Illinois motorists and motorcyclists have equal rights to the roadways across the state. However, the experiences for drivers and riders are often very different, particularly when it comes to hazards. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics for 2013 show that motorcycle crash fatalities were 26 times higher than those for passengers in cars.
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation warns motorists that more than 50 percent of the fatal motorcycle accidents are two-vehicle collisions, and most of these are caused by the driver of the car or truck.
The number of motorcycles registered in Illinois is increasing, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. In McHenry County, a personal injury attorney would be pleased to see more driver education on the ways that motorists can share the road with motorcycles.
- Awareness at intersections
A motorcycle is approximately one-third the size of a passenger vehicle when seen from the front. The narrow profile also makes it difficult for people to judge how quickly the motorcycle is moving, and it often looks farther away than it actually is. These factors are contributors to the number one location of all motorcycle crashes: intersections. Collisions at intersections typically occur because a driver fails to yield to the motorcycle and turns across its path. The rider then has the option to strike the vehicle or crash in an attempt to avoid it.
To prevent hazards for motorcycles at intersections, passenger vehicle drivers are encouraged to go beyond the first check for oncoming vehicles. The Illinois DOT recommends that motorists look for motorcycles in particular after doing the first traffic check and before pulling out into an intersection to prevent a collision with a motorcycle. Awareness programs such as, “Look Twice, Save a Life,” and “Share the Road,” re-inforce the development of this safety habit.
- Respecting lane position
Motorcycles must often move around frequently within their lanes, and riders do this for a number of important safety reasons that motorists should understand and respect. Road hazards that are not even noticeable in a car can be life threatening to a person on two wheels. Potholes, loose gravel, oil slicks and road debris can ruin traction and cause the motorcycle to crash. If it happens in heavy traffic, it could be deadly to the rider. Drivers of passenger vehicles should be aware of construction, bad weather or other road hazards and give motorcycles extra space to deal with these dangers.
- Blind spots
Because of their smaller size, motorcyclists need to move around within a lane to increase their visibility and stay out of motorists’ blind spots. Anywhere along the sides of a vehicle, and often extending several feet behind the vehicle, are extreme danger zones for motorcycles. When motorists plan to change lanes, even if they do a head check rather than a mirror check, there is no guarantee that riders will be visible. Unfortunately, many drivers do not turn their heads to look for traffic, relying only on mirrors. If riders move to the left side of the lane before passing cars, they can typically be seen in the rearview mirror, reducing the risk of a crash from the side.
- Increased following distance
A rear-end collision between two cars often results in a fender bender, and the crash may not even be enough to cause airbags to be deployed. Between a car and a motorcycle, the same accident can be a fatality crash. Drivers are usually encouraged to follow at least two seconds behind the next vehicle, but because of the increased risk rear-end crashes have for motorcycles, many recommend a four-second cushion, instead. A motorist can measure the space by picking a fixed object and counting the seconds between the time that the motorcycle and the car pass it. At night, in bad weather or when road hazards are present, a McHenry personal injury attorney may recommend a larger following distance to prevent a crash.
- Evaluating visual cues
In Illinois, motorcycles are required to have their headlights on during the day for safety. A motorist should not fully rely on other lights to provide visual warnings of what the rider plans to do, though. Turn signal lights are not typically self-canceling on a motorcycle, so the rider may miss the fact that they are still blinking. A motorist cannot count on the rider’s brake light for an indication that the motorcycle is slowing or coming to a stop because it is often safer to downshift or let off the throttle rather than hitting the brakes. Through awareness of these false or missing cues, a motorist can make better judgment calls when a motorcycle is in the general vicinity.
According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, registered motorcycles in the state accounted for 4 percent of all motor vehicles. However, there were 152 motorcycle crash fatalities in 2013, and riders made up 15 percent of the total traffic fatalities in the state. While brain injuries are the most common cause of death in a motorcycle accident, those who survive a traumatic head injury often experience debilitating headaches, mental health problems and permanent memory issues. Deep skin wounds and broken bones are also common motorcycle crash injuries that can leave a rider unable to pursue normal activities.
A rider who is injured in an accident may be entitled to compensation to cover the costs of medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering. A McHenry personal injury attorney may be able to provide assistance in ensuring that the person who is responsible for the accident is held liable for the damages.