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Motorcycle Laws

Motorcycles offer an economical and environmentally friendly way to travel, but not everyone shares a passion for the open road. Car and truck operators often refuse to treat motorcyclists as equals. Speeding, following too closely behind, and failing to yield often result in life-changing motorcycle accidents. The following includes ten of the most common traffic laws that drivers fail to follow around motorcycle riders, and information about recovering compensation for negligently inflicted injuries.

Following Too Closely Behind

Drivers should anticipate common roadway conditions such as traffic, sudden accidents, and debris. As such, operators must keep enough distance between themselves and other vehicles to stop without causing a rear-end collision. The speed of traffic, roadway conditions, vehicle weight, and braking system often dictate the legally required distance between cars and motorcycles. Unfortunately, drivers usually follow riders too closely to force them into changing lanes.

Rear-end accidents often affect riders more seriously than vehicle occupants because of the weight differential between motorcycles and cars. Even a “fender-bender” could force bikers over the handlebars, crush unprotected riders between vehicles, or suddenly propel them under a moving truck.

Nearly every state prohibits drivers from following motorcycles too closely because it may cause these life-threatening injuries:

In many cases, drivers who rear-ended stopped or stopping motorcycles bear total liability for any resulting injuries. Motor vehicle operators who rear-end moving motorcycles may do so due to speeding, reckless driving, or while intentionally intimidating the rider.


Speed limits exist for a reason. Experts generally set them by considering the likelihood of serious accidents based on the roadway’s condition, size, and location. Obeying speed limits saves lives. According to the World Health Organization, bikers hit by vehicles traveling 50 miles per hour are three times more likely to suffer fatal injuries than those hit by cars moving at 30 miles per hour.

Speeding contributes to approximately one-third of preventable traffic accidents, including motorcycle crashes. It takes longer for speeding vehicles to come to a stop and increases the likelihood of losing control of trucks and propelling semi-trailers into motorcycles. Most states mandate slower speed limits on roadways in residential or business districts to compensate for the higher number of pedestrians and bikers traveling locally.

Traveling Too Fast for Conditions

Even if drivers obey the speed limit, they might still unlawfully travel too fast for weather and roadway conditions. Slick roads decrease the friction between tires and the pavement, requiring drivers to move more slowly and keep a greater distance between themselves and other vehicles. Cars may unintentionally slide through intersections in wet, icy, or snowing conditions, causing serious head-on motorcycle crashes.

Dangerous conditions might also decrease visibility, preventing drivers from seeing bikers. Traveling slower in fog or low light may not prevent a motorcycle collision, but it could save a rider’s life. Drivers must also pay attention to specific roadway hazards, such as potholes, accidents, construction, and debris. As most riders know, hitting a pothole at high speed could result in a tire blowout and a loss of control accident.

Failure to Yield

Most states grant equal rights to all motor vehicles, including cars, trucks, and motorcycles. Drivers must treat riders as they would another vehicle, but some operators wrongfully assume they have more rights than bikers.

Failing to yield the right of way to motorcycles often results in these types of accidents:

  • Sideswipes
  • T-bone crashes
  • Head-on collisions
  • Chain-reaction crashes
  • Loss of control accidents
  • Undercarriage entrapment

Cars must typically yield the right of way to motorcycles while merging onto a freeway, turning out of a parking lot, changing lanes, or arriving after a biker at a multi-way stop. If you suffer from serious injuries in a motorcycle accident because another driver ignored your right of way, consider speaking with a personal injury attorney about your case.

Unsafe Lane Changes

When changing lanes, drivers naturally look for other passenger vehicles and large trucks. They may not see a smaller motorcycle, and even if they do, sometimes their minds don’t register the danger before merging. Sideswipe accidents resulting from unlawful lane changes often cause fatal motorcycle crashes. Unprotected riders might suddenly find themselves propelled into another lane of traffic. Further, large trucks often have significant blind spots, making it nearly impossible to spot motorcycles while merging. A biker may find him- or herself clipped and forced under a semi-trailer.

Unlawful Passing

Some drivers fear driving their vehicles near unprotected motorcycle operators or become frustrated with riders obeying the speed limit. This behavior often results in motor vehicle operators attempting to go around motorcycles on the shoulder of the road or another unsafe manner. When suddenly merging back into the rider’s lane, the vehicle could clip the motorcycle’s front, causing it to careen out of control. Generally, it is unlawful to pass motorcycles in this way.

Distracted Driving

Experts agree that distracted driving is the number one cause of motor vehicle accidents in the United States. Proving that driver distraction caused a crash often requires witness testimony, phone records, police reports, or other circumstantial evidence. A combination of physical, mental, and visual stimuli typically results in driver distraction.

The leading distractions contributing to motorcycle accidents including:

  • Texting or using mobile devices while driving
  • Fatigue and daydreaming
  • Rubbernecking
  • Eating and drinking
  • Talking or tending to passengers
  • Outside stimuli, such as a deer or billboards
  • Driving while lost or looking for a destination

Many states have laws prohibiting distracted driving generally and texting while driving specifically. Using cell phones often increases the likelihood of causing a motorcycle crash because it takes a driver’s hands, mind, and eyes off the road. Bikers typically have fewer distractions than drivers because they seldom tend to passengers or use mobile devices while riding.

Disobeying Traffic Control Devices

Most states have laws specifying that motor vehicle operators, including bikers, may legally assume other drivers will obey traffic control devices. These devices typically include intersection lights, stop signs, crosswalk signals, speed limit indicators, no turning signs, and right of way notices.

