Left Turn Motorcycle Accidents are Almost Always the Driver’s Fault

Motorcycle left-turn accidents are not only one of the most common types of collisions between bikes and cars, they’re also one of the most deadly. And while these types of crashes can be considered crimes in some cases, injured riders and motorcycle passengers cannot rely on the criminal justice system to get them the financial compensation they deserve after a potentially deadly motorcycle accident here in California.

Left Turn Motorcycle Accidents Make Up Majority of Car vs. Motorcycle Collisions

A study entitled Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors, commissioned by the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), found that nearly 75% of motorcycle accidents nationwide involve collisions with other vehicles. Motorcycle left-turn collisions are by far the biggest sub-category of these car/bike collisions, accounting for 42% of all motorcycle crashes involving another automobile.  That’s more than any other type of accident and more than the next two leading types of motorcycle collision combined.

Unfortunately, even though these types of collisions almost always occur at lower speeds than head-on or rear-end collisions, they are far too often fatal. In fact, according to NHTSA statistics, left turn motorcycle accidents account for 36% of motorcycle fatalities.

How do Motorcycle Left Turn Accidents Happen?

While the majority of motorcycle accidents involving collisions with automobiles hinge upon the car driver’s negligence, recklessness, or carelessness, motorcycle left-turn accidents are almost always the motorist’s fault.

Indeed, the now infamous The Hurt Report, commissioned by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the early 1980s, stated that “the most common motorcycle accident involves another vehicle causing the collision by violating the right-of-way of the motorcycle at an intersection, usually by turning left in front of the oncoming motorcycle . . .”

Motorcycle left-turn accidents occur most often when the motorcyclist is:

  • Traveling straight through an intersection
  • Passing the car in question
  • Traveling in the left lane (and is cut off by a car that changes lanes without signaling)

In such cases, the automobile operator fails to yield the right of way (as is required by California traffic laws).

Left Turn Motorcycle Accidents Are Mostly Blamed on Vision or Perception

Indeed, California traffic law requires that drivers yield the right of way when turning left—no matter what type of vehicle (or pedestrians) may be in front of them. When they fail to do so—for whatever reason—they are breaking the law and could be held accountable. Criminal fines, jail time, and license revocation are all common penalties for these serious traffic violations.

But why do drivers cut riders off? The number one “defense” when drivers strike motorcycle operators while turning left is that the driver failed to see the motorcyclist. That finding was as true when The Hurt Report was published as it is today. That, however, does not negate these motorists’ legal responsibility.

But, even when the driver does see the motorcycle, they may not be able to accurately judge the distance between their vehicle and the bike.

Our Brains Make Determining Distances Tricky at Best

Cognitive research by Doctor Pat DeLucia at Texas Tech University suggests that our brains may not be wired correctly to accurately interpret the distance between our car and the motorcycle in front of us. Our brains take electrical signals from our retinas and analyze them repeatedly in order to judge distance. One key component in this analysis is the perceived size of the object coming at us.

In short, because motorcycles are smaller than cars, our brains actually perceive them as being farther away. That leads drivers to believe they have enough time to complete their turns before the motorcycle ever comes into the collision danger zone.

This often results in the motorist telling police the motorcyclist was speeding or saying things like “they came so fast, I couldn’t react.” So, because the motorist cannot properly perceive the distance of the motorcycle, the motorcyclist will be blamed for speeding or straight-out “causing” the accident. This is yet another uphill battle for motorcyclists to face when working through the motorcycle accident settlement negotiation process. This is where having an experienced motorcycle lawyer who has a motorcycle accident reconstructionist on hand can really help tip the scales back in your favor.

Types of Injuries Suffered by Motorcyclists in Left Turn Accidents

Thankfully, the average speed of vehicles involved in left-turn motorcycle accidents in California is relatively low (just 30 miles per hour according to a survey of accident reports across the state). However, even at those speeds, an unprotected motorcycle rider can suffer severe, life-threatening, or even fatal injuries.

Unlike operators and passengers inside motor vehicles, motorcyclists have little-to-no protection from collisions. While wearing a helmet can help prevent motorcycle accident head injuries and the use of protective riding gear can lessen the severity of injury to the torso and extremities, motorcycle passengers often become missiles, ejected from their rides and thrown through the air. Sadly, motorcycle crash survivability is often determined by whether or not the rider hits a stationary object before they shed velocity.

However, even if both vehicles are only traveling at just 30 miles per hour when the motorcycle rider impacts the oncoming vehicle, the force of the crash is effectively doubled. A 160-pound rider can experience an impact of up to 20 g’s—that’s the equivalent of having 12 tons dropped on you.

But what types of injuries result from motorcycle left turn accidents?

