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Rules of the Road: Laws and Regulations That Protect Motorcyclists

By Stewart J. Guss on September 26th, 2020 rules of the road

Motorcycles provide an efficient and often exhilarating means of transportation. However, motorcyclists are also at a higher risk for injury or death if they’re involved in an accident.

Most states have recognized the particular vulnerability of motorcyclists and have put laws and regulations in place to protect them. Unfortunately, drivers don’t always obey these laws. When cars and motorcycles collide on the road, these dangerous encounters lead to serious injury and even death.

Read on to understand the unique risks faced by motorcyclists, and learn more about the legal systems that protect them.

Why Are Motorcyclists at Risk?

In one recent year, more than 8.7 million motorcycles were registered in the United States. That same year, motorcyclists suffered more than 5,000 fatalities and 89,000 injuries.

Why are motorcycles at an increased risk for accidents? Visibility is a key component. These factors contribute to the reduced visibility of motorcycles:

  • Motorcycles are smaller than most other vehicles on the road.
  • The smaller size of a motorcycle makes it difficult to judge its exact distance and speed from a motor vehicle.
  • Motorcycles won’t fill an entire lane because they are not as wide as a car, but they may move around within the lane to avoid obstacles or improve their own visibility.
  • The lighting on motorcycles is different and often less obvious than other motor vehicles, including the turn signals and brake lights.
  • Riders may be wearing dark clothing with no reflective gear.

These visibility differences leave motorcyclists more vulnerable when sharing the road with larger vehicles. Still, other drivers are responsible for paying attention to motorcycles on the road.

Two more common hazards motorcyclists cope with:

  • Intersections: A car may not notice a motorcyclist waiting at an intersection, or they may not give them the right of way.
  • Blind spots: Motorcycles are small and may easily slip into a vehicle’s blind spot. This is especially dangerous when a motorcycle is trying to pass a car or truck.

Not only do motorcyclists run a greater risk of being involved in an accident, they are also more likely to suffer severe or fatal injuries. Motorcycles lack the protective exterior and safety features of a typical passenger vehicle. While protective gear can help, it’s still not the same level of protection as a car. The severity of motorcycles injuries is clear, given that only 14% of motorcycle accidents do not involve a fatality or injury.

Laws and Regulations That Protect Motorcyclists

The rules and regulations for drivers vary from state-to-state, but there are many similarities across the board. State lawmakers realize that motor vehicle drivers play an important role in protecting motorcyclists, and as such, there are numerous laws meant to protect motorcyclists.

Full Use of Lane

Drivers must give motorcycles the full use of a lane. While it may be tempting to pass a motorcycle by cutting into its lane, most states have laws that prohibit drivers from depriving a motorcyclist of the full use of a lane. Motorcyclists are, however, permitted to ride two abreast in a single lane.

While drivers may think that there is enough room to share a lane with a motorcyclist, a motorcyclist requires the entire lane to maneuver safely. A motorcycle driver needs to access the full lane in order to avoid obstacles and ride in the position that provides the best visibility.

No Tailgating

Motorcycles change their speed and direction often, making them particularly at risk from drivers who follow too closely. A rear-end collision might result in minor damage when it involves two cars, but it can be a deadly event for a motorcyclist.

As technology advances, so does law enforcement’s ability to prevent tailgating. Some states have adopted a laser system that measures the following distance between two vehicles, enabling ticketing for drivers who follow too closely. Most states have regulations dictating an assured clear distance, and failure to leave the required distance between vehicles may result in a citation.

Mind the Blind Spot

Motorcycles are easily missed in a driver’s blind spot because of their small size and narrow shape. The shape of a motorcycle and its rider are more likely to blend into the images a driver sees in the mirror rather than stand out like another automobile.

While most states do not have laws that explicitly require drivers to check their blind spots, states do require their drivers to act with “reasonable diligence.” This standard of care generally requires drivers to remain cognizant of their blind spots and check them under appropriate circumstances, such as before changing lanes.

Don’t Drive While Distracted

As smartphone use increases, so does the frequency of distracted driving. The chances of a crash increase two-fold when a driver takes their eyes off the road for just two seconds. One-third of drivers admit to texting and driving, and data shows that 25% of all crashes involve a cell phone. Because motorcycles are more difficult to spot on the road, they are highly susceptible to an accident with a distracted driver.

States are increasingly passing laws that impose hefty fines and penalties on drivers who use their phones behind the wheel, even when their vehicle is at a complete stop. Some states, like Alaska, consider distracted driving a criminal misdemeanor offense. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration also has strict rules for commercial truck drivers that prohibit reaching for or holding a mobile phone while driving.

No Speeding

We all know drivers are required to follow speed limits, but this is one of the most commonly broken rules of the road. This is particularly concerning for motorcyclists, because speeding is one of the leading causes of motorcycle accidents and fatalities.

Failure to follow speed laws is especially dangerous to motorcyclists in construction zones. Construction zones require a significantly reduced speed, and since motorcycles are more prone to accidents when bad or uneven road conditions are present, a speeding vehicle is even more dangerous.

