Common Motorcycle Accidents And How To Avoid Them

By Tim Fox | Motorcycle

Jan 28
common motorcycle accidents and how to avoid them

Ride a motorcycle regularly, and the odds say you’re going to have an accident. But by reading Common Motorcycle Accidents and How to Avoid Them, you can stack the odds in your favor.

Motorcycles have been an exciting adrenalin buzz since the first steam-powered bicycle hit the highway over 130 years ago. Unfortunately, one of those very same pioneering bike builders became the first motorcycle accident statistic when he died in the saddle.

Steam Bike Crash

First Motorcycle fatality

Sylvester Roper, aboard his 328cc 8hp Velocipede, had just hit a staggering 40mph when he lost control. The resulting crash proved fatal, and in 1896 he became the first fatality of his invention.

Living on the Edge

But in all honesty, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of living life on the edge, is there? Riding open to the elements and experiencing the acceleration, g-force, and inertia of swinging through your favorite bends. Coupled with the serenity of cruising through some dramatic scenery.

Unfortunately, number crunchers (sometimes with the hidden addenda of forcing through anti-motorcycle legislation or hiking up insurance costs) resolutely believe that it comes with a price. And that price is the inevitability of an accident.

But before we start bracing for impact, let's unpack the stats and see if they’re quite so black and white. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 4,976 motorcyclists died as a result of crashes in 2015. This statistic equated to an increase of 8.3% from the previous year.

Motorcycle Fatality Statistics

All people see from those statistics, are the words ‘increase of 8.3%’. However, consider for one moment that motorcycle registrations increased by 182,282 in the same period, and out of that number, there was an increase of only 382 motorcyclist fatalities.

As unfortunate as every one of those deaths is, the actual increase in fatalities compared to the number of new bikes on the road is 2.1%. Furthermore, the number of bikers injured in 2015 was down by 4000, in comparison to the previous year.

And here's more food for thought. According to the 1981 Hurt Report, still the most extensive motorcycle accident study to date, the cause of three-quarters of all motorcycle accidents is a collision with a passenger vehicle.

Now consider this, in 2015 the total number of cars and light trucks sold in the USA reached 17.47million, an increase over the previous year of almost one million new vehicles on the road. Is it any wonder motorcycle accidents have increased?

Ok, angry rant over; I just wanted to give you an insight into the real stats involved. And also give you ammunition for the next time some know-all bends your ear on the dangers of motorcycling.

However, there’s no denying that accidents occur, so let us look at the most common types.

A Vehicle is Directly in your Path

The first and most obvious is a vehicle hitting you while turning in front of you. This accident can occur when pulling out of a side road or by a vehicle cutting across your path from the opposite lane.

There are other scenarios of course, but the bottom line is, a vehicle directly in your path is confronting you.

Time to impact is probably just over one second, doesn't sound much does it. But did you know, that the human brain can process an image in 13 milliseconds and the average reaction time to a visual stimulus is about two milliseconds?

What this means is, that if you know what to look for and how to react to it, your brain is capable of seeing the scenario. It is possible to assess the situation, process some possibilities and implement a get out plan.

This forward thinking can mean the difference between walking away and being carried away on a stretcher. However, the key phrase here is, ‘what to look for and how to react.' Without this knowledge, all you've got going for you is dumb ass luck.

You Need to Ride Defensively

First things first, to maximize the chances of survival in this situation or any other, you need to ride defensively. This way of riding involves looking ahead and continuously scanning. Plus of course, constantly processing and covering the brake when riding through built up areas.

Being in a state of preparedness doesn't mean riding in a state of perpetual paranoia. Defensive riding is a taught skill, and one that given enough time and miles under your wheels will become second nature.

Reduce Speed as Soon as Possible.

panic braking

That's enough of the theorizing. What can we physically do to mitigate the potential damage? By looking ahead, you've already given yourself slightly more time to react. That reaction should be reducing speed as soon as possible.

Slowing down doesn't mean locking everything up, that's a certain way to lose control. You need to keep the bike upright and try to find a gap. But preferably not one that leads to oncoming traffic.

There are a hundred and one things to take into account at this point. What's the condition of the road surface? (This will determine how much brake you can use). Has the driver seen you? Have they come to a complete stop, or are they still rolling? What's behind or to the side of you? These will all affect your escape route.

There are even circumstances that may call for you to give a big handful of throttle to clear a closing gap. None of which you can practice for, but believe me, defensive riding and always reading the road, works. It’s that simple.