Hand, Arm, and Shoulder Injuries

Injuries to the arms (including the hand, wrist, and shoulder) are common in left-turn motorcycle accidents because riders often attempt to “catch” themselves when ejected from their rides. These types of injuries can result in soft tissue damage (including “Motorcycle Arm”) but most often result in broken bones. While minor fractures are relatively simple to fix, compound fractures may require multiple surgeries, bone replacement, and could lead to potentially life-threatening bleeding and/or infections.

Upper Torso Injuries

Upper torso injuries (especially multiple thoracic—chest—injuries) are relatively common in collisions in which riders are ejected. These types of injuries—broken ribs, crushed internal organs, ruptures, are often life-threatening. In fact, statistics show that patients suffering from multiple thoracic injuries (such as bilateral rib fractures) are more likely to die than victims suffering from any other type of injury barring head trauma.

Head Injuries

Injuries to the head are the leading cause of long-term disability in motorcycle accidents in California. They’re also the leading cause of fatal motorcycle accidents in our state. The brain is a very delicate organ and any type of impact or penetration can be fatal.

Often the real danger from motorcycle accidents is a Traumatic Brain Injury (or TBI as it’s often called) isn’t the initial trauma but secondary brain injury caused by swelling, internal bleeding, or bruising.

Neck and Spinal Injuries

Injuries to the spine are the leading cause of non-fatal debilitation. Such injuries can lead to:

  • Paralysis (full or partial)
  • Chronic pain
  • Persistent vegetative states

In fact, spinal injuries are the leading cause of disability and paralysis in the United States, and motorcycle neck injuries are no exception.

How to Avoid Left Turn Motorcycle Accidents

As with any motorcycle accident, avoidance is the best way to stay safe. Defensive driving is a must for motorcycle riders.

  • Slow down when approaching intersections.
  • Always assume that oncoming cars will turn left at the intersection.
  • Always assume the oncoming driver does not see you.
  • Always have an “out” planned before you need it.
  • Cover your brakes to reduce your reaction time.
  • Do what you can to be as visible as possible—ride with lights on and wear bright and/or reflective clothing.
  • Take advantage of your bike’s smaller size and ride to one side of the lane (which gives you an opportunity for emergency maneuvering if you see an accident coming)
  • Stay Upright

If you can see a left turn motorcycle accident coming, don’t lay your bike down. It might be tempting because you assume that you can shed some speed that way. However, studies have shown that remaining upright and applying front and rear brakes at the same time can effectively shed more velocity, therefore reducing the force of the impact when the collision does occur.

Safety Gear is Essential

Because the majority of left-turn motorcycle accidents are caused by drivers (not riders), you may not always be able to avoid collisions. Wearing appropriate safety gear can decrease the likelihood of injury, decrease the severity of injuries and increase survivability.

The number one most important piece of equipment a motorcycle rider can wear is a helmet. Helmet use, which is required by California law, has been shown to decrease your risk of head injury by roughly 69% (though other sources pin the injury prevention rate even higher at around 85%). It also decreases the likelihood of death by 42%.

In addition, riding armor and other padded safety clothing can dramatically decrease the G-Forces imparted upon your body during a collision. While this type of clothing may not completely eliminate the risk of injury, even reducing impact by a few pounds per square inch can make the difference between surviving a crash and suffering from disastrous internal injuries.

What You Can Do If You’ve Been Injured in a Motorcycle Left Turn Accident

In a left-turn motorcycle accident, drivers have violated your right of way. Their negligence, recklessness, or carelessness, has resulted in severe injury and property damage. They can be held criminally responsible and may face fines, jail time, and revocation of their driver’s license. But, none of that will help you recover physically or financially from the crash. The best way to do that is to make a motorcycle accident claim for compensation.

Motorcycle Left Turn Accidents Cost Riders Millions

According to Motoblog, the average total cost of a motorcycle accident can range between $2,500 and $1.4 million dollars. That includes:

  • Medical expenses
  • Long-term ​care
  • Physical and emotional pain
  • Property repair/replacement costs
  • Lost wages and future financial support
  • Legal fees and costs

The average family has less than $1,000 in emergency savings. Long story short, if you can’t get financial compensation after a serious left turn motorcycle accident, it could bankrupt you.

Insurance Claims and Personal Injury Lawsuits

Thankfully, California law allows individuals injured in motorcycle accidents to seek compensation from at-fault parties. Not only can you file insurance claims with your own provider, but you can also file a claim with the at-fault party’s company as well. If that insurance policy doesn’t cover all of your expenses, you can file a personal injury claim in California court up to two years after the date of your initial injury.

Don’t let a negligent driver ruin your life. Get the medical attention and treatment you need and the financial compensation for your motorcycle accident that you deserve.