Don’t Drink and Drive

It’s not only illegal, it’s common sense: Don’t drive under the influence of alcohol and drugs! Unfortunately, this remains a painfully prevalent cause of accidents. Driving with senses dulled from alcohol and drug use is dangerous in any situation, but it’s particularly problematic when sharing the road with small, less noticeable vehicles, like motorcycles.

Driving under the influence (DUI) laws differ from state-to-state, but 0.08 is the most common blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level for legal presumption of intoxication. Most states also impose liability on drivers whose actions indicate that they were under the influence of the alcohol, even with a BAC below 0.08.

Use Your Signals

Turn signals aren’t just for turns! Most states have laws and regulations that require drivers to use turn signals whenever they move left or right, such as when they intend to change lanes.

Recently, an individual attempted to contest the need to use a turn signal in every instance. Their state’s Supreme Court declared that leaving the decision to the discretion of the driver “undermines the purpose of traffic laws: preventing accidents and encouraging highway safety.” The court’s decisions specifically called out blind corners and unprotected left turns, which are notoriously dangerous spots for motorcycles. Texas law also requires drivers to use turn signals appropriately.

Yield for a Left Turn

When a vehicle fails to yield for a left turn, the resulting collision can prove deadly for motorcyclists. Drivers often have difficulty noticing a motorcycle or judging its speed, causing them to miscalculate their left turns. In this scenario, the motorcycle most commonly T-bones the car midway through the left turn. T-bone accidents are known to cause severe and life-altering injuries for motorcycle riders and drivers alike.

When Is a Driver Responsible for My Motorcycle Accident Injuries?

If a driver’s negligence or carelessness caused your accidents or your injuries, that driver is responsible! Failure to follow the driving rules and regulations of a state is strong evidence of negligence, and a personal injury attorney can help you prove that they are at-fault.

If you are in a motorcycle accident, be sure to get a police report after the accident. The police report will document the accident scene, include witness statements and witness contact information, and detail any citations issued for failure to comply with traffic rules and regulations.

The other driver is not the only party who may face responsibility for the accident. Be sure to discuss potential responsibility with your attorney, also considering the driver’s employer, the vehicle manufacturer, and the local government.

What Do I Include in My Damages Demand?

If another party’s negligence caused the accident and your injuries, that party needs to compensate you for your injuries. In addition to your medical expenses, you may be entitled to a variety of other damages.

Work with your lawyer to consider whether the following damages apply to your case:

  • Medical expenses: Include all of your medical expenses in your damages demand. These expenses include the costs of a hospital stay, doctors’ bills, prescription medicine, ambulance ride, and more. If your injuries require future or ongoing care, estimate and include the cost of these future expenses, too.
  • Lost income: The severity of your injuries may limit your ability to work for days, weeks, or months. If your injuries caused you to miss work or work a reduced schedule, include your lost wages in your damages demand. If your injuries have permanently limited your ability to perform certain job functions, advance in a profession, or endure full time work, you deserve compensation for your future lost earning potential.
  • Property damage: If your motorcycle was damaged or destroyed in the accident, you deserve compensation for its repair or replacement. If your protective gear, electronics, or other property suffered damage during the accident, this should be included in your damages demand as well.
  • Emotional distress: Motorcycle accidents are often traumatic events. Motorcycle victims often suffer from anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after an accident. While less tangible, these hardships are just as valid and it is important to mention them.
  • Loss of enjoyment: Our lives are enriched by activities that bring us joy, from playing an instrument to participating in a sport. Accident injuries can limit a person’s ability to partake in these activities. If you’ve suffered a loss of enjoyment, your lawyer can include these damages in your lawsuit.
  • Punitive/exemplary damages: Punitive damages do not compensate plaintiffs for their injuries, but instead punish defendants for particularly egregious behavior. The requirements for recovering punitive damages vary from state-to-state. Some states also place a cap on the amount of damages that an injured individual may recover as punitive damages.

An attorney will consider all these options and more in their pursuit of justice. A comprehensive damages assessment is a critical component of your case, but may also prove time-consuming and complicated to prepare. Certain damages will require the input of experts. For example, an economist might be required to determine your future lost earning potential. Your attorney can enlist the help of such experts to strengthen your case.

Use your damages demand as a benchmark whenever you receive a settlement offer from the defendant or its insurance provider. Work with your attorney before accepting any settlement offer. You will want to analyze a settlement offer in connection with your total damages demand and the strength of the evidence in your case. It’s sad but true: defendants and their insurance companies commonly lowball early settlement offers. An accurate and comprehensive damages demand is also vital to your case because it is the amount that the jury will consider if your case goes to trial.

Injured individuals must avoid delays when taking legal action. The defendant will take any opportunity to avoid paying you the damages you deserve, and if you take too long to pursue legal action, your state’s statute of limitations may void your claim. Do not allow the defendant to dodge responsibility.

Ultimately, the best way to make sure that the defendant and insurance company don’t take advantage of you is to work with an experienced lawyer with a history of handling motorcycle accident cases. Contact Stewart J. Guss, Attorney At Law today for a free consultation.

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