Even if a rider was partly at fault, they might still recover damages in a personal injury lawsuit
Boasting 3 of the top 5 sunniest cities in the country (Yuma, Phoenix, and Tucson), Arizona is the perfect state to trade in your car for a motorcycle.
Unfortunately, motorcycle riders lack the protection of an enclosed vehicle and as a result motorcycle accidents are typically more serious than car accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that motorcyclist deaths occur 28 times more often than deaths in other vehicles.
If you’re involved in a motorcycle accident—as the motorcyclists or as a motor vehicle driver—it’s important to understand the laws governing motorcycles, the damages that might be available, and how a motorcycle accident may differ from the typical car accident in Arizona.
Motorcycle accident statistics
In 2017, there were 207,610 registered motorcycles in Arizona—an increase of more than 27,000 from 2013. Clearly, riding motorcycles is becoming more popular in the state.
Unfortunately, motorcycle fatalities have also gone up. In 2013, there were 128 fatalities, and in 2017 there were 161 fatalities.
The following is a breakdown of motorcycle crashes by geographic location in 2017:
|Arizona Motorcycle Accidents Statistics
(by type of geographic area)
|Property Damage Only||477||382||95|
Clearly, most motorcycle crashes happen in urban settings such as a city or town.
Causes of motorcycle accidents in Arizona
There’s a well-documented stigma against motorcyclists in the United States. When there’s a motorcycle accident, many people (including insurance companies) assume it was the fault of the motorcyclist. In reality, the majority of motorcycle accidents in Arizona don’t involve any improper actions taken by the motorcyclists.
Some common causes of motorcycle accidents that aren’t the fault of the motorcyclist include:
- Being struck by flying objects (such as cigarettes, pebbles, and insects)
- Windblast from other larger vehicles
- Being struck by a vehicle following too closely
- Being struck by a vehicle’s extended mirror
- Being struck by a merging vehicle
- Poor road conditions
- Mechanical failures
Nevertheless, there are times when a motorcyclist causes the accident. The chart below shows the various operation violations that led to motorcycle accidents in 2017:
|Causes of Motorcycle Accidents in Arizona (2017)|
|Type of Violation Behavior||Total||In Fatal Crashes||In Injury Crashes||In Property-Damage-Only Crashes|
|No Improper Action||1,434||47||1,156||231|
|Speed too Fast for Conditions||699||31||577||91|
|Exceeded Lawful Speed||47||10||35||2|
|Failed to Yield Right-Of-Way||76||4||58||14|
|Followed Too Closely||77||2||53||22|
|Ran Stop Sign||15||0||13||2|
|Disregarded Traffic Signal||26||2||17||7|
|Made Improper Turn||18||0||14||4|
|Drove in Opposing Lane||27||3||17||7|
|Drove Left of Center Line||1||1||0||0|
|Passed in No-Passing Zone||6||1||3||2|
|Unsafe Lane Change||62||4||40||18|
|Failed to Keep in Proper Lane||78||12||60||6|
Arizona motorcycle safety laws
Motorcyclists, like any other driver, must follow all the Arizona traffic laws. In addition, Arizona has some motorcycle-specific laws that can be found in Title 28 of the Arizona Revised Statutes.
When it comes to laws of the road, motorcyclists and motor vehicle drivers should keep the following in mind:
- Motorcyclists are entitled to the full use of a lane and no person shall drive a motor vehicle in such a manner as to deprive a motorcyclist of the full use of a lane.
- A motorcyclist must not use the same lane as a vehicle to pass the vehicle.
- A motorcyclists must not ride more than two abreast.
- A motorcyclist must not drive between two lanes of traffic heading in the same direction (“lane-splitting”).
In addition, there are a number of laws all Arizona motorcyclists must consider before they put the key in the ignition:
- A motorcyclist must have a Class M license to operate a motorcycle.
- Anyone under the age of 18 must wear a helmet while driving or riding in a motorcycle.
