25 May Vroom vroom! How to avoid common motorcycle accident injuries in California
Summary: We’re addressing some of the most common accidents experienced by California motorcyclists and how to avoid them for optimal safety during peak motorcycle season.
Whether you’re an avid motorcyclist, just getting into the mode of transportation, or simply are sharing the congested California roads with motorcyclists, understanding how to avoid common motorcyclist accidents and injuries can make the road a safer place for everyone.
We’ll address the following points since peak motorcycle season is coming up (summer) for California drivers and people are eager to get out on the roads again:
Common motorcycle accidents in California
Common motorcycle injuries in California and what body parts are commonly affected for motorcyclists in an accident
How to avoid motorcycle accidents + tips when driving during peak season in California
The truth is that motorcycle accidents happen all over the world. The reasons are that motorcycles are less stable than cars and less visible to other drivers. In a crash, motorcyclists lack the protection of an enclosed vehicle.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motorcycle riders are 26 times more likely to die in a traffic collision than passenger vehicle occupants, and 5 times more likely to be injured.
Though specific to California drivers, these points can also be applied to drivers around the country and in some places around the world where applicable. Traffic laws do vary, though, so be sure to abide by your specific area.
Common motorcycle accidents and injuries in California
The majority of motorcycle accidents are between a motorcycle and a car. Below is a list of common causes for motorcyclist accidents.
Unsafe lane changes — A car driver fails to check their blind spot when changing lanes.
Speeding — Speeding can be either on the part of the motorcyclist or a car driver. It’s a major cause of motor vehicle accidents because speeding decreases the chance that a driver will see and react to other vehicles or obstacles in the amount of time required to prevent a collision.
Driving under the influence (DUI) — Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs impairs the driver’s ability to operate a vehicle safely.
Lane splitting — This is the practice of riding a motorcycle in between two lanes of traffic. It’s especially dangerous for an inexperienced motorcyclist. Lane splitting is illegal in some states, but California law “does not allow or prohibit motorcycles from passing other vehicles proceeding in the same direction within the same lane.” This practice can also be called lane sharing or filtering.
Sudden stopping — Any sudden stop can be dangerous to a motorcyclist, whether they’re the vehicle that needs to stop and they’re rear-ended by a car or if they’re behind a car that stops abruptly.
Inexperience — A California motorcyclist who is 21 years old or more must:
- Complete a California Motorcyclist Safety Program or pass a motorcycle driving test at their local DMV
- Have a California driver’s license
- Complete a DL 44 identification form
- Pay a $33 application fee
- Pass a vision and written test
- Provide a thumbprint and submit a photo for the motorcycle permit
These requirements must be met in order for you to be legally allowed to ride a motorcycle in California. But they don’t mean you have the experience needed to ride safely. Often, new or inexperienced motorcyclists have accidents because they’re not yet adept at maneuvering their bikes.
You can practice operating a motorcycle on a closed course or in a safe spot like an empty parking lot or sparsely traveled road until you feel comfortable enough to carefully navigate in traffic.
Left-turn accidents — A lot of motorcycle accidents happen because the motorcyclist misjudged the distance or speed of an oncoming car, or made a right-of-way error.
A car making a left-hand turn is the single most dangerous situation for a motorcyclist. Nearly half of all motorcycle/car accidents happen in this situation at an intersection.
Often, it’s because the motorcycle:
- Proceeds straight through the intersection
- Attempts to pass or overtake the car
- Dangerous road conditions Poor signs or signals, pavement cracks or holes, debris, and other conditions can contribute to a motorcycle accident.
Motorcycle defects — Although a defect in a motorcycle’s manufacturing or maintenance can have catastrophic effects, motorcycle accidents from defective vehicles are less common than other kinds of accidents.
Road conditions — Motorcycles have a narrower base of support than passenger vehicles. This makes accidents more likely when there is loose gravel or debris on the road surface, or when weather conditions make roadways slippery.
Open doors — Occupants of motor vehicles parked along the street should check for oncoming traffic before opening their doors to enter or exit the vehicle to avoid the path of a rider.
Common motorcycle injuries and what body parts are commonly affected for motorcyclists in an accident
Motorcycle accident injuries can be catastrophic in many cases. Any part of the body can be injured in a motorcycle crash. According to a study conducted by NHTSA, most fatal and incapacitating injuries are sustained when the point of impact is the front of the motorcycle.
Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) — Head and neck injuries such as concussions or fractures of the skull are by far the most common injuries sparked by motorcycle accidents. In a study conducted by NHTSA on 104,472 motorcyclists injured in traffic crashes, 15 percent of helmeted and 21 percent of unhelmeted riders suffered TBI.
Traumatic brain injury accounted for 54 percent of the riders within this group who did not survive. Your head holds your brain which is the most powerful organ in all your body, and also the heaviest. It must be protected at all times when riding a motorcycle as helmets drastically reduce the severity of any injuries acquired.
Check out our article on traumatic brain injuries here.
Related article(s): Motorcycle Helmets Save Lives
Spinal cord injuries — When the spinal cord is injured from the impact of a collision, it can result in paralysis (paraplegia or quadriplegia.) This type of catastrophic injury usually causes permanent disability for the victim.
Check out our article on spinal cord injuries here.
Lower-extremity injuries — A NHTSA study of lower-extremity injuries in motorcycle crashes concluded that these injuries are sustained by riders more frequently than any other type of injury. Lower extremities including your knees, calves, ankles, and feet. Leg injuries were the most common lower-extremity injury, and bone fractures were more common than soft-tissue injuries. Most of these injuries are not fatal, however without proper care they can turn into injuries that are disabling long-term.
Internal injuries — Damage to internal organs and internal bleeding can be caused by blunt-force trauma (a blow from something hard that does not break the skin) or penetration trauma (when something sharp, such as broken glass or debris penetrates the skin in an accident).
Fractures — Motorcycles are not stable upright, and they often fall over in an accident. Crashes happen quickly, and the rider’s leg can be under the bike when it falls. Wrists and arms can be fractured when riders catch themselves to break a fall.
Road rash — When a rider makes contact with the road surface during a crash, serious skin abrasions called “road rash” occur. Road rash is probably the first injury that comes to mind when we think of motorcycle accident injuries because of the nature of the rider sliding across the pavement after being thrust from his motorcycle.
While the severity of this type of injury can range from mild to serious injury that will require prompt medical attention, and are highly susceptible to serious infections and permanent scarring, this type of injury is much more severe than a simple scrape or bruise as the force with which you scrape the pavement causes multiple layers of your skin to be peeled away possibly exposing muscles underneath.
Because there are no seatbelts, a cyclist can easily fly over the handlebars upon an impact and by the laws of physics, what goes up must come down. In this scenario it is extremely important to wear protective gear like a leather riding jacket, riding pants, riding boots and gloves.
How to avoid motorcycle accidents + tips when driving during peak season in California
Gear up — Wear long pants and sleeves made of leather or another thick, protective material, as well as gloves, eye protection and durable boots that cover your ankles. When it gets colder, don’t forget to add layers or invest in heavier gear designed for the temps.
Be seen — Wear bright colors and add reflective elements to both your clothing and bike. Use your headlight, day or night. Ride in the section of lane that makes you most visible to motorists, and if you’re not sure a motorist sees you, honk.
Wear a helmet at all times — preferably light-colored, for maximum visibility. Without one, you’re twice as likely to suffer traumatic brain injury from a crash. Replace your motorcycle helmet regularly (a general rule of thumb is every five years) or after a crash.
Be alert — Texting motorists are, unfortunately, a very real danger, so be ready for sudden lane changes and swerves. Watch for patches of sand, potholes, railroad tracks and other road hazards, as well as fellow motorcyclists.
Be extra cautios when entering intersections — Half of all crashes occur at intersections. A motorist turning left in front of you is perhaps the most common cause, so be on high alert so you can respond appropriately.
Never drink or speed — Though not specific to motorcycle drivers, more than 40 percent of motorcycle riders who die in single-vehicle crashes are alcohol-impaired, and speed is at play in more than a third of fatal crashes. Staying sober and observing the speed limit go a long way to ensuring you’ll arrive safely at your destination.
Avoid bad weather — Study up on safe ways to ride in the rain, wind, or whatever type of challenge Mother Nature tends to offer in your particular locale, in case you get stuck in it. If rain is in the forecast and you have to ride, pack rain gear to stay dry and comfortable.
Get schooled — If you’re a new motorcyclist, take a motorcycle safety course. It’s a good idea for experienced riders to take refresher courses, too. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) offers classes online and in person — some of which could net you an insurance discount.