Debunking Motorcycle Myths and Misunderstandings
Any motor vehicle accident involving injuries is a challenging ordeal. However, the injured motorcyclist has more to contend with than the average injured driver. While it is the case that injuries from motorcycle crashes are more likely to be severe, what I’m referring to is subtler, but can nonetheless play a decisive role in terms of the victim’s ability to secure a fair settlement.
What I’m referring to are the misunderstandings about motorcycling and prejudices about motorcycle riders that are all too common among the four-wheeled public, who comprise the majority of people in this country, a group to which the influential people in your personal injury case—the jurors, judge and insurance adjustors—are likely to belong.
Part of the job of a lawyer representing an injured motorcyclist—a critical part, often neglected, unfortunately—is dispelling these myths and misunderstandings about motorcycle riding and challenging the unspoken prejudices that are commonly held about bikers.
Consulting with an attorney who understands the biases and ignorance that the injured rider is up against can go a long way towards determining the outcome of your case. However, in my experience, the people who most benefit from hiring a qualified professional advocate are also able to intelligently advocate for themselves. I’ve included this chapter to help you make sense the ways in which you, your bike and your accident are commonly misunderstood. The following is a list of some of the myths and misunderstandings about motorcycles and those who ride them.
Motorcycle riders are aggressive and anti-social
Public attitude about motorcycling has thankfully improved over the last several decades. Not that long ago, bikers were almost universally assumed to be dangerous outcasts or criminals. Nonetheless, this prejudice still remains, albeit in a typically weaker form. Many people still assume, though sometimes subconsciously, that riding a motorcycle is equivalent to possessing certain personality traits that makes one dangerous companion on the road.
This, of course, is nonsense. Though motorcycling still carries the allure of a counterculture, it is thoroughly mainstream today. In 2005, there were in excess of 9 million motorcycles on the road in this country. As an attorney, successfully representing a motorcyclist injured in an accident means making sure that this worn-out stereotype does not color peoples’ judgment in the case.
Motorcycle safety is a contradiction in terms
It’s a well-known fact that riding a motorcycle carries a greater risk of injury and fatality than does driving a car. However, this neutral fact becomes detrimental to one’s case when it is taken to mean that riding a motorcycle safely and responsibly is impossible. Worse still is the assumption that motorcycle riding is inherently irresponsible and that, as a result, the injured rider should bear ultimate responsibility for any injuries he or she sustains on the road. This is a version of what lawyers call an “assumption of the risk” argument—the idea that, merely by riding a motorcycle, one accepts responsibility for any harm that arises out of the inherent risks of the activity. In other words, if you lie down with dogs…. For most people who think this way, however, it’s less a rational argument than a negative attitude towards motorcycling.
What the increased risk inherent in motorcycling actually means is that riding safely simply requires more attention, precautions and skill. It means that the safe rider, as a necessity, is more responsible than a safe driver.
Riding a motorcycle is basically like driving
When a non-rider attempts to understand motorcycling through the lens of his experience driving a car, it invariably leads to a distorted picture, one that misses some important realities about the physics of motorcycles. For example, motorcycles are more responsive to the rider’s movements than cars. Another is that they are more susceptible to poor road conditions. However, they are also more maneuverable, which gives bikers more agility—and more of a chance to avoid an accident they see coming. The view that riding a motorcycle is basically like driving also obscures the many advantages of riding a bike over driving a car. Some of the following advantages benefit the motorcycle rider, but many benefit society as a whole.
- are far more fuel-efficient than cars and produce much less emissions.
- cut down on traffic.
- are less expensive to own and maintain.
- are easier to find parking for and take up less space.
- give their riders a sense of freedom, independence, excitement and focused relaxation, all of which amount to a meaningful psychological benefit.
