When a Scenic Motorcycle Ride Goes Badly

If you have ever taken a Pacific Coast cruise down Highway 1, you may be among the reviewers who have stated that the scenery you experience on this simple but majestic tour is some of the best in the United States. In fact, the Pacific Coast Highway was designated as one of the first All American Roads by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Such a ride can be even more of a one-of-a-kind experience on the back of a motorcycle. However, while enjoying the beauty of our state on Highway 1, or any of the other famed motorcycle routes in California, you should know the dangers that exist for motorcyclists in such places—and when to call a lawyer for help.

The Dangers of Scenic Motorcycle Rides in California

Any given region of the State of California has beautiful scenery worth passing through just for the view, particularly if you have a chance to experience them in the open air as you do on the back of a motorcycle. However, in addition to being one of the most popular places in the country for motorcyclists, California is also the most populous state in the country. Motorcyclists aren’t the only ones who love the scenery, or who use the highway for other purposes, and must share the road with many other motorists in all kinds of vehicles

Traffic Congestion

If you’re looking for a stress-free ride on California roadways, you’re best off planning your trip carefully to avoid traffic congestion. This may rule out riding when residents of the area you’re riding through are commuting to and from school or work. It also often rules out weekends, particularly in the summer, when many other individuals are enjoying time off too. You’re better off veering your route away from the most popular tourist attractions, generally.

Some of the problems of traffic congestion motorcycle riders may have to deal with, especially if they do not plan their trips carefully, include:

  • Traffic delays for accidents on the roadway. Delays are particularly difficult for a motorcyclist as they have to hold up the weight of their bike while they wait for traffic to begin moving again.
  • Additional distractions. Distracted drivers are a hazard to motorcyclists on any roadway, but a roadway that is congested by traffic poses particular distraction hazards, as drivers often attempt to pass the delay by browsing social media, or become sidetracked in some other way. Distracted drivers are not good in general, and pose an even greater risk for harder-to-notice motorcyclists.
  • Aggressive driving and road rage. While most of us do not like to deal with traffic congestion, some individuals become enraged by it. This leads to aggressive driving practices, such as speeding, tailgating, improper lane changes and passing, red-light running, and other extreme driving behaviors that put motorcyclists and other users of the roadway at risk of harm. Some of these cases will escalate to road rage, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has defined as a driver who assaults another driver with his or her vehicle or even a deadly weapon. In a seven-year time frame in the U.S., road rage killed more than 200 people and injured around 12,000, with incidents often involving a driver or motorcyclist being forced from the roadway and assaulted physically with a gun or other weapon. As in the case of distracted drivers, road ragers pose a greater danger to motorcyclists.

Distracted Drivers

As noted, distracted drivers pose a danger to everyone on the road. Indeed, distracted drivers are a major source of injury and death on U.S. roadways, causing more than 3,000 fatalities each year.

Three types of driving distractions can place a driver at risk of having an accident:

  • Manual distractions, which involve anything that causes the driver to take their hands from the steering wheel.
  • Visual distractions, which involve anything that causes the driver to take their eyes away from the road.
  • Cognitive distractions, which involve anything that draws the driver’s mind away from the task of safe driving.

In recent years, much attention has been paid to texting and driving as a source of distracted driving. This particular distraction is especially hazardous because it involves all three types of distractions. In the five seconds it generally takes someone to read or reply to a text, a driver will have traveled the length of a football field with their eyes off the road, thinking about something other than driving, and without ensuring control of their vehicle by having two hands on the wheel.

Other common driver distractions include eating or drinking, visiting with passengers, messing with the stereo or other vehicle controls, or external distractions such as previous accident scenes on the roadway, billboards, and people in other vehicles. It can be easy to get distracted, especially in congested traffic, and motorcyclists should consequently be on high alert for such distracted drivers who may not notice them.

Speeding Drivers

Speeding is one of the most common causes of motorcycle accidents in California. Speeding refers not only to driving faster than the posted speed limit, but also driving too fast for road conditions, such as inclement weather or traffic congestion. Speeding poses risks for all roadway users, but particularly for motorcyclists who are attempting to operate a vehicle that is less stable and harder to safely maneuver in emergency driving situations.

Those issues include:

  • A reduction in the time the driver has to notice obstacles and other motorists, especially motorcycles, and make appropriate evasive maneuvers.
  • An increase in the amount of distance needed for the vehicle’s brakes to pull its weight to a complete stop.
  • A greater potential for the driver to lose control of the vehicle.
  • An increase in the severity of the crash due to the greater force of impact produced by higher speed.

The risks are higher for motorcycle riders, as they are less visible to other drivers, which often means there is even less time between when the speeding driver notices the motorcycle and attempts to avoid a crash.

Motorcyclists often can’t take action on their end to avoid an injurious crash, as they have less maneuverability, making it difficult for the motorcyclist to swerve to avoid being hit by a vehicle approaching at a high rate of speed; and also because motorcyclists lack protective features of passenger vehicles and are more vulnerable to the severity of any accident, even in cases where the other motorist is moving at relatively low speeds.

