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Common Causes of Motorcycle Accidents in Boston

A motorcycle crash is often viewed as a single, split-second occurrence. In reality, it’s usually a rather complicated series of events and interactions between two or more people or vehicles, in combination with environmental factors.

Motorcyclists are among the most vulnerable road users, comprising a relatively small percentage of motorists while representing a much larger portion of those seriously injured or killed in crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports more than 80 percent of all reported motorcycle accidents result in injury or death to the motorcyclist or passenger.

What Causes Motorcycle Crashes?

What this research has told us is that while motorcyclists need to drive defensively because their risk is so high, it’s really the other motorists we should focus on when it comes to promoting and implementing countermeasures.

The factors and scenarios that crop up repeatedly include:

  • Other motorists turning into the path of a motorcycle. The NHTSA has reported this accounts for fully one-third of all multi-vehicle motorcycle accidents. In many of these cases, on-scene investigative reports tell us the other driver is making a left turn and either incorrectly judges the motorcyclist’s speed or is not paying attention or bothering to look for motorcycles. That’s why we’ve seen so many public service campaigns like, “Look Twice, Save a Life.” Motorcyclists must constantly be vigilant in anticipation of this scenario and do their best to evade a collision or at least reduce speed of pending impact.
  • Other cars changing lanes into a motorcyclist. Motorcycles are smaller and less visible. They fit fully into other drivers’ blind spots. That doesn’t excuse the other driver for their failure to check their clearance before switching lanes, but it does explain why this is such an issue, especially on roads of four or more lanes.
  • Lane-splitting. If you’re not familiar, this is when a motorcyclist scoots between two lanes of stopped or slowly moving vehicles. Usually it happens in traffic jams. Although the agility and smaller size of your bike might seem a great advantage in slowed traffic, the problem is you’re very close to much larger cars, you don’t have as much time to maneuver and other motorists aren’t looking for other drivers who may be passing them in slowed or stopped traffic.
  • Head-on collisions. More than half of all fatal motorcycle accidents involving other vehicles is the result of a head-on crash. In head-on crash cases, we often discover evidence of the following: Drunk driving, fatigued driving, distracted driving or improper passing. Sometimes it’s a combination of these.
  • Uneven surfaces. These could be anything from potholes to broken pavement to bumps to railroad tracks. Riders need to be always scanning for such conditions or potential debris in their lane. Slowing down and changing lanes is the best course of action if possible, but it’s not always an option. If there is evidence the road condition or debris was the result of negligence (i.e., the city’s failure to fix a longtime pothole), there may be grounds to pursue damages.

Interestingly, weather and road conditions weren’t nearly as common a factor in motorcycle accidents as for passenger vehicle crashes. It does make sense, though, because while slippery or reduced visibility conditions can be extremely perilous for those on two wheels, you usually won’t see many riders venturing out in that weather. If they do get caught in it, they’ll often seek shelter under an overpass or other refuge until they can safely venture out again.

Although some study authors focus heavily on failure to use motorcycle helmets (which are required under MGL ch. 90 section 7), this doesn’t actually cause the crash. It has been shown to result in more severe injuries in some cases. Failure to wear a helmet won’t stop you from pursuing an injury claim against the other motorist, though be warned the defense may argue you should receive less compensation. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be successful.

Common motorcycle accident injuries include:

  • Broken bones
  • Neck and back injuries
  • Road rash/ burns
  • Traumatic brain injuries

Often, motorcycle injuries are the result of ejection from the motorcycle, typically when the operator comes to a sudden stop, tossing the rider off and forcibly striking the ground and other objects in the path. The other issue is the disparity in vehicle sizes and crashworthiness. Passenger vehicles and trucks are bigger than motorcycles, and occupants have many benefits motorcyclists don’t: Door beams, airbags, seatbelts, roofs.

At The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman, our motorcycle accident attorneys in Massachusetts know much of the literature on common causes of crashes focuses on what the motorcyclist can do to mitigate his or her own risk. And there is value in this – motorcyclists absolutely should drive defensively to reduce their crash risk or improve the odds of a less serious injury. However, this approach too often ignores the fact that more than half of motorcycle vs. car accidents are the fault of the other motorist.

Analysts at the Center for Urban Transportation Research studied 10 years of motorcycle crash data and concluded 60 percent of the time it was drivers of other vehicles who were to blame for the collision. (Another analysis from the Federal Highway Administration concluded motorcyclists were responsible 44 percent of the time, while other motorists were at-fault 51 percent of the time.) The primary reason for this, researchers said, is because those in passenger cars and trucks aren’t looking for motorcycles. Every motorist owes a reasonable duty of care to watch out for motorcycles, but they don’t do it because they haven’t trained themselves to give it a second thought to look for them (despite the fact there are now more than 8.4 million of them registered to operate on U.S. roads – nearly doubling within a dozen years, according to the Motorcycle Injury Council). The FHW report revealed “traffic scanning errors” (i.e., failure to watch out) by the other vehicle driver contributed to 70 percent of all crashes.

Motorcycle accidents cost $16 billion in direct costs, such as emergency services, property damage, rehabilitation and loss of market productivity (i.e., lost wages, insurance costs, loss of household productivity, etc.). That’s according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Drilling down into the core causes of these crashes is essential for traffic safety advocates and policymakers to lower these costs by finding ways to reduce crash rates. Doing so, they’ve said, requires uniformity for reported criteria of motorcycle crash investigations and research. (Specifically, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation has called on motorcycle accident investigators to collect on-scene, in-depth data that will help facilitate research and help us all better understand the core problems – and discuss safety solutions.) The renowned “Hurt Report” published by U.S. researchers in 1981 is considered the gold standard for using this kind of data and identifying effective countermeasures.

If you are injured in a motorcycle crash caused by another person’s failure to drive safely or a municipality’s failure to maintain the road, our Boston motorcycle accident attorneys can help you determine your legal options.

Contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman today for a free and confidential consultation.
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