Top causes motorcycle accidentsAccording to the California Office of Traffic Safety, motorcycle fatalities increased to 548 in 2016 from 494 in 2015—an increase of over 10%. There were also over 13,000 injury collisions involving motorcycles in 2015.

Although riding a motorcycle is a popular hobby thanks to the state’s scenery and weather, accident statistics like these should give all bikers pause.

Below, we summarize some of the top causes of motorcycle accidents. Often, motorcyclists themselves are at fault for accidents, but most accidents are caused by other motorists on the road.


Alcohol plays a large role in many collisions. According to California’s Internet Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (SWITRS) data, alcohol or drugs were the primary factor in around 7% of all collisions where the motorcyclist was at fault for the crash. Drugs and alcohol might have also been a contributing factor in many more accidents.

These statistics do not include accidents where another motorist is responsible for the collision. In those cases, impaired motorists can collide with motorcyclists for a variety of reasons:

  • The impaired driver cannot see the biker, especially at night.
  • The impaired motorist cannot judge distances properly and might try to execute a left-hand turn directly in front of the motorcycle.
  • An impaired motorist has slowed reflexes, which prevents them from braking or swerving in time to avoid an accident.
  • The impaired motorist engages in reckless behavior.

It is not possible to completely protect against impaired drivers. Nevertheless, you can take a motorcycle safety skills course that will sharpen your ability to take defensive action if you see a vehicle drifting into your lane.

Unsafe Speed

By far the largest cause of motorcycle accidents is driving too fast for conditions. According to California data, this was the primary collision factor in almost half of all accidents that were the fault of the motorcyclist.

Driving too fast can cause accidents in a variety of ways. For example, the motorcyclist will have less time to stop or slow down when traveling too fast. It is very easy to suddenly come upon something in the road, like a stranded motorist, and not have sufficient time to act.

Traveling fast can also make a biker lose control of the bike. The chances of hydroplaning or skidding out increases dramatically depending on how fast the bike is traveling.

Other motorists can also collide with motorcyclists when they are traveling too fast for the same reasons as those listed above.

Improper Turn

A large number of accidents are also caused by improper turning. Though motorcyclists can sometimes make an improper turn and cause a crash, it is far more likely that another motorist makes a turn that causes an accident.

In fact, cars making left-hand turns cause around 42% of all fatal accidents with motorcycles. These accidents often occur at intersections, where a motorist is waiting patiently to make a turn. Often, motorists, unfortunately, do not even see motorcycles coming toward them.

Sometimes, the motorcycle is hidden behind a car, and the driver assumes that there is no traffic behind the vehicle passing through the intersection. As a result, they quickly execute a left-hand turn—and smash directly into a motorcyclist moving through the intersection.

In other situations, a motorist waiting to make a left-hand turn might see an approaching motorcycle but believe the bike is traveling much slower than it is. Other motorists simply lack respect for bikers and think the biker should stop for them when they make a left-hand turn.

Whatever the reason, improper turns are a serious factor in many accidents. To protect yourself, motorcyclists should always exercise extreme caution when approaching an intersection. It is also helpful to ride closer to the center line so that the waiting motorist can see that you are behind another car.

Distracted Driving

Top Causes for Motorcycle AccidentsThe sad fact is that too many people are trying to do too many things while out on the road.

Instead of focusing on driving, many motorists and motorcyclists are instead talking on the phone, sending or reading a text message, eating, or otherwise spacing out.

Problems with distracted driving are heightened for motorcyclists because they are often invisible to other drivers.

Motorcycles tend to blend with the road or with other cars, and drivers are not really looking for motorcyclists.

Also, many bikers wear dark helmets and dark clothing, which further acts to mask them.

Distracted driving continues to increase. Nevertheless, there are things that motorcyclists can do to make themselves more visible. For example:

  • Paint your bike a bright color. If you don’t want neon pink, then at least don’t choose a dark color like black or brown. Instead, go for bright red or white.
  • Wear bright clothing. You can also wear a colorful helmet. Lime green or yellow tends to stand out.
  • Put reflective tape on your clothing and on the motorcycle.
  • Add auxiliary lights to your bicycle.
  • Use your beams during the day. These will make you stand out.
  • Tap your horn if you are entering a blind spot or if you think a motorist cannot see you.

Following Too Closely

Motorists need a cushion between them and surrounding vehicles in case they need to stop or slow down. When motorists follow too closely, they can easily collide with other vehicles around them.

According to SWITRS data, following too closely was the primary cause in fewer than 2% of all accidents where the motorcyclist was at fault. However, tailgating might also have been a contributing cause of many more accidents.

When coupled with poor road conditions, such as sleet, snow, or rain, following too closely is a recipe for disaster. Especially in poor weather, remember to give yourself an added cushion of time—four seconds or more. Reckless bikers might think that they don’t need a cushion because they can maneuver the bike quickly out of the way to avoid a crash.

Unfortunately, it is just as likely that you will quickly avoid the crash but then strike another vehicle or lose control of the bike when you swerve onto a gravel shoulder.

Lane Splitting

Because motorcycles are smaller than passenger vehicles, some bikers like to drive between two lanes of slowed or stopped cars to make headway in traffic jams. This is called “lane splitting,” and it, unfortunately, is quite dangerous.

When you lane split, you risk striking a vehicle or having a vehicle strike you as it inches along the road. Most motorists are not expecting motorcyclists to threat in and out of traffic, so they might not be looking for you.

Colliding with a Fixed Object

A large number of motorcycle deaths stem from motorcycles colliding with stationary objects like trees, mailboxes, fire hydrants, and walls. There are many reasons why a motorcyclist would collide with objects that they should be able to avoid. For example, a motorcyclist might become distracted, either because they are reading a text message or talking on the phone.

Motorcyclists might also lose control in inclement weather and crash into objects. The reasons for losing control might vary, with driving too fast for conditions being one reason.

Dangerous Roads

Sometimes defects on the road cause motorcycle accidents. Because of their smaller size and greater instability, motorcycles often have more trouble with road defects than operators of passenger vehicles or commercial trucks. Many different road hazards can cause a biker to lose control, including:

  • Potholes
  • Uneven pavement
  • Sloping roads
  • Defective shoulders
  • Oiliness or other slickness on the road

Some road defects have existed for years without the government taking any action to make the road safer for all motorists, including bikers. In certain situations, you can sue the government for failing to repair the road.

Car Doors

A vehicle parked on the side of the road usually poses no problem to a motorcyclist. However, if a passenger in the vehicle opens a door without looking behind them, then the biker can drive straight into the door. Many bikers tear the door off and/or end up being thrown clear of their bike, where they collide with the pavement or another parked vehicle.

In city driving, you can avoid this problem by driving closer to the center of the lane. Also avoid trying to pass vehicles on the right, which could put you in direct line for striking the opened door of a parked car.

Malfunctioning or Defective Motorcycles

Even careful defensive driving cannot prevent all accidents because sometimes a crash is caused by your bike. When a motorcycle malfunction, even the most skill biker can lose control and end up colliding with another vehicle or a stationary object.

Motorcycles are recalled all the time. Some of the most recent recall for safety defects include:

  • Yamaha recalled almost 3,500 bikes in 2018 because the drive chain guard could become loose due to a defect.
  • Brembo issued a recall because defective brake pads could provide less effective braking. The defect was caused during the manufacturing process.
  • Harley-Davidson issued a recall because of concerns that its antilock brakes could cause accidents if not properly maintained.

You can check the most recent motorcycle recalls by visiting the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) website here. You can look up your motorcycle by its VIN, which you can usually find on a metal plate near the steering head.

If your motorcycle is subject to a recall, you should take it to be repaired as soon as possible, otherwise you are increasing your risk of an accident.

Of course, not all bicycle defects will show up in a recall on the NHTSA website. There might only have been a problem with your motorcycle and not others in the production line. Even in the absence of a recall, injured motorcyclists can hold the manufacturer responsible for the accident and receive compensation if the bike is defective.

Remember to have your motorcycle serviced regularly and raise any problems that you notice with your mechanic.

Inexperienced Drivers and Motorcyclists

Driver inexperience can also contribute to motorcycle accidents. If a driver is under 18 years of age, they must complete a motorcycle rider training course. However, this requirement is not required if you are age 18 and older.

Unfortunately, too many riders are inexperienced in how to operate a motorcycle. As a result, they get into accidents that more experienced bikers could avoid with ease. If you are getting your motorcycle license, take a training course regardless of whether it is required. It could save your life.

Injured in a Motorcycle Accident? GJEL Can Help

California motorcyclists are not powerless after an accident. Even if you are suffering from serious injuries and unable to work, you can still take matters into your own hands. In particular, you might be able to file a claim for compensation if someone else is responsible for the accident.

At GJEL, we have experience holding the following entities responsible for collisions our clients suffer:

  • Motorists for driving negligently or recklessly
  • Motorcycle manufacturers for putting defective motorcycles or motorcycle parts into the stream of commerce
  • The government for not properly maintaining roads

Each case is different, so you need an experienced motorcycle accident attorney in Northern California to help you build your case for compensation. For example, suing the state or one of its municipalities is a much different process than seeking compensation from the driver of a passenger vehicle on the road.

You need to meet deadlines and give the government notice of your claim before you can file a lawsuit in court.

To learn more about how we can help, please reach out to us as soon as possible. One of our Northern California motorcycle accident attorneys will be happy to meet with you to discuss the circumstances surrounding your crash. We can help identify whether you have a valid legal claim and against who. Please call 1-866-294-6918 or submit our contact form.

Avoid delay. California does not give injured bikers an unlimited amount of time to pursue compensation for their injuries. The sooner you contact us, the faster we can go about getting you compensation for your injuries.


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Andy Gillin

Andy Gillin received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California at Berkeley and his law degree from the University of Chicago. He is the managing partner of GJEL Accident Attorneys and has written and lectured in the field of plaintiffs’ personal injury law for numerous organizations. Andy is a highly recognized wrongful death lawyer in California.