When you’re driving along the roadway, have you ever wondered which stops faster – a motorcycle or a car? While it might seem like an idle question, the answer is crucial for road safety. After all, brake speed and braking distance determine how easy it is to stop and avoid collisions.

Below, our attorneys answer this critical question: can a motorcycle stop faster than a car? We’ll also consider safe braking on a motorcycle or in a car, and how to reduce the chances of a crash.

Have you been injured in a motorcycle or car crash in CA? Let our attorneys assist. Contact the May Firm accident attorneys now for a free, no-obligation meeting.

Stopping Distance vs. Following Distance

There are two distances to be aware of: stopping distance and following distance. 

  • Stopping Distance: The distance from the moment you apply the brakes until a complete stop. 
  • Following Distance: Your following distance, or thinking distance, is how long you’ll need to safely react to a hazard. It determines the space to leave between you and the vehicle in front.

In other words, the stopping distance in motorcycles vs cars is only half the question. To understand how to brake safely, you need to think about how long you’ll actually need to react to a hazard.

What Factors Impact Vehicle Braking?

It’s clear that it’s not just the type of vehicle that impacts braking speed. In fact, there are many variables that affect stopping power on the roadway.

  • Road Conditions: Wet, slippy, or icy conditions make it harder to safely reach a complete stop. Drivers must anticipate a change in braking technique in bad weather. 
  • Driver Experience: Inexperienced drivers may apply too much braking force, especially if there’s a hazard. Emergency braking is a skill, but you can limit the need to brake fast by driving with due care and attention.  
  • Driver Behavior: Learning how to apply the brakes properly improves your technique. Better braking technique means it’s easier to stop quickly.  
  • Vehicle Maintenance: Regularly maintain your vehicle parts. This will allow you to identify problems with brake pressure, or the other components, before they fail.  
  • Factors Beyond Control: A vehicle defect, such as a faulty tire, could cause an accident. These defects may not be identified during regular vehicle maintenance. However, they could mean you have a product liability claim.

Braking on a Motorcycle

When we think about how to stop a motorcycle, we should not overlook the technical skill involved. This is because braking on a motorcycle requires an entirely different technique from car braking.  

  • Most motorcycles have two braking systems – one for each wheel.  
  • Improper braking can cause the front or rear wheel to lock, decreasing stability. 
  • An unstable motorcycle can veer off the road or crash. The rider may also be thrown from the bike.

Close up of a motorcycle at sunset parked on side of the road

To brake safely on a motorcycle, the rider should:

  • Practice applying equal pressure to both brakes simultaneously.  
  • Keep the bike upright and pointing straight ahead while braking. 
  • Never brake harder than necessary, even on a turn, or in an emergency.
  • If your rear wheel locks, do not release the brake. Guide the bike to a complete stop.
  • If your front wheel locks, and there’s no anti-lock braking system (ABS), release the brake. Reapply again immediately.

Considering how technical bike braking can be, it’s clear why stopping distance matters. You need sufficient time to react in an emergency without increasing your risk of serious injury.

Motorcycle Stopping Distance

The stopping distance depends on various factors, including the traveling speed and road conditions. But do motorcycles stop faster than cars? Sometimes.

  • Motorcycles are lighter than cars. This can mean they reach a complete stop sooner.  
  • However, bikes need two brake systems to stop, not just one. This may increase the stopping time.  
  • Tire quality matters. Tires with better tread have more traction, so they grip the road more effectively. A car with quality tires will stop quicker than a bike with lower quality tires. 
  • Cars typically have wider wheels. This can help cars stop quicker in slick or difficult conditions. Motorcycles may slide or veer.

What about following, or thinking distance? The DMV recommends leaving at least two seconds between you and the vehicle in front. Extend this to at least three seconds if it’s wet, slippery, or hazardous.

Advantages of Braking on a Motorcycle

  • Motorcycle brakes are highly responsive. Trained riders have very reliable control over a bike.  
  • Riders can put more or less pressure on each brake for improved stability.  
  • The dual system may help riders respond quickly to emergency situations.

Disadvantages of Motorcycle Braking

  • Motorcycle brakes are complex. Without training, riders risk losing control of the vehicle. 
  • There’s very little margin for error. Panic braking can cause a vehicle to spin, veer, or crash.
  • Poor brake handling can lead to catastrophic injury.  

Here’s a key takeaway. The stopping distance is only how long it physically takes the motorcycle to stop. You also need to add at least two or three seconds for reaction time. To be safe, give yourself more time and space than you think you need.

Car Braking

It’s much easier to learn how to brake in a car. This is true whether it’s an automatic or manual vehicle. Simply press the brake gently and depress it further.

  • You may apply more or less pressure depending on how quickly you need to stop.  
  • In an emergency, apply firm pressure to the brake to bring the car to a complete stop. 
  • Avoid jerking or turning the steering wheel while braking – especially in an emergency.

