Motorcycle Accidents: Percentage Caused by Car Collisions | Motorcycle Legal Foundation

Motorcycle Accidents: Percentage Caused by Car Collisions

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Two-vehicle collisions are one of the worst accidents a motorcycle rider can experience. Compared to single-vehicle or fixed-object crashes, colliding with another road vehicle can involve greater impact forces, especially in cases of head-on crashes.

Motorcycle and Car Collisions: By the Numbers

Based on the latest available data from the NHTSA’s 2018 Motorcycle Safety primer:

  • The leading cause of fatal motorcycle accidents are collisions with other vehicles, which accounted for 56% of fatal crashes.
  • Of the 5,115 fatal motorcycle crashes, 2,880 were due to car collisions.
  • More than 50% of crashes due to human error are caused by the other driver and not the motorcycle rider, according to the NTSB.

Motorcycle and Car Crashes by Accident Type

  • 76% of motorcycle-car collisions are frontal impacts, while only 8% are rear impacts.
  • The most common accident types are:
Accident type Cases Percentage
Left turn collisions:

The other vehicle is turning left while the motorcycle was going straight, passing, or overtaking

1,091 43%
Side swipe or lane change accidents:

Both vehicles are going straight but one veers off the proper lane

546 21%

Below is a more detailed breakdown of motorcycle and car collisions based on the accident scenario:

  • The most common accident scenario involved a vehicle turning in front of the motorcycle, followed by a bike falling on the road while attempting to avoid a collision.

Motorcycle and Car Collisions by Primary Cause

In 2018, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a report analyzing several risk factors associated with motorcycle crashes, using data from the 2016 Motorcycle Crash Causation Study. 

  • The study found that human error was the primary cause in 94% of the recorded accidents. 
  • Vehicle and environmental factors like mechanical and maintenance issues, roadway and traffic control defects, and weather conditions only accounted for 3%.

Motorcycle and Car Collisions due to Human Error

The chart below details the type of human error, as well as the party at fault:

  • More than half of motorcycle and car collisions are due to a failure on the part of the other driver, and not the motorcycle rider.
  • Perception failure was the common human error, where the driver failed to notice the motorcycle.
  • In crashes due to reaction failure, bikers failed to react much more often than the other driver, which resulted in a late attempt or total lack of attempt to avoid the collision.

Motorcycle and Car Collisions: How Riders Reacted

  • About one-third of crash-involved motorcycle riders never attempted to perform collision avoidance. 
  • For those that attempted to avoid the collision, 65% choose an appropriate evasive maneuver, but performed it effectively only 26% of the time.
  • Inadequate time to avoid collision only accounted for 26% of the crashes.
  • The most frequent avoidance scenario involved running wide on a curve (21 out of 60 cases), and sliding out due to improper braking (17 cases).

Motorcycle and Car Collisions Based on Bike Speed

The report also charted the speeds attained by motorcycles that were involved in two or more vehicle collisions.

Based on the NTSB’s data, overspeeding is less of a factor in two-vehicle crashes involving a car and a motorcycle, compared to single-motorcycle crashes.

Conclusion and Recommendations

The vast majority of motorcycle and vehicle collisions are caused by human error, more than half of which is attributed to the other vehicle driver.

To address the issue, the NTSB made the following recommendations to minimize collisions between cars and motorcycles:

  •  Enhance conspicuity 
  • Failure to perceive the motorcycle was the biggest human error factor in two-vehicle crashes.
  • The NTSB recommends using retroreflective paint on rider apparel, safety gear, motorcycle parts, and materials to increase visibility.
  • Rider education and performance
  • About one-third of crash-involved motorcycle riders never attempted to perform collision avoidance. 
  • For those that attempted to avoid the collision, 65% chose an appropriate evasive maneuver, but performed it effectively only 26% of the time.
  • Failures in comprehension and reaction are overrepresented among bikers, which can be resolved with better hazard detection, greater awareness and motorcycle safety courses.
  • Impaired driving
  • Alcohol and drug use on the part of the motorcycle rider was determined to have contributed to 40% of fatal crashes, compared to just 10% for other vehicle types.
  • Intoxicated or impaired driving should be avoided since motorcycles require a higher degree of motor skills, awareness and balancing compared to other vehicles.
  • ABS technology
  • Non-ABS motorcycles were 2x more likely to crash compared to ABS-equipped bikes.
  • As of 2015, only 11% of registered motorcycles in the US were equipped with ABS.
  • ABS technology can help reduce slide outs due to improper braking, which is one of the most common accident avoidance cases.
  • Connected vehicles
  • Right-of-way violations were the most common cause of two-vehicle crashes involving motorcycles.
  • Other drivers were more likely to have a perception failure than the motorcycle rider.
  • As for motorcycle riders, reaction time and proper avoidance techniques were very poor.
  • To address all factors, the NTSB recommended the use of vehicle-to-vehicle communications technologies to mitigate perception problems on the part of the other drivers, and the slow reaction and accident avoidance of motorcycle riders.