’s too late to avoid a collision. This is due to distracted driving, fatigue, intoxication, and similar factors.
- Violations of traffic law: These include speeding, illegal lane changes, and failure to yield right of way.
Who is at Fault?
Determining who is at fault in a motorcycle accident is a matter of pinpointing which party was careless. Each state’s vehicle code includes a complete set of traffic laws that apply to cars and motorcycles alike, and whoever violated a law is the at-fault party.
In some cases, a traffic rule violation is obvious: for example, when a motorist runs a red light and crashes into the motorcyclist. In other situations, a violation is more difficult to determine: one example is an accident that happens when both the driver and the rider merge into a single traffic lane. These cases are usually governed by the law of negligence, with the party who behaved in a careless or thoughtless manner being found at least partially at fault.
Certain states, such as California, Nevada, and West Virginia have a comparative negligence rule, in which both parties can share fault. For an injured rider to collect compensation, their fault percentage cannot be more than that of the driver as determined by a court or similar figure.
Some states, such as Arkansas, California and Idaho, have ‘dead red light’ laws. These laws allow motorcyclists to legally run a red light if they have not been detected by a traffic sensor, provided they can do so safely. In certain states you have to wait three minutes, while others specify one cycle of the light and still others direct you to proceed ‘when safe’. These dead red laws can potentially direct fault away from the rider if they run a red light and a crash occurs.
After a Motorcycle Crash: What to Do
When you have been involved in a motorcycle accident it’s normal to be shaken and wonder what to do. These crashes tend to be more severe than car collisions, as you’ve literally been thrown off your bike ad might be more injured than you realize.
- Call 911: First, stay calm and dial 911 immediately or have someone else do it for you. If you are able to move, slowly leave the road to get away from traffic.
- Get the driver’s details: If the driver remained at the scene, get their name and insurance information. No matter how shaken or upset you are, do not admit fault: simply record all facts, such as the car’s license plate number and witness names and contact information.
- Call the police: If there are injuries or property damage, the police will have to be called. Although they do not determine fault from an insurance perspective, they will make a report and possibly an arrest (e.g. if the motorist is determined to be intoxicated).
- Seek medical treatment: A medical report will prove that you were injured and document the type and extent of the injuries.
- Do not repair your motorcycle: Resist the urge to repair your motorcycle. A damaged bike will support a later claim that the accident was serious enough to injure you.
- Contact the driver’s insurance company: To settle your insurance claim, you must send a demand letter to the driver’s insurer. Make sure you include the following details: the nature of your injuries, why the driver is legally responsible for them, the cost of your medical treatment, what your loss of income was, and any other damages you may have suffered.
Unfortunately, there’s no cure-all that completely protects motorcyclists from the negligence of automobile drivers, but following the correct steps if an accident does occur can help you minimize its impact on your finances, insurance rates, and future.