Stopping Distances for Auto Vehicles

As with motorcycles, stopping distance must also include thinking distance. And you need to consider various factors, such as the speed you’re traveling at, and road conditions.

Looking in sideview mirror motorcycle approaching lane splitting between busy traffic

Here’s something crucial to bear in mind. Stopping distance can triple every time you double your speed. This means that, in some scenarios, motorcycle stopping distances are shorter than cars. And in all cases, driver negligence can affect how quickly you can brake.

  • Driving without paying due attention to the roadway could mean you don’t have time to brake safely. 
  • Unsafe braking can cause skidding or sliding along the roadway.  
  • Skidding, sliding, or swerving increases stopping distance.

Advantages of Car Braking

  • Easier to learn than motorcycle braking. 
  • Greater room for error – pressing a little too hard is less likely to cause a crash.
  • More stability in emergencies, especially for less experienced drivers.

Disadvantages of Braking in a Car

  • Drivers don’t have the same level of control over how they brake as riders do.  
  • Applying too much force can cause the driver or passenger(s) to be thrown forward, leading to injury.  
  • Improper braking could lead to a crash. If a car hits another road user, the outcome may be more severe than if they’re hit by a motorcycle.

Leading Causes of Motorcycle Crashes

When we consider the leading causes of motorcycle crashes, it’s clear why motorcycle stopping distance matters.

Motorcyclist riding alongside blue car in urban traffic in daytime

Some of the causes of motorcycle crashes are the same as for any other vehicle. But some of the causes of motorcycle crashes are unique to motorcycles.

Here are the leading causes of motorcycle crashes that can often cause extensive physical injuries.


Many vehicle accidents are caused, to some degree or another, by speeding. In some cases, a driver is driving too fast, loses control of their vehicle, and causes a crash. In other cases, someone is driving too fast to be able to respond to a sudden emergency.

For example, a motorcycle rider who is going too fast won’t be able to respond in time to stop when a car pulls out in front of them. This is why motorcycle riders need to understand how quickly they can stop their motorcycles.

Left Hand Turns

Left-hand turns are particularly dangerous for motorcycles compared to other, larger vehicles. These turns are dangerous whether the motorcycle makes a left-hand turn in front of oncoming traffic or another car makes a left-hand turn in front of a motorcycle.

When a motorcycle makes a left-hand turn, the rider must turn their blinker on and slow down before turning across the oncoming lane of traffic. Sometimes, the biker has to stop in their lane of travel to wait for oncoming traffic to go by before making the turn.

Slowing or stopping in a lane can be dangerous for motorcyclists. Drivers coming up from their rear might not see that the motorcycle is slowing down. Or they might not see a stopped motorbike at all. When this happens, a motorcycle can be struck in the rear end by a fast-moving car.

When a car makes a left-hand turn across the opposite lane of oncoming traffic, there is also a big risk that the driver of the vehicle might not see a motorcycle coming in the opposite direction. As the car makes the turn, they could pull right in front of the oncoming motorcycle.

If the motorcycle rider can’t stop quickly enough or doesn’t have a fast enough reaction time, then the motorcycle can crash into the car. In these types of crashes, the motorcycle rider will often fly over their handlebars or even over the other vehicle.

Dangerous Road Conditions

Dangerous road conditions are a major cause of motorcycle accidents. Given the fact that a motorcycle only has two wheels, sometimes it doesn’t take much to knock a rider off balance.

Some dangerous road conditions can include:

  • Potholes
  • Uneven pavement
  • Slick and slippery roads due to heavy rain or winter weather
  • Wet leaves
  • Deep edges at the roadway drop-offs
  • Debris on the road
  • Rocks in the lane of travel
  • Hidden driveways
  • Unmarked lanes
  • Lack of guardrails
  • Rough and dangerous railroad tracks
  • Standing water
  • Water flowing over the roadway

Another major problem for motorcycles is a dangerous condition that many homeowners with yards don’t realize they create. When homeowners mow their yards and shoot the grass clippings into the road, that creates a danger for motorcycles. These grass clippings can become very slick and slippery, especially when it rains.

Alcohol Use

Many car, truck, and motorcycle accidents are caused by drivers who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Even if your blood alcohol content is below the BAC limit of 0.08 percent, drinking still increases your risk of getting into a crash. Just a couple of cocktails or beers can lower your reaction speed and make you unable to respond quickly enough to sudden emergencies.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has found that among all motorcycle accidents that involved a death, approximately 30 percent of motorcycle riders had a BAC that was above the legal limit.

Reckless Driving

Another major cause of motorcycle accidents is riders driving recklessly and carelessly. Many motorcyclists like to go very fast. Speeding increases their risk of crashes significantly.