Unfortunately, drivers often ignore yield signs and other essential safety signals when driving drunk, rushing, texting, or otherwise inconvenienced. Traffic control devices generally exist on roads and in intersections where they’re needed to prevent serious accidents. Motorcycle operators may not expect drivers to make illegal U-turns, run red lights, or ignore stop signs. This unlawful behavior often results in T-bone accidents and head-on collisions.

Failure to See

Whether written in local traffic laws or implied by case law, most states recognize a legal principle referred to as “failure to see that which was to be seen.” This simple phrase means that all drivers have a responsibility to look out for other vehicles, pedestrians, and motorcycles. Sometimes, drivers did not violate a specific traffic law and simply crashed into a biker because they did not see them.

Riders injured in accidents occurring at night or in low-visibility conditions might discuss this principle with their injury attorneys. Experienced legal professionals will also consider whether a negligent driver had a proper vision prescription, was suffering from fatigue, or the motorcycle was in the vehicle’s blind spot.

Driving Under the Influence (DUI) or Driving While Intoxicated (DWI)

Drunk driving claims over 10,000 lives each year. A single drink can drastically alter a driver’s ability to perceive motorcyclists, avoid accidents, and react to traffic control devices. Intoxicated drivers might speed, make illegal turns, drive on the wrong side of the road, or even drive into buildings and houses. A severely drunk driver might not even realize they clipped and injured a biker.

Most states set a legal blood alcohol limit of 0.08. However, it is unlawful to operate a vehicle if intoxicating substances, such as alcohol, marijuana, or prescription drugs, impact a driver’s mental faculties or physical movements. A single drink might result in reduced reaction time that injures a motorcycle operator. Riders harmed in drunk driving accidents might hold motorists liable for money damages even if law enforcement did not press charges.

Applying Negligence Per Se to Motor Vehicle Collisions

Understanding how traffic laws apply to motorcycles might help claimants recover financial damages. A legal principle called negligence per se allows courts to assume a driver carelessly acted if evidence indicates a traffic violation caused a motorcycle accident. In negligence per se cases, riders only need to prove the driver’s legal violations contributed to the harm. Proving a traffic violation caused a motorcycle crash might shorten litigation and encourage insurers to offer financial settlements.

Multiple Violations as a Reckless Driving Offense

When drivers simultaneously violate two or more major traffic laws, many states agree that this automatically qualifies as a reckless driving offense. Reckless driving may be a criminal misdemeanor punishable by fines and even imprisonment.


Common examples of reckless driving combinations include:

  • Speeding and running red lights
  • Speeding and illegal passing
  • Illegal passing and dangerous lane changes
  • Texting and following too closely
  • Speeding and failing to yield the right of way
  • A high blood alcohol or breath alcohol content

Sometimes police reports reflect multiple violations, and this might support a civil claim for reckless driving damages. Other times, riders may work with legal professionals to gather evidence of reckless driving, including witness statements, expert analysis of vehicle damage, photos, surveillance videos, and 911 transcripts. Motorcyclists injured by reckless drivers might bring claims for general and gross negligence in civil court.

Types of Compensation Available to Negligently Injured Bikers

The majority of motorcycle accident litigation results in a lump sum insurance settlement. However, personal injury attorneys often file lawsuits when insurers deny liability, refuse to make a reasonable offer, or the biker’s losses exceed the policy limit. In either case, injured motorcycle riders must show that actual damages occurred and prove the value of their injuries.

Bikers might recover compensation for direct losses, including doctor’s bills, medical expenses, damage to the motorcycle, lost wages, and intangible pain and suffering damages. Every state has different rules related to compensation for pain and suffering. Still, bikers might claim damages for mental anguish, emotional turmoil, loss of life’s enjoyments, loss of spousal companionship, and inconvenience. Courts understand that these emotional pains often outweigh physical harm. Friends, family members, and injured victims might all testify about a motorcycle accident’s emotional and personal impact.

In reckless driving, intentional injury, vehicular manslaughter, and certain DUI cases, bikers or their families might recover punitive damages following litigation. Juries might include a punitive award with direct compensation if the reckless driver’s actions were extremely careless, the driver fled the scene, or the negligent operator failed to render medical aid. Punitive damages exist to punish reckless drivers, as opposed to compensate the plaintiff for direct losses. Not every state permits such damages, and some states limit the amount of punitive award.

The Cost of Consulting a Motorcycle Injury Lawyer

Many victims of careless driving accidents try to settle cases without a lawyer’s help. They may fear to consult with a personal injury attorney due to hidden fees or high hourly costs. However, it typically costs nothing to speak with a motorcycle crash lawyer. Personal injury attorneys traditionally accept cases on a contingency fee basis.

With this arrangement, legal counsel agrees to accept a certain percentage of the rider’s overall financial recovery as their fee. Taking motorcycle crash cases on a contingency fee basis allows bikers to focus on their recovery without worrying about legal costs.

Most law firms also front the money to pay filing fees, litigation expenses, and expert witness expenses. They may even help their clients file insurance paperwork, protect them from collections agents, advocate for them during defense medical examinations, and apply for disability benefits. If attorneys cannot recover compensation for their injury clients, they generally do not get paid. There is little to no risk associated with scheduling a confidential motorcycle accident consultation with a local injury lawyer.

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