This type of scenario is a daunting one, even for the most experienced of riders. However, it can be an information overload that freezes a novice in the saddle. But don't worry; there is an action you can take that will save your life, more on that later.

Coming Off on a Bend

Another common accident is coming off on a bend. Single vehicle accidents account for around 25% of all offs. This eventuality can happen for some reasons; you see a bend up ahead; line yourself up for it, halfway around and uh-oh!

There's loose gravel, oil, a jaywalking hiker, or an escaped circus Lama; the list is endless. But the reason you are in a mess is either because you've gone in too hot or you've panicked and hit the anchors.

Be Aware that Over-braking can Cause Accidents

Over-braking is one of the chief factors of single vehicle offs. Too much front and it will fold on you, too much rear and a lock up will do pretty much the same thing.

If you’re approaching a blind bend, your spider-sense has got to be working overtime. Can you see a line of trees or telegraph poles overhead that indicates which way the road twists? Are the vehicles coming towards you in the opposite lane, carrying anything on their tires that may mean water or mud on the road?

In Slow and Out Fast

If you can’t see round the bend, slow down, it’s as simple as that. The rule of thumb is, in slow - out fast. You're not taking part in the Isle of Man TT; the whole point of riding is to survive long enough to enjoy it, whether it’s a commute or a road trip.

If you enter too fast to react to a situation, or worse still, are chasing a friend when you lose it, then as harsh as this may sound, you’re an idiot.

Learn from your Mistakes

avoid obstacles

How can I say that? Easy, I’ve been that idiot too. But if you don't learn from your mistakes, then you’re an even bigger one. You should always give yourself a good chance of saving a situation, by riding slow enough to either swerve around it, steer under it, or apply the brakes.

If you can't, let’s say for example that long sweeper suddenly turns into a hairpin, there’s only one thing left to do; hang on. Your body is flooding with adrenaline, your brain is going through its fight or flight turmoil, but your bike is not.

And the chances are, if you resist the initial reaction to do something that will upset the handling, your bike may well be capable of taking the bend. Things go wrong when you panic, so keep your head. Stay calm if you feel the pegs or exhaust scraping, get your weight further over than the bike.

I once lifted the entire back end of my bike off the floor when a floorboard dug in, and the bike skipped a foot to the right. And why did that happen? I was going too fast, felt the floorboards grind, panicked, brought it up, suddenly realized I had nowhere to go and dropped it back down.

Keep Calm and Don’t Panic

It was the sudden change of direction and falling back into the bend too fast that dug the floorboard into the ground. If I'd have stayed calm and kept my line, chances are I’d have left a nice shower of sparks behind but sailed around it.

If, however, you've taken the bend slowly and sensibly, but some unknown circumstance is just too great to resolve, then you, my friend are covered. They are called accidents for a reason.

There is a whole host of other disaster scenarios, just waiting to trap the inattentive rider. These range from cars pulling into your lane, to vehicles rear-ending you, and even car doors opening in your path.

Can the Driver See Me?

The vast majority of these situations occur because a driver fails to see the rider. We may be able to take the moral high ground when it comes to the blame game, but it’s still going to be us kissing the tarmac. Once again, however, it is possible to minimize the threat.

Realize when you are riding in a vehicle's blind spot. This lack of vision can occur when overtaking, and you momentarily disappear from the wing mirror but haven't yet cleared the car. Another scenario is when the vehicles door pillar obscures you completely.

Stay Aware and Increase your Riding Skills

drive at night

You should also be aware of the danger times too when you need to bring your double A- game. This time is generally when the sun goes down, the bars let out, or the weather takes a turn for the worse.

I mentioned earlier that the best way to avoid an accident is to ride defensively and increase your riding skills, so how exactly can you do this? The answer is simple; riding courses.

Some states make rider training compulsory, but training and curriculum of the course may differ significantly from location to location. Just remember, that receiving your rider's license makes you legal, it doesn't make you a good rider.

In almost 50% of motorcycle accidents, riders had less than five months experience and had received no significant rider training. So, look into the type of riding courses available in your area. See if there's feedback from people who have taken the classes previously, or ask about it on your local biker forum.

Knowledge is Power

Remember, knowledge is power. And this saying applies to you whether you've been riding for five months or five years on a bagger or a supersport. Motorcycle riding is one long learning process and taking advanced rider courses or top up classes, is the best way to stay frosty.

