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What are The Main Causes of Motorcycle Accidents in California?

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Motorcycles are not only very popular, but also very dangerous, particularly in California. In 2019 alone, a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) documented a total of 474 fatal motorcycle accidents. As with any high-risk activity, it is important to know what those risks are so that you can take steps to ensure not only your safety, but the safety of others. There are some common causes of motorcycle accidents that can be avoided if you know what to watch out for.


Types of Motorcycle Crashes in California

California is the number one state in the country for motorcyclists, having over 900,000 registered motocyclists. Drivers riding a motorcycle are also far more likely to be seriously injured in an accident than their fellow motorists and 28 times more likely to suffer fatal injuries from those accidents. The five most common motorcycle crash types are:

  • 27% – Broadside hits
  • 8% – Rollovers
  • 2% – Object collisions
  • 3% – Rear-end collisions
  • 9% – Sideswipes


Common Causes of Motorcycle Accidents in California

There is a myriad of different things that can all lead to a motorcycle accident which can result in injury or death. In California, the top five most common motorcycle accident causes are speeding, right of way violations, improper left turns, driving under the influence, and unsafe lane changes.



Speeding accounts for 29.5% of all motorcycle accidents in California. Driving above the speed limit is dangerous no matter the vehicle and increases the likelihood of an accident. Excessive speeds reduce reaction time to avoid potential obstacles and make a vehicle more difficult to control, which can be especially hazardous on a motorcycle. Speeding on a motorcycle can also lead to unstable movement in the handlebars which can result in “speed wobbles.” This is when the front tire shakes violently causing the motorcycle to lose control.

Right of Way Violations

Right of way violations account for 18.7% of motorcycle accidents in California. Often, these accidents are caused by drivers who do not yield or merge properly. Right of way violations also often happen at intersections or around road maintenance zones. A common result of these violations is a head on collision.

Over half of all motorcycle fatalities are the result of collisions with other vehicles. At intersections, cars may not notice an oncoming motorcycle and a left hand turn can become a head on collision. These types of accidents are especially dangerous for motorcycle riders.

Improper Left Turns

Improper left turns account for 17.4% of motorcycle accidents in California. When making a left turn at an intersection, the driver turning must have a green arrow, or yield right of way to oncoming drivers. When a car or motorcycle makes an improper left turn, either by not yielding the right of way or by running the light, they increase the risk of a collision. Motorcycles are smaller than other vehicles and sometimes other drivers do not see them until it is too late.

Driving Under the Influence

Driving under the influence accounts for 9.6% of motorcycle accidents in California. According to a study conducted by UC Berkeley, motorcycle riders are less likely to be intoxicated at the time of an accident than other motor vehicle drivers by about 4%. Drinking alcohol or taking drugs can negatively impact your vision, reasoning skills, and response time. All of these things can be incredibly dangerous while driving. Motorcycles are already smaller and more difficult to see than other vehicles, and if someone’s vision is impaired or they are swerving on the road, the chances of colliding with a motorcycle are increased.

Unsafe Lane Changes

Unsafe lane changes account for 5.8% of motorcycle accidents in California. There are many ways that someone can execute a lane change unsafely:

  • Incorrect or unsafe lane splitting
  • Not using a signal
  • Not checking blind spots
  • Swerving or weaving in and out of lanes

When a motorist changes lanes, it is important for them to be aware of their surroundings and to be sure that other drivers are aware of their movements. It is easy for motorists to lose sight of motorcycles in the flow of traffic and driving unsafely only increases the risk of a collision.


Other Common Causes of Motorcycle Accidents

There are other common motorcycle accident causes as well. It is always important to be aware of your actions and surroundings when on the road. There are many different things that can lead to a motorcycle accident that all riders should be aware of so that they can keep themselves safe. Drivers of passenger vehicles, trucks, and anyone else on the road are also encouraged to take responsibility for the safety of those around them. Reckless driving puts everyone at risk.


Distracted Drivers

Driving is an activity that requires all of a person’s focus. When something pulls that focus, be it food, phones, or passengers, it creates a hazard for the driver and everyone around them, especially motorcycle riders who are already harder to notice. There are laws in place to prohibit activities like texting while driving in an effort to make the road safer for everyone.

Road Hazards

In addition to concerns about reduced visibility, motorcycles face a number of other unique risks due to their smaller size. Hazards that may cause annoyance or minor damage for larger vehicles such as uneven pavement, potholes, and debris in the road can be especially dangerous for motorcycles. The potential danger of adverse weather is also increased as motorcycles already require more balance and control. It is generally advised that motorcyclists do not drive in the rain at all due to the increased risk of losing control of the vehicle.

Lane Splitting

While lane splitting is not only allowed but encouraged for motorcyclists in California, doing so improperly can be hazardous. Lane splitting, or driving between lanes, can be a useful way for motorcyclists to maneuver through congested traffic and avoid rear end collisions. California Vehicle Code Section 21658.1 defines lane splitting as “driving a motorcycle, […] that has two wheels in contact with the ground, between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane, including on both divided and undivided streets, roads, or highways.”

While there are studies that indicate that when properly done, this is safer than riding behind a vehicle, it can also be a contributing factor to some accidents. Limited space, other vehicles swerving between lanes, and objects crossing over lanes such as doors or cargo can all make lane splitting extra hazardous.

Lack of Visibility

Although there are so many motorcycles in California, there are still many more of larger vehicles. Drivers are accustomed to seeing and being aware of other cars on the road, but smaller vehicles like motorcycles can be dangerously overlooked.

