It is no wonder that motorcycle registration is on the rise. Bikes are significantly more affordable than cars. The fuel economy is hard to beat. Bikes usually make for an easier commute, and they are a breeze to park. They also have a lower environmental impact than gas-powered cars. As for the biking community, it is a small world of friendly, caring people.
Above all, the sense of freedom and adventure riders feel on a bike is nothing short of addictive.
If you love motorcycling, you are in the right place. The weather in Los Angeles typically cooperates year-round. The breathtaking views and diverse terrains never get old.
Unsurprisingly, California leads all states by a wide margin in motorcycle ownership. In 2020, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported 957,873 on-road bikes in California. (Florida came in second with a mere 620,892.)
However, no mode of transportation is without downsides. In the case of motorcycles, the elevated risks for accident, injury or death cannot be denied.
Bikes are often difficult to spot from the driver’s seat of an SUV or panel truck. They are a challenge to keep upright when circumstances call for tricky maneuvering.
Even a “minor” fender bender involving a car and a bike is considerably more serious than one involving two cars. Bikes offer virtually no protection, so riders’ bodies are completely exposed. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has done the math: 20% of car-only accidents result in injury or death. In accidents involving both cars and bikes, that number soars to 80%.
With 5,579 fatalities on record, reports the NHTSA, 2020 was the deadliest year ever for motorcyclists on U.S. roadways. Around 530 of those deaths occurred in California.
A little education goes a long way. Learning how most accidents happen could help you avoid personal injury or worse.
Accidents in which everyone was driving safely and minding their own business do happen, but they are rare. Most collisions, across all kinds of vehicles, can be chalked up to error, negligence, distraction or recklessness on the part of the driver(s).
The main causes of motorcycle accidents — like improper turns or blatant disregard for red lights — often have underlying causes that bear addressing first:
Driving under the influence
This is literally a killer. Around half of all single-vehicle bike crashes involve alcohol, and DUI was a factor in about 30% of all crashes in which someone died.
According to the NHTSA, speeding killed 11,258 people nationwide in 2020. That accounts for 27% of total traffic fatalities.
Happily, California does not appear on any lists of worst offenders.
This is a growing concern. Distracted driving killed more than 3,100 in 2020.
Presumably, there are more distractions inside a car than on a bike. Motorcyclists should give wide berth to drivers who are plainly eating, texting, or attempting to separate kids who are kicking each other in the back seat.
The experts at NHTSA say that the average text requires approximately five seconds of your undivided attention. Texting while driving, they say, is the equivalent of closing your eyes and driving the entire length of a football field.
According to the Los Angeles Police Department, incidents of road rage approached 870 in 2022. Not only that, but drivers who lose their temper behind the wheel are increasingly violent.
Accidents, injuries and deaths would decrease dramatically if DUI, speeding, distracted driving and road rage were never in the equation. They often go hand in hand with these common causes for motorcycle accidents:
Intersection mayhem — improper left turns, failure to yield right of way, and red-light running
In a busy intersection, a lot is happening at once. A biker intending to drive straight through is in danger of being smacked by a car turning left from across the intersection.
For one thing, motorcyclists are easy to miss among larger vehicles. Accidents often happen this way: A driver waits for a long line of cars to pass before she can turn left. At the first lull, she jumps at the chance to make her turn. A motorcyclist, who was invisible to her behind all those other cars, suddenly looms directly in her path. In another version, the driver sees the motorcycle but misjudges the speed at which it is traveling. Unfortunately, these are common scenarios.
With red lights and stop signs, all bets are off. It is not uncommon for three or four drivers to sail through without a care. Assume the worst before you cross the intersection or make a turn.
Lane-splitting is simply navigating a bike through traffic jams without regard for lane markings or stopped cars. In other words, it is taking advantage of a bike’s small size and maneuverability to literally get ahead. There is no shame in this practice; it was legalized in 2017.
State lawmakers decided that lane-splitting could be done safely. In fact, they pointed out, it gets more drivers out of the way in a bottleneck. Also, lane-splitting is arguably safer than following other vehicles in stop-and-go traffic. Anyone who has ever been injured in a rear-end collision can certainly understand that.
Still, motorcyclists must carefully squeeze their way past larger vehicles in tight spaces. It is easy to see how accidents happen.
What if an impatient driver suddenly opened his car door to see what was causing the holdup? What if someone opened a window and tossed out a cup of ice? Unpleasant surprises could send a biker crashing to the pavement and cause severe injuries.
Those are unlikely scenarios, but they paint vivid pictures in the imagination. Motorcyclists face dangers that other drivers never have to think about. When it comes to lane-splitting and lane changes, signaling must be done in very obvious ways.
An alarming number of drivers see no reason to slow down in the rain. Bikers are smart to move to the right lane and let them pass. Speed and a slick pavement are a recipe for disaster.
Debris, disrepair or wildlife in the road
Road debris ranges from plastic bags to blown tires to wayward traffic cones. All of it is dangerous when you are not expecting it. Even a large, powerful bike is no match for a fridge or sofa that falls off an unsecured load.
Potholes, gravel patches and rough surfaces pose a challenge for all drivers, but motorcyclists are especially at risk of swerving out of control. Keeping a bike upright takes skill and experience in the best circumstances. Operators should not have to worry about neglected roadways, but all too often, they do.
As for animals, they are becoming more and more used to humans. Whatever you encounter in your neighborhood, like a deer or coyote, you should expect to encounter on the roadways. Be on the lookout.
Car and truck drivers have heft, bulk, seat belts, air bags and crumple zones to “hide behind.” Motorcyclists lack these protections. They are right to feel more vulnerable on the road because they are. A van swerving to avoid a crash might hit a curb and sustain wheel damage. A motorbike doing the same thing could end up crumpled beyond recognition.
To avoid accidents, bike owners should acknowledge the vehicle’s limitations and figure out how they will compensate. They should realize that an overabundance of caution is never a bad thing. They should drive defensively.
Defensive driving is largely about anticipating everything that could possibly go wrong and planning accordingly. Just assume that the dad on the phone missed your signal. Assume that the pizza delivery guy will run the light. Assume that the teenager applying mascara is impervious to everyone and everything around her.
Defensive driving includes keeping your vehicle in good repair and obeying traffic laws. It is remembering that speed-related deaths are preventable. It is wearing a helmet whenever you drive.
Some cautions bear repeating: Do not drink and drive. Skills like braking, cornering and maneuvering are hard enough for sober operators. Alcohol does a number on motor coordination. It causes drowsiness, slows reaction time and impairs judgement. It can even make drivers feel invincible, and that is never a good thing in LA traffic.
If everyone drove a little more defensively, Los Angeles would be a lot safer.
Sadly, conscientious drivers are often the victims of careless ones. The city is sometimes to blame for poor road conditions that result in personal injury.
If you or someone you love was hurt in a motorcycle accident, you could use professional guidance from an experienced counselor.
Do not suffer pain in silence, risk losing your job, or allow medical bills to pile up unpaid. A personal injury attorney with a proven track record can support you in recovery, help you recoup your losses, and set you on the path to financial security.