- A motorcyclist must wear glasses, goggles, or a transparent face shield (unless the motorcycle is equipped with a protective windshield).
- All motorcycles must be equipped with a rearview mirror, seat, and footrests.
- All motorcycles must be equipped with the original manufacturer’s muffler (or must be equipped with noise reduction parts if the original muffler is no longer installed).
- All motorcycles must be equipped with at least one (and not more than two) headlamps.
Motorcycle insurance requirements
Just like motor vehicle drivers, a motorcyclist in Arizona is required to maintain liability insurance. The required minimum amounts of liability coverage in Arizona are:
- $15,000 for bodily injury or death of one person in an accident
- $30,000 for total bodily injury or death in an accident (i.e., for all persons harmed in one accident)
- $10,000 for property damage per accident
Failing to maintain the required liability insurance can lead to finds and the suspension of your motorcycle registration and/or driver’s license. Reinstating these privileges can be expensive and time consuming.
Fault in motorcycle crashes
After an accident, the insurance companies and personal injury lawyers will attempt to determine who was at fault for the accident.
In motorcycle accident cases, determining who’s at fault generally involves determining who was careless or “negligent.”
Examples of actions that might result in a motorcyclist or motor vehicle driver being found negligent include:
- Drunk driving
- Distracted driving
- Running a red light
- Turning into oncoming traffic
- Reckless driving
- Changing lanes into a motorcyclists path
- Following too closely
Sometimes, both the motorcyclist and the motor vehicle driver are careless. So what happens then?
Arizona follows the pure comparative fault theory. Under this theory, the amount of damages a plaintiff can recover is reduced by a percentage that reflects the plaintiff’s degree of fault – no matter what that percentage may be.
Samantha is riding her motorcycle with a broken brake light. Jill is following Samantha too closely in her car. Samantha slams on her breaks to avoid a pothole and Jill rear-ends her. Samantha sues Jill and the trial court determines that Jill was 70% at fault for the accident, while Samantha was 30% at fault. In this scenario, Samantha would only be able to recover 70% of her damages due to Arizona’s pure comparative fault laws.
What damages are available in a motorcycle accident?
All too often, an injured person chooses not to pursue a personal injury claim because they’re unaware of the damages that are available. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the damages available in a motorcycle accident.
Arizona awards both economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages refer to those losses that you can put a price tag on. Non-economic damages refer to losses that don’t have a clear dollar value.
Here is a breakdown of the two categories:
|Types of Damages in Arizona Motorcycle Accident Cases|
|Economic Damages||Non-economic Damages|
|Property damage||Pain and suffering|
|Medical expenses||Emotional distress|
|Estimated future medical expenses||Loss of consortium|
|Lost income||Loss of enjoyment of life|
|Other out of pocket costs (e.g., travel costs)||Other non-monetary losses (e.g., loss of reputation)|
In addition, Arizona awards punitive damages in rare cases. Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant and are awarded when a defendant’s behavior was willful or particularly outrageous.
While some states enforce damage caps, Arizona doesn’t cap personal injury damages in most cases. As a result, a plaintiff can recover their damages no matter how large.
Staying safe and avoiding motorcycle accidents
Both motorcyclists and motor vehicle drivers can agree that accidents involving motorcycles are particularly dangerous, and best avoided.
The best decision a motorcyclist can make is to wear a helmet. When a helmet is used, only 4.67% of motorcycle accidents in Arizona are fatal. When a helmet isn’t used, that number jumps to 9.81%. Similarly, 1.11% of passengers are killed in motorcycle accidents when they’re wearing a helmet. When passengers aren’t wearing a helmet, 16.36% are killed.
Other tips for staying safe and avoiding motorcycle accidents include:
- Keeping a safe distance between motorcycles and cars
- Avoiding drugs and alcohol
- Wearing proper footwear and clothing
- Making sure your motorcycle is the right fit for your body type
- Holding the hand grips firmly
- Choosing the proper lane position
- Riding within your abilities