Engaging in dangerous practices can increase the risk of a motorcycle rider being struck by another vehicle. Weaving in and out of traffic recklessly or carelessly can cause people to be hurt as well as give all motorcycle riders a bad name.


Riding a motorcycle is a lot different than driving a car or truck. It takes a lot of practice for motorcycle riders to become proficient and safe riders.

In California, motorcycle riders must take a training course or pass a motorcycle driving test to get a special motorcycle license. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone with a license rides their bikes often.

For many people, riding a motorcycle is more of a hobby and isn’t done much during the year. People who don’t ride their bikes much may not ride safely because their skills are lower. This creates more of a risk that they’ll make a mistake and crash.


Car and motorcycle crashes can result in severe injury. However, motorcycle injuries can be especially serious.

There’s a simple reason for this, and it goes beyond mere braking ability. The reality is that motorcycles do not offer riders much protection. If there’s a crash, there’s little to cushion, or shield, riders from a serious impact.

Riders risk being thrown through the air and traveling great distances. They may also tumble and roll significant distances on the ground. There’s also a risk of being crushed under the bike or another vehicle.

Whether it’s a motorcycle or car crash, you may suffer long-term and even life-changing injuries. Common injuries include:

  • Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs)
  • Broken and fractured bones
  • Compound fractures where the bone pierces the skin
  • Amputations of limbs
  • Concussions
  • Fractured skulls
  • Facial fractures
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Herniated discs
  • Bulging discs
  • Paraplegia
  • Quadriplegia
  • Torn muscles
  • Torn or damaged ligaments and tendons

Wrongful Death Claims

Braking speeds aside, motorcycles and cars have one thing in common. They can both be involved in life-changing, or even fatal, accidents.

If you lose a loved one to a fatal motorcycle or car crash, you may be entitled to claim damages on their behalf. For example, say a driver didn’t proceed with due care for the road conditions. They couldn’t stop in time and crashed into a motorcyclist.

If the rider died from their injuries, their loved ones may have a claim for losses. Losses include medical bills, loss of consortium, and funeral expenses.

Wrongful death claims are complex. Brake speeds, and stopping distances, can be factors in any road fatality case. Our attorneys can explain how a wrongful death claim works and how long you have to make a claim.

Can a Motorcycle Stop Faster Than a Car?

The stopping distance of motorcycles vs cars is clear. Yes, motorcycles can stop faster than cars. However, this is not always the case, and it’s not always a good thing.

  • Since motorcycles are much lighter than cars, it takes more skill to stop them safely.  
  • Too much braking force on a motorcycle could cause front tire failure or locking.  
  • Improper braking technique could cause serious – or even fatal – injury. Cars provide greater protection due to their weight and scale.

So, just because braking on a motorcycle is more efficient than a car doesn’t mean it’s always safer! You still need to exercise due care and attention, and maintain a safe stopping distance.

How to Avoid Car and Motorcycle Accidents in California

The reality is that some accidents are unavoidable. They simply happen and there’s no one to blame. However, you can reduce the likelihood of a road crash by following these tips.

  • Drive defensively. This means not assuming that another driver will drive carefully. Instead, you should always remain alert and prepared to react.  
  • Limit distractions. Don’t use cellphones behind the wheel and don’t let passengers distract you. If you’re on a motorcycle, staying focused is even more critical 
  • Maintain a safe distance. Never drive too close to the vehicle ahead. Assume that you may need to stop and consider your reaction times.  
  • Watch your surroundings. Check your mirrors frequently. Know what vehicles are around you so there are no surprises.  
  • Respect road conditions. Road conditions can affect the likelihood of a crash. Respect weather conditions and take extra care in dense traffic.

If you do have a crash in California, you should contact the authorities to obtain an accident report. This may help to prove your case so you can pursue a fair settlement. And, crucially, get medical attention. Even if you don’t feel injured, some injuries take time to manifest.

Once you take care of your medical needs, contact a motorcycle or car accident lawyer in CA to discuss your legal rights.

Contact Experienced Car and Motorcycle Attorneys in CA

No matter which vehicle you’re driving, you need to know how to stop a motorcycle or car safely. However, if the worst happens and you’re in a crash, talk to the May Firm. Our crash attorneys have the experience to walk you through the claims process and help you move forward. 

With our help, you can focus on recovery rather than managing the legal issues.

Insurance and personal injury claims are often complex. But you don’t need to face them alone. Our attorneys don’t charge anything unless we win your case, so there’s nothing to lose by calling us. Contact us now for a free consultation.


The content in this article is provided for general informational purposes only and may not represent the current law in the recipient’s jurisdiction. The article should not be interpreted as professional legal advice from The May Firm or the individual author, nor is the information intended to substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. The article, nor any of the information included, should not be used to act or refrain from acting without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s jurisdiction. Any reliance you place on such information is strictly at your own risk.