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The Cause of Most Two-Wheel Vehicle Crashes—Drivers of Cars or Motorcycles?

Who causes the most motorcycle crashes—car drivers or motorcycle operators? This question has been the topic of an age-old debate. According to those who drive cars and trucks, motorcycle riders are blamed for their own motorcycle accidents. However, if you ask motorcyclists the same question, you would probably hear that car and truck drivers are to blame for the majority of motorcycle crashes on Florida roads. 

Many car drivers feel that motorcyclists weave in and out of traffic and drive in an unsafe, reckless manner. However, many motorcyclists believe that crashes involving cars and motorcycles often occur due to distracted drivers and drivers not looking out for motorcycles or not paying attention to the road. So, who’s right?

According to a recent Florida Department of Transportation study, motorcyclists are right. The majority of motorcycle accidents occur due to car and truck drivers failing to yield the right of way to motorcycles. The study found that “There’s a bias by people driving,” said Chanyoung Lee, a senior researcher at the University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research.

Lee has analyzed 10 years of motorcycle crashes in Florida to determine that about 60 percent of the time, drivers in other vehicles are at fault when they collide with motorcycles. The reason?

  • Motorists have a harder time seeing motorcycles – Due to a motorcycle’s smaller profile, drivers in other vehicles often don’t see a motorcycle or think that the bike is farther away than it is. This is why so many motorcycle accidents occur when cars or trucks pull out in front of motorcycles or make a left turn in front of motorcycles going straight. Lee said, “People perceive the speed of something relative to the size of the object.” For example, a driver might yield to a truck traveling 45 mph but not yield for a motorcycle traveling at the same speed because a motorcycle can appear farther away due to its smaller size.
  • Drivers are unaware of motorcycles – FDOT surveys have revealed that people without motorcycle endorsements report occasionally seeing motorcycles, whereas people with motorcycle endorsements on their driver’s licenses report see motorcycles all the time. The point is, Lee said, “If you’re aware of it, you will see it.”
  • Drivers in other vehicles aren’t paying attention at the wheel – Many motorcycle crashes have occurred due to drivers texting while driving, which can cause vehicles to drift into a motorcycle, cut a bike off, or hit a motorcycle head-on. Additionally, winter motorcycle accidents are often caused by snowbirds who aren’t paying attention to motorcycles. This is because motorcycles aren’t as popular in the north as they are in South Florida.

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