Motorcyclists are always weaving around in their lanes
Drivers often complain that motorcyclists are constantly weaving in the lane, and they take this to mean that the motorcyclist is riding recklessly. What drivers don’t understand is that these adjustments in position within the lane frequently serve a purpose. Experienced motorcyclists will often move in order to be more visible to the cars around them, to avoid road debris or an uneven surface, to be able to see better themselves or to get out of a strong wind current. Many times, conscientious motorcyclists will also change their position in order to accommodate a nearby car. This is another case of ignorance about riding a motorcycle leading to a misinterpretation of riders’ behavior, which then simply reinforces an unfortunate stereotype.
Lane splitting is reckless
This issue is specific to California, since it is the only state in which lane splitting is considered legal. Many California motorists mistakenly believe that lane splitting is against the law. The majority of others think it’s merely unsafe and reckless. Each time such a person sees a motorcyclist getting out of line, it strengthens their perception that motorcyclists have little respect for the rules of the road, and that they give little consideration to their own safety or that of others. Because they lack the ability to bypass traffic themselves, there’s probably more than a little jealousy behind drivers’ resentment.
It would surprise most drivers to learn that, according to the famous “Hurt Report,” lane splitting is actually safer in heavy, bumper- to-bumper traffic. Given the physics of motorcycle riding, this finding—counterintuitive for many—actually makes perfect sense. Motorcycles can more easily dodge and swerve around obstacles than they can come to a complete stop over and over again. It also gives motorcyclists a better view of what traffic is doing ahead of them, giving them more advanced warning than they would get staring at the rear of the car in front of them.
Motorcyclists are always speeding
This is another common misperception. Like drivers, there are certainly bikers who speed. But this stereotype also comes from the fact that the sound of motorcycles exaggerates driver’s perception of their speed. The problem for the injured motorcyclist is that this misperception is often put forward as an excuse, as a way of placing responsibility for the accident on the rider’s shoulders. In fact, it is the most common defense offered by the driver involved. Successfully demonstrating that the motorcyclist was riding at a safe, legal speed at the time of the accident is often one of the most critical pieces of the attorney’s task in representing the client.
Motorcyclists “come out of nowhere”
This is a line that one hears again and again in motorcycle accident cases. It’s typically uttered by the negligent driver who simply failed to see the rider and is trying to claim that, rather than being in plain view, the motorcyclist magically appeared all of a sudden, not giving the driver enough time to correct the mistake. Motorcycles don’t “come out of nowhere,” but it is true that, because drivers don’t see them, it can often seem as though this is the case.
One of the most common accident scenarios between cars and motorcycles is the “left turn,” in which a driver makes a left turn into an oncoming motorcycle. These accidents occur because the driver either doesn’t see the motorcycle at all, or decides that there is enough time to complete the turn. These accident cases are the result of two issues, both related to the motorcycle’s smaller size. The first is that motorcycles are, on the whole, less visible than cars, simply because they are smaller. For this reason alone, many drivers fail to see them in time. The second issue is that drivers often misjudge the distance between themselves and the oncoming motorcycle. Drivers, whose perception of speed and distance is based on other cars, assume that the motorcycle is further away than it actually is because of how small it appears in their field of vision. When the motorcyclist appears in their vicinity much sooner than they were expecting, drivers often conclude—as they later claim during the personal injury case—that the biker was speeding.
The motorcyclist is almost always at fault
If one were to believe the mistaken assumptions we’ve discussed so far, what do you think would be the conclusion one would reach about motorcycle accidents in general? Unfortunately for accident victims, it’s what lawyers call a “presumption of guilt.” The motorcyclist is guilty until proven innocent. Even the judgment of police officers is not immune from this prejudice. It’s common knowledge among attorneys that motorcycle accidents very often yield police reports that are overtly slanted in favor of the driver and against the biker. In these situations, a qualified, experienced personal injury attorney should do his or her own investigation into the accident and may consult with experts in the reconstruction of motorcycle collisions in order to determine what really happened and with whom the responsibility rests. The result of this kind of investigation often reveals that the injured biker, if not for the driver’s lack of attention and familiarity with motorcycles, would have ridden away unscathed.
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