Motorcyclist-Motorist Interactions: Facts and Safety Tips

By Gina Williams, Guest Author

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), motor vehicle accidents are the number one killer of people in the United States between the ages of 5 and 34. In 2009, over 2 million people were treated in U.S. emergency rooms due to vehicle crashes.

Take a look at 2009’s accident statistics:

U.S. Census Bureau’s 2009 Vehicle Accident Data
Accidents Deaths Deaths Within 1 Year of Accident
Total Accidents Fatal Accidents Total Occupant Non-Occupant Passenger Vehicle Motorcycle Total Occupant
10,800,000 30,797 33,808 24,474 9,334 13,095 4,462 35,900 31,900

As of 2005, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that there were 244,165,686 non-motorcycle passenger vehicles and 6,227,146 motorcycles registered in the United States. So effectively, motorcycles account for about 2 percent of passenger vehicles in the U.S., yet 11 percent of all accidents involve motorcycles. About 39 percent of all fatal vehicle accidents in 2009 were passenger vehicle motorists and 13 percent were motorcyclists.

Motorcycle-Passenger Vehicle Accident Interaction

According to a 2007 NHTSA report, 56 percent of motorcycle accidents involve multiple vehicles. Depending on the accident type, e.g. head-on crashes, right angle crashes, etc., the majority of these accidents involves a motorcycle striking another vehicle. This does not, however, relate to blame in these accidents; all it means is that motorcyclists typically hit other vehicles first.

Two vehicle crashes account for 89 percent of multi-vehicle motorcycle accidents, according to the NHTSA report; two vehicle accidents are either 2 motorcyclists, or 1 motorcyclist and 1 non-motorcycle vehicle. Of motorcycle fatalities that are the result of a two-vehicle crash, 85 percent involved a passenger vehicle while 15 percent involved another type of motorist (i.e. motorcyclist, 18-wheeler, etc.). Comparing fatalities in two vehicle accidents, 98 percent were motorcyclists and 2 percent were passenger vehicle motorists.

Two of the most common causes of motorcycle-passenger vehicle crashes are:

  • Alcohol.
  • Failure to yield to a motorcyclist’s right-of-way.

How to Prevent Motorcycle-Passenger Car Accidents

Don’t Drink and Drive
It seems to go without saying, but no one operating a vehicle should drink and then drive; it poses a threat to the operator, other motorists, and bystanders. In 2009, 33,808 vehicle occupants and non-occupants were killed in traffic accidents. The following are the fatality facts related to vehicle occupants only in 2009:

All motorist occupant deaths:

  • Death total: 27,844.
  • Alcohol related deaths: 11,249.
  • Percentage of alcohol related deaths: 40

Passenger vehicle deaths:

  • Death total: 23,332
  • Alcohol related deaths: 9,688.
  • Percentage of alcohol related deaths: 41.

Motorcyclist deaths:

  • Death total: 4,462
  • Alcohol related deaths: 1,561
  • Percentage of alcohol related deaths: 35.

And according to the 2007 NHTSA report on two vehicle motorcycle crashes, “Alcohol involvement among motorcycle operators killed was almost 2.5 times the alcohol involvement of the passenger vehicle drivers involved in these crashes.”

Be Aware
Both motorcyclists and motorists need to be aware of each other; motorists in particular need to be conscious that motorcyclists are on the roads and are not always easy to see. A very common cause of accidents that involve both motorcycles and passenger vehicles is a motorists’ failure to see approaching motorcyclists. This leads motorists to fail to yield to motorcyclists’ right-of-way, and crashes result. According to the NHTSA, “For the passenger vehicle drivers involved in two-vehicle motorcycle crashes, 35 percent of the driver-related factor was failure to yield right-of-way compared to only 4 percent for motorcycle operators.” And, while motorists need to be more aware of motorcyclists, motorcyclists need to be aware that motorists have a high tendency not to see them.

Gina Williams is a professional writer who spends most of her time researching and writing about motorcycle accidents.

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