Doors Opening into Traffic

When someone pulls over, they generally consider themselves to be out of the flow of traffic. However, when they open their door, they may be blocking the path of oncoming vehicles. According to California Vehicle Code section 22517 drivers are forbidden from opening the doors of their vehicles into traffic unless the way is clear and there is no risk of impeding other vehicles. Drivers must also refrain from leaving their car doors open in these situations for any longer than is strictly necessary.

This hazard presents a risk not only to motorcycles, but to bicycles, pedestrians, and other cars as well.

Getting Read Ended

A rear end collision can occur when one vehicle stops and the vehicle behind them does not. Oftentimes, these collisions are relatively minor with mostly a bit of property damage and no injuries. However, sometimes these collisions can be more severe, and when a motorcycle is involved, they may even be fatal. The small size of a motorcycle combined with the lack of protection for its rider can make being rear ended a far more dangerous experience than it is for drivers of larger vehicles.

Sudden Stops

California Vehicle Code 22109 forbids motorists from slowing down or stopping suddenly on highways without properly signaling to the drivers behind them that they are going to do so. The website for the California DMV provides examples of the signals to use when stopping suddenly.

When drivers do not adhere to these safety measures and stop suddenly without warning, they pose a risk to the drivers behind them, particularly motorcycles. The impact of a rear end collision can even cause a rider to be thrown from their bike and result in fatal injuries. This is one of the reasons why lane splitting is encouraged in California, to help riders avoid these types of accidents.

Motorcycle Malfunction

While motorcyclists have a reputation for keeping their bikes well maintained, malfunctions can still occur. Older machines or defective parts can have disastrous results. Manufacturers of all sorts of vehicles have had instances of defects and malfunctions. In 2009, Toyota experienced a flaw in the accelerators of multiple vehicles that resulted in fatal collisions.


Motorcycle Accident Statistics

According to a report from the Governors Highway Association, in 2016:

  • 1% of people killed in motor vehicle accidents were motorcycle riders
  • 25% of the motorcycle riders killed in accidents were under the influence
  • Most motorcycle riders killed in accidents were 40 years old and older

There are thousands of motorcycle riders killed as well as up to fifty thousand injured every year throughout the country. Nearly half of all motorcycle accidents that result in fatal injuries do not involve another vehicle. Injuries to the head or chest are common and can prove fatal, particularly in accidents involving high speeds and intoxication. It is always advisable for motorcyclists to wear a helmet and obey the rules of the road.


Factors That Impact Fatality Rates of Motorcycle Accidents

There are two large factors that have contributed to lower numbers of motorcycle fatalities.

The first and most obvious is the rising number of motorcycle riders who wear helmets. Currently, 47 of the 50 states all have some kind of law that mandates helmet use. There are those that specify age-based restrictions as well. There have been many studies that prove there is a direct correlation between mandatory helmet use and a decreased rate of injuries to the head and face.

Another interesting factor is weather patterns. Poor weather poses such a major hazard for motorcyclists, that riders are less likely to take their bikes out at all in those conditions. An increase in volatile weather throughout the country including thunderstorms and hurricanes, led to a decrease in motorcycles on the road at all, leading to a decrease in crashes and fatalities.


Contact a Motorcycle Accident Lawyer if You Have Been in a Motorcycle Accident

Any motor vehicle accident is a difficult ordeal. Between property damage and medical treatment, navigating legal proceedings to file a claim can be beyond stressful. This can all be intensified in the event of a motorcycle crash due to the higher risk of severe injuries. Personal injury lawyers can help smooth over the entire process and guide you through every step of the way. Our attorneys are experienced in motorcycle accidents and dedicated to helping you get the compensation you deserve. If you have been in a motorcycle crash, call Mesriani Law Group today for a free consultation.


Motorcycle Accident Cause FAQs

What is the most common cause of motorcycle accidents?

The biggest cause of motorcycle accidents is limited visibility. Motorcycles are so much smaller than passenger cars and trucks that they can be overlooked in the flow of traffic. When other drivers do not pay attention to their surroundings, they increase the risk of a collision. This is especially an issue at intersections.

What are 40% of motorcycle crashes caused by?

About 40% of all motorcycle accidents involve or are directly caused by distracted driving. When drivers do not devote all of their attention to the road and their surroundings, they put everyone at risk. This is especially an issue for motorcyclists who already suffer from reduced visibility. All drivers are discouraged from texting, eating, and other activities that take focus from the task at hand.

Are there more motorcycle accidents in California?

California has more motorcycles registered than any other state and has one of the highest numbers for motorcycle accidents. According to a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) California, Florida, and Texas are the top three states for motorcycle fatalities. Due to variances in state populations and number of registrations, it is difficult to pin down what state is the most dangerous for motorcycle riders.

Who is at fault in most motorcycle accidents?

Studies show that roughly half of motorcycle accidents are the fault of the cyclist. In a report published by the California Office of Traffic Safety, in 2019 it was reported that 67% of fatal motorcycle crashes were the fault of the cyclist and 54% of accidents resulting in nonfatal injuries were the fault of the motorcyclist.

About the Author
Picture of Rodney Mesriani
Rodney Mesriani

Rodney Mesriani is the principal partner of the Los Angeles and Santa Monica based Mesriani Law Group. He specializes in personal injury and employment law while also being an accomplished litigator and trial attorney. Rodney is an aggressive negotiator and a well-known and respected attorney in the areas of practice he specializes in.

He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from California State University Northridge before attending Southwestern School of Law where he received his Juris Doctorate. While being an accomplished personal injury and employment lawyer, Rodney Mesriani has made it a point to attend numerous State Sponsored MCLE events and seminars over the years as a law practitioner to be informed of the latest laws and litigation strategies.



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