Winding Roadways

One of the most scenic aspects of the Pacific Highway and other popular motorcycle routes in California is how the roadway follows the coastline.

While it makes for a picturesque backdrop, it also means that these roads tend to be very winding, which increases the chances of calamity through:

  • The risk of head-on collisions. These may follow from drivers encroaching on travel lanes around tight corners and the inability of the motorcyclist to react to the hazard without losing control of the motorcycle.
  • If the motorcyclist is traveling too fast, they cannot negotiate a curve, resulting in a collision with other roadway users or objects, or running off the roadway.
  • Accidents resulting from a lack of experience in riding in the conditions presented. Operating a motorcycle requires different skills than those required to safely operate a car. Many riders fail to obtain adequate training on the safe operation of the motorcycle before riding, and many riders underestimate the experience that is required on many of the more popular routes.

Alcohol Impairment

Along with speeding, alcohol impairment is one of the biggest causes of traffic accidents resulting in serious injury or death. Motorcyclists have a higher rate of fatal accidents caused by alcohol impairment than any other vehicle type, with more than a quarter of motorcycle operators involved in fatal collisions found to be impaired at the time of the crash. Motorcyclists also face a high risk of being hit by other roadway users who are impaired.

Alcohol impairment creates deficits in the skills a driver needs to operate their motor vehicle safely. While the legal limit for operating a vehicle while impaired is a blood alcohol content of 0.08 grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood, the effects of alcohol on driving skills actually begin at lower blood alcohol content levels and worsen as more alcohol is consumed.

Some of these effects include:

  • The inability to multi-task.
  • The inability to track a moving target, as needed for judging a safe gap in traffic.
  • Difficulty steering and responding to emergency driving situations.
  • Short-term memory loss and an inability to concentrate on the task of driving safely.
  • A reduced ability to maintain one’s own travel lane or to brake appropriately.

Lack of Visibility

It’s unfortunately common after an accident involving a motorcycle for the other driver to say “I didn’t even see them.”

While many motorcycle accidents are the result of a driver’s inability to see the motorcyclist due to impairment, fatigue, or distraction, many others are the result of “inattentional blindness.” Inattentional blindness is defined as the driver’s inability to see a motorcycle, not because of any visual impairment, but because they’re simply not looking for a motorcycle.

Inattentional blindness often results from how the brain processes and prioritizes information in certain circumstances, like driving, where there are a lot of things to focus on. Rather than attempting to capture all of the details of the road, the driver’s brain will key in on the details that the person judges to pose the greatest hazard, such as a commercial truck encroaching upon their lane, and rely on past experiences and associations to fill in the blanks about what is going on. Because of this, they fail to pick up on smaller details—such as the slimmer, smaller frame of a motorcycle.

Driver Fatigue

While you likely feel very refreshed while riding your motorcycle, it is important to remember that other drivers on the roadway can be experiencing fatigue, and their fatigue is a hazard to you. Any driver is capable of experiencing fatigue when driving, but some drivers—such as long-haul truck drivers and nightshift workers—are at particularly higher risk.

Fatigue creates deficits to skills needed for safe driving that are similar to those created by alcohol impairment, such as the inability to maintain a single lane of travel or to brake effectively and the inability to make good decisions or respond adequately to emergency driving situations.

Ask a Lawyer for Help With Your Pursuit of Compensation

If you were injured in a motorcycle accident because of someone else’s careless or reckless actions, you can pursue compensation for the expenses and impacts of your injury through a motorcycle accident lawsuit. This legal claim seeks to prove who was responsible for causing your injuries and to show how those injuries have affected your life.

You can seek compensation for:

  • Medical expenses.
  • Lost wages due to being too injured to work.
  • Loss of future earning capacity if your injury results in a disability that prevents you from earning in the same capacity as you did before the accident.
  • Property damage, such as the cost of repairing or replacing your motorcycle, helmet, and other gear after the accident.
  • Physical pain and suffering.
  • Emotional distress.
  • Loss of the enjoyment of life if your injury prevents you from enjoying activities that are important to you.
  • Loss of consortium, which is a damage claimed on behalf of the injured person’s spouse for the loss of physical intimacy and companionship that often accompanies severe injuries.

To prove who is liable for your accident, you must show:

  • The at-fault party owed you a duty to operate his or her motor vehicle safely and legally.
  • There was a breach in the duty of care, meaning that the at-fault party took an action that was contrary to driving safely and legally.
  • The breach resulted in the accident that caused your injuries.

From this snapshot of the aspects of a vehicle accident lawsuit, it should be clear that these cases are complex, such that you may not want to go it alone and represent yourself. And you don’t have to. If you’ve been in a motorcycle accident, contact an experienced motorcycle accident attorney, who can provide guidance about your legal options through a free, no-obligation case evaluation and determine the best recourse in your case.

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