Over 8 million motorcycles are registered in the United States, and at least that many people ride motorcycles sometimes. Among these, about 5,000 people are killed every year, while over 80,000 people are injured. Motorcycle accident injuries tend to be more severe than automobile accident injuries, and failure to deal appropriately with blind spots is one of the main causes of motorcycle accidents.
What Is a Blind Spot?
A blind spot is an area near a motorist’s vehicle that they cannot see in their mirror. A blind spot accident is most likely to occur when a motorist attempts to move into their blind spot (by changing lanes, for example) while it is occupied by another vehicle. Motorcyclists in blind spots are in the most danger, because the small size of motorcycles means they fit neatly into small blind spots.
How to Find Blind Spots
You can’t protect yourself (or another vehicle) against a blind spot that you can’t find. If you are a motorist checking your own vehicle´s blind spots, be aware that the best way to avoid them is to physically look over your shoulder when turning, changing lanes, etc. If you are a motorcyclist, however, be aware that motorists mostly don´t bother doing this. That makes it your responsibility to stay out of their blind spots.
The best rule of thumb to avoid another vehicle´s blind spot is to adhere to the advice in a popular bumper sticker used by commercial truckers: “If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you.” More accurately, if you can’t see the driver’s face in the rear view mirror, they can’t see you. Under such circumstances, you are essentially “DWI”—”Driving While Invisible.”
Passenger Vehicle Blind Spots
A passenger vehicle is a traditional automobile. The blind spots for a passenger vehicle are located beside the vehicle and in adjacent lanes near the back of the vehicle. If you find yourself in any of these locations, get out as fast as you can do so safely to avoid an accident.
Commercial Trucker Blind Spots
Not only is an accident with a commercial truck more likely to be fatal than an accident with a passenger vehicle, but the blind spots are also larger. In fact, the larger the truck, the larger the driver´s blind spots. Blind spots for an 18-wheeler, for example, include:
- The front of the truck;
- Up to 200 feet behind it; and
- Beside the truck.
Remember, the blind spot on the passenger side of a truck is up to twice as large as the blind spot on the driver’s side. Trucks also have larger blind spots when they turn, especially on the sides of the vehicle.
The size of a truck’s blind spots varies with the size and architecture of the truck.
Tips for Motorists
As a motorist, you don’t want to be involved in a collision with a motorcyclist, even if you are not injured (and there is no guarantee you won’t be). Accordingly, observe the following basic precautions:
- Watch out for motorcyclists. The typical US automobile driver does not think much about or expect the presence of motorcycles on the road because there are so few of them compared to automobiles. You might call this a psychological blind spot because it is not tied to a particular location on the road. You don’t want your only encounter with a motorcycle to be a traffic accident.
- Adjust your rear view mirror so that it frames your rear window.
- Adjust your side view mirrors so they point toward your blind spots. This will not eliminate them, but it will minimize them.
- Look over your shoulder before you change lanes, turn, or merge.
- Use your blinker and tap your brakes to signal your intentions.
- Train yourself to forecast when a motorcyclist is probably in your blind spot. Simple observation should be able to tell you most of the time.
Overall, taking a defensive attitude to driving will help you avoid all kinds of accidents, including but not limited to motorcycle collisions.
Tips for Motorcyclists
Never forget—as a motorcyclist, it is you who has the most to lose in a collision with a passenger vehicle or a truck. Even a collision with another motorcycle is not much safer, since you still lack the frame protection that an automobile offers.
- Know where blind spots are and avoid riding anywhere near them to the extent possible. Given a choice, ride in the front or the back of a vehicle, rather than to the side.
- Leave a considerable stopping distance, especially on wet or slick roads, in the dark, or in places of low visibility.
- Be especially careful when you are changing lanes.
- Drive defensively. Assume that other drivers will drive badly, and prepare for the worst. Give yourself some extra space, try to anticipate the actions of other motorists, and forecast possible accident scenarios with a view toward avoiding them before they happen.
- Be ready to take evasive action. Motorcycles are small and nimble, and they are better at avoiding accidents at the last second than automobiles and trucks are.
- Leave at least 20 feet between you and other vehicles, so you will have sufficient time to react in an emergency.
- Keep your motorcycle in good mechanical condition, and learn how and when to accelerate yourself out of trouble. Sometimes stepping on the gas is the only way to avoid an accident.
- Given a choice, purchase a brightly painted or fluorescent motorcycle.
- Wear brightly colored or fluorescent clothing, especially when riding at night. Avoid the temptation to “go biker” with black leather—black jackets are hard to see.
- Install reflectors on your motorcycle.
- Use your high beams when appropriate.
- Keep your headlights on, even in the daytime.
- Pass another vehicle quickly, if at all, and try to zoom through a driver´s blind spot as quickly as you can without losing control of your vehicle or causing a traffic hazard.
- Tap your brakes while slowing down, to signal your intentions to other drivers.
- Use your horn, within reason, to alert motorists to your presence.
- Check your own blind spots. Always remember to check the blind spots around your bike, particularly when changing lanes. If necessary, install additional mirrors on your bike.
- Wear a helmet, just in case.
- Always use your turn signals when turning. Consider using hand signals as well.
The foregoing list should not be considered exhaustive. The most important meta rule to observe is to always use your common sense.
Special Case: Riding in the Vicinity of Large Trucks
Special precautions must be taken when you are riding in the vicinity of large trucks, because truck/motorcycle accidents are not very survivable. Be sure to observe the following best practices:
- Do not ride immediately behind a truck. Odds are the driver cannot see you, and if they slow down suddenly, you could slide under the rear of the truck—an accident that is almost always fatal.
- Do not ride immediately in front of a truck, even if you feel the driver can probably see you. If you have to stop suddenly, you could find your motorcycle rear-ended by an 80,000 pound truck. The heavier the truck, the longer it takes it to stop.
- If you must pass a truck, do so on the driver’s side. As stated above, a truck’s passenger side blind spot is much larger than the driver’s side blind spot.
- Keep an especially large distance between you and a truck while it is turning, due to the temporary widening of its blind spots.
Never forget—the heavier the truck, the slower it will stop and the more damage it will do when it hits you.
Failure to Wear a Helmet
New York is one of many states with a comprehensive motorcycle helmet law. You and your passengers must always wear a helmet while riding on a public road. You must also wear protective eyewear. Failing to wear protective eyewear could cause an accident. Failing to wear a helmet could get you killed if an accident does occur.
Even if you survive the accident, remember that New York is a comparative negligence state. In the event that you file a claim for damages, a court could drastically reduce the amount if you suffered injuries that would have been avoided through the use of a helmet.
Wrongful Death Claims
Motorcycle accidents are commonly fatal. In New York, the personal representative (executor) of the deceased victim’s probate estate can file a wrongful death lawsuit against a party who caused a fatal accident. If a court awards damages, beneficiaries of the deceased victim’s probate estate will collect them.
Time Waits for No One—Take Action Quickly
If you were injured in a motorcycle accident, the accident might have been caused by someone else’s misconduct. If so, a personal injury claim is appropriate. Motorcycle accident claims tend to be high-value claims that are vigorously contested by the defense. Therefore, you are going to need skilled, aggressive representation to prevail.
Contact E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy through our online contact page or by telephone at 518-730-7270 to schedule a free initial consultation. Our offices are located in Albany, Colonie, Latham, Saratoga and Troy.