There’s also another type of course you can do which is equally as important. And I can say without any hesitation; it will not only add to your riding skills but also quicken your reflexes. Both of which will increase your chances of survival exponentially.

And what is this magic ingredient? Simple, an off-road course. And I'm not just talking dirt riding, although I’ll come to that in a moment. I'm talking about any motorcycle related activity that puts you outside of your comfort zone and teaches you how to cope with stressful scenarios.

Take Control of your Motorcycle

Take drag racing for example; just a quick Internet search and I found schools right across the country. Drag racing is probably something for the slightly more experienced rider, but if you can control a bike doing a quarter mile in nine seconds, you can control anything.

Too extreme? No problem, try a track racing school. Once again, there are schools from coast to coast. Don’t be put off by the name; they’re not going to turn you into some stoplight racer.

They will, however, teach you how to ride smoothly, while safely exploring the limitations of tire grip, braking, throttle control, traction, and cornering.

Finally, we come to off-roading. Probably the best bang for your buck you can get regarding skills transferable to the street. Yes, you can jump on your buddy’s Scrambler and head for the trail, and yes, it will make you a better road rider.

Get Professional Instruction

professional motorcycle

But if you get some proper instruction, the lessons you'll learn about balance, steering, grip, counter steering and controlling your bike when it is going sideways are invaluable. And how does this relate to making you a better road rider?

Do not Freak Out when Faced with a Potential Collision

The biggest problem you face when confronted by a potential collision is freaking out at the loss of control. This lack of control is very often because you've over reacted by braking too harshly. Alternatively, you've downshifted too quickly and locked the back wheel, or just generally dialed in too many opposing commands for your bike to follow.

Not only will staying in psychological control of the situation save your life but being able to manage the direction of your bike under such extreme conditions is imperative.

Become a Better Rider

Need proof that riding on the dirt makes you a better rider? Consider these two names, Kenny Roberts and Valentino Rossi. Roberts was a Champion flat track racer before making the transition to Grand Prix racing and becoming a champion in that category too.

He set up a dirt track racing school in Barcelona (the Kenny Roberts Training Ranch) and introduced the sport to Spain. Many believe that the influence and tuition of his school were the principle turning point for Spain’s dominance of the motorcycle Grand Prix circuit.

In fact, Spain’s only 500cc world champion, Alex Crivillé, was a disciple of Roberts. And three times world champion Mark Marquez, attributes Roberts and flat track racing, as the prime factor behind his incredible MotoGP success.

The story is almost the same for Valentino Rossi. The Italian phenomenon built a dirt track course in Italy called the VR46 Academy, to nurture the next generation of Italian MotoGP champions. And which discipline does he teach? Flat track racing of course.

You Need to Develop New Skills

While the odds are against us as riders, we don't have to sit back and wait to be the victim of another set of statistics. There are training courses we can take and new skills to develop, all of which can help to save our lives.

So be sensible and take the bull by the horns and do something about it, because no-one will do it for you.

When that car pulls out in front of you; don't be a victim, take control, of your mind and your bike. One last thing, the stats regarding accidents and their causes lays the blame - in the majority of motorcycle accidents - as a result of another vehicle illegally invading your space.

But there's another bunch of stats that make for equally appalling reading. I am afraid here, we are the idiots to blame, and this makes for very uncomfortable reading.

Fatalities are due to Inadequate Kit

According to the NHTSA, 27% of all motorcycle fatalities showed illegal alcohol levels, with the 35-39 age group being the worse offenders. Of that 27%, over half were not wearing a helmet and over a third were exceeding the speed limit. In almost 30% of fatal motorcycle accidents, the rider didn’t have a valid license.

Safety first

The figures relating to motorcycle accidents are equally horrific. Significant numbers of riders were not wearing helmets, eye protection of any kind, inappropriate footwear, gloves, leg protection or upper body covering.

I’m not saying we’ve got to ride around like paragons of virtue, with hi-viz clothing, wearable airbags, mandatory speed limiters and alcohol testing ignition switches.

You Need to Police Yourself and Wear the Right Gear

But we do need to police ourselves. It’s hard enough surviving out on the street without giving the number crunchers more ammunition and the government more opportunities to implement laws to ‘save us from ourselves.'

So, repeat after me. I will get clued up. I will wear decent gear. I will not ride like a moron. I will increase my skill set. But most of all, I will learn how to avoid common motorcycle accidents, and I will not become a statistic.