Motorcycle Accidents and Lawsuits in Illinois

Illinois motorcycle accidents

Learn the laws that apply to motorcyclists in the Prairie State

Everything you need to know about getting in a motorcycle crash in Illinois, including common causes, state laws, determining fault, and what damages can be recovered.

Motorcycle crashes tend to be more violent than car crashes.

Cars offer occupants protection in the form of side-impact door beams, bolted roofs, airbags, and seatbelts. Motorcycles, on the other hand, offer almost no protection and riders are routinely ejected during crashes.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 80% of all reported motorcycle crashes result in injury or death.

Though the risks are significant, motorcycles are extremely popular in Illinois. There are more than 330,000 registered motorcycles in the state, making Illinois the 7th most popular state for motorcyclists.  Many of the Prairie State’s most famous routes, including Great River Road and Rock River Run, are heavily traveled.

Motorcycle accident statistics

During an average year in the United States, motorcycle accidents cause an estimated 100,000 injuries and 5,000 fatalities.

In Illinois, 133 motorcyclists were killed in motorcycle accidents (2019). Tweet this

Although car accidents are more common than motorcycle accidents, motorcycle wrecks result in more injuries and fatalities than car crashes. For example, motorcycle crashes accounted for only 1.1% of total crashes in Illinois in 2017, but they accounted for 15.4% of all fatal crashes.

The Illinois Department of Transportation conducted an extensive study in 2017 concerning traffic accidents in Illinois and found that:

  • There were 3,418 total motorcycle crashes
  • 160 motorcyclists were killed
  • 2,514 motorcyclists were injured
  • 1 non-motorcyclist was killed
  • 102 motorcyclists were killed on urban roads and 58 were killed on rural roads
  • The majority of motorcyclists injured or killed were 45 years of age or older

Top causes of motorcycle accidents

Motorcycle accidents are caused by many of the same factors that cause or contribute to car accidents, including:

You might think that motorcyclists face the most risk when changing lanes, but actually more motorcyclists were hit in Illinois in 2017 while parked than when changing lanes.

Motorcycles Involved in Crashes in Illinois
by Type of Maneuver (2017)
Motorcycle maneuver Number of crashes
Going straight ahead 1,796
Passing/overtaking 113
Making left turn 145
Making right turn 117
Slow/stopped in traffic 269
Skidding/control loss 361
Changing lanes 53
Other 436
Parked 128
Total 3,418
Source: Illinois Department of Transportation 2017 Crash Report

Illinois motorcycle safety laws

Motorcyclists, like any other drivers on the road, must follow all the Illinois traffic laws. In addition, Illinois has some motorcycle-specific laws that can be found in the Illinois Vehicle Code. Some of the highlights include:

  • Motorcyclists are not required to wear a helmet in Illinois
  • Motorcyclists must be protected by glasses, goggles, or a transparent shield when operating a motorcycle
  • Passengers must ride on passenger seats, which must have footrests
  • Riding on one wheel (i.e., “wheelies”) is prohibited
  • Motorcyclists are prohibited from passing between 2 vehicles going in the same direction (i.e., “lane splitting”) unless there is an unobstructed traffic lane available to permit such passing safely
  • Motorcyclists are prohibited from passing vehicles on the right unless there is unobstructed pavement at least 8 feet wide to the right of the vehicle being passed

Motorcyclists must also be aware of the laws that impact them before they even get on their motorcycle. In Illinois, these include licensing, registering, titling, and insurance.

  • Licensing. To operate a motorcycle, a person must first obtain a Class L license (for motorcycles with less than 150cc displacement) or a Class M license (for all other motorcycles).
  • Registering and titling. To operate a motorcycle in Illinois, you need to have it registered and titled. Most dealers will handle this for you. If you purchase your motorcycle through a private sale, you’ll have to obtain and complete the necessary forms from the Illinois Secretary of State office yourself.
  • Insurance. Illinois requires motor vehicle drivers, including motorcyclists, to carry the following liability insurance: $25,000 (for injury or death of 1 person in an accident), $50,000 (for injury or death of more than 1 person in an accident), and $20,000 (for damage to property of another person).

Fault in motorcycle crashes

If you’re “at fault” for an accident, it means you caused the accident. If you caused the accident, the injured person can recover damages from you by filing a claim with your insurance provider or by filing a personal injury lawsuit against you.

Examples of actions that might result in a motorcyclist or motor vehicle driver being at fault for an accident include:

  • Changing lanes without looking first
  • Speeding
  • Following too closely
Real Life Example: Jay Pankey was mowing his land in Mineral, Illinois, when he blew grass clippings onto a stretch of Route 6 near 270 East Street. At the same time, a group of 6 motorcyclists approached. One of the motorcyclists, Thomas Zeglen, ran over the grass clippings, lost control, and slowed down. The motorcyclist behind him, Cheryl Zeglen, crashed into Thomas. Cheryl was thrown from her motorcycle and died 2 days later. Jay was given a ticket for violation of the Litter Control Act and was later sued by the family of Cheryl Zeglen. The lawsuit is ongoing.

Sometimes, both the motorcyclist and the motor vehicle driver are at fault. So what happens then?

Illinois follows the modified 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. However, if a plaintiff is determined to have been 51% or more at fault for the accident, then they will not be able to obtain any compensation from the defendant.

Let’s look at an example:

Buck is riding his motorcycle down Old Route 36 in Dawson, Illinois. He is behind a station wagon driven by Hank. Hank is intoxicated and driving well under the speed limit. Not able to pass on the left (due to oncoming traffic), Buck decides to pass the station wagon on the right even though there’s only 4 feet of pavement to work with. As Buck is attempting to pass the station wagon, Hank accidentally swerves to the right and crashes into Buck. Buck is thrown off his bike and suffers serious injuries. He sues Hank for damages.

The court finds that Buck’s damages are $100,000. The court also finds that Hank is 80% at fault because he was driving under the influence of alcohol and that Buck was 20% at fault because he attempted to pass a vehicle on the right side with only 4 feet of space (instead of the 8 feet required by law). Because of Illinois’ modified comparative fault rule, Buck is only able to recover $80,000 in damages.

What damages are available in a motorcycle accident

On average, riding a motorcycle is more dangerous than driving a car.

Facing factsIn one study, researchers looked at 26,831 patients injured in motorcycle crashes and 281,826 individuals hurt in car accidents. They found that the injury rate for motorcycle crashes was 3 times higher than the injury rate for car crashes. What’s more, severe injuries were 10 times more likely with motorcycle crashes. The researchers also found that motorcