Riding a motorcycle is inherently more dangerous than driving a car. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that motorcyclists are 28 times as likely as passenger car occupants to die in a motor vehicle crash.
By nature, a motorcycle is less crashworthy because the rider is exposed to impact from other vehicles or the road, as opposed to being in a car with a “cage” that provides some protection.
But what about legal protection?
Many motorcyclists believe that everyone involved in a motorcycle accident — from the other drivers to the responding police officers — is biased to think that an accident is always the fault of the motorcyclist, even when this clearly isn’t the case.
Any driver, whether you’re operating a car, truck, or motorcycle, should do the following to help prevent accidents of all kinds:
- Be alert and aware, and share the road responsibly
- Avoid distracted driving
- Avoid driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
Why are police and other drivers biased against motorcyclists?
There seems to be a perception that a motorcyclist is going to take more risks than a car driver, or that they’re going to be less responsible on the road.
Yes, there are some motorcyclists who are risk-takers and who speed, weave, and drive irresponsibly. But so do some car drivers. Most motorcyclists simply enjoy the experience of riding and want to get to their destination safely.
So how does bias play out for motorcyclists after a crash?
When it comes to a motorcycle accident lawsuit, stigma may result in several negative outcomes:
- Presumption of liability. Since motorcyclists face a stereotype that they’re reckless on the road, police officers, insurance adjusters, and a jury will often assume that the motorcyclist is at fault.
- Low settlement offer. For the same reasons, an insurance adjuster will often offer a motorcyclist a lowball settlement that doesn’t cover the extent of their injuries.
- Reduced damage award. In a jury trial, a motorcyclist might receive a smaller damage award than a car accident victim for similar injuries because the jury members have an implicit bias against the rider.
Let’s put these factors into sharper focus:
If you’ve been in an accident as a car driver, you might have to explain how the crash occurred and what caused it. But there’s no presumption that you were driving recklessly unless evidence from the scene shows that you were.
If you were in an accident as a motorcyclist, however, you might automatically be put on the defensive and be presumed to have been driving recklessly, unless the evidence can show that you weren’t.
See the difference?
It’s similar to the legal concept of presumption of innocence. Most of us have seen enough legal dramas on TV to know that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty in a criminal case. Shouldn’t it be the same at the scene of an accident?
In a motor vehicle accident, there’s usually no innocent or guilty. Civil (non-criminal) lawsuits rely on the principle of liability, or fault. The reasonable person standard means that a driver’s actions were reasonable based on what the average person would do in that situation.
Every driver on the road has a duty to drive responsibly and carefully — whether you drive a motorcycle, car or truck.
How to combat bias as a motorcycle rider (5 tips)
If you’re in an accident while riding a motorcycle, there are some steps you can take right now to build your credibility and crush the stigma:
- Be kind and courteous. This should probably go without saying, but approach the other driver with courtesy, show concern for their condition, and don’t immediately make accusations. You can be kind and courteous without admitting fault. Never say that the accident was your fault (even if you think it was, and even if you’re trying to be nice). Admitting fault may come back against you in a trial or settlement negotiations. Let the evidence speak for itself, and don’t make any statements that might hurt you later.
- Always wear a helmet. Aside wearing a helmet anytime you’re on your bike for safety reasons, it also demonstrates that you’re concerned for your own safety and you know the rules and best practices for motorcycling.
- Document the scene. If it’s safe to do so, take photos of the scene. This includes the condition of the car and your motorcycle, road and weather conditions, property damage, and relevant traffic signals or signs.
- Obtain witness contact information. If there are witnesses at the scene, you don’t need to take a statement, but it’s a good idea to get a name and phone number so you can reach them later. Their statements should be included in the police report, but your lawyer might want to reach out to them to bolster your case.
- Drive safe. It’s important that you follow the road rules, avoid speeding, and demonstrate careful driving on your motorcycle before an accident happens. Avoid lane-splitting, which is illegal in Florida (and every state except California), weaving, or riding in a way that a witness might see as unsafe. If a witness sees you driving carefully and being respectful of other drivers before an accident happens, that witness could be your best ally in a legal case.
Along those lines, make it your habit to ride carefully and respectfully all the time while on your bike. Building a history as a good driver can help you if you ever end up in court. Don’t rack up speeding tickets or other violations. If you do wind up in court and have a squeaky-clean driving record, that will work to your advantage. If every motorcyclist rides responsibly and carefully, it also builds the public’s goodwill, and over time it could even break down some of the bias we see today.
Call a motorcycle accident lawyer before speaking with your insurance adjuster
Even your own insurance company might have bias.
The insurance adjuster doesn’t represent YOU. The insurance adjuster represents the insurance company. Their job is to pay out as little as possible to cover your claim. The less injured you are (in the eyes of the insurance company), the less they have to pay you.
Your insurance adjuster also shouldn’t act like your lawyer. It’s against the law for an insurance adjuster to give legal advice, but sometimes they do anyways.
After you or the other driver report the collision to the insurance companies, you’ll certainly get a call from your adjuster (or the other driver’s), but you’re not required to talk with them. Sometimes, an insurance adjuster uses tricky tactics to get you to admit fault in an accident.
The first step you should take is to look for an experienced motorcycle accident lawyer who knows how to combat bias by taking a deep dive into police reports, witness accounts, and other evidence to see what really happened and not just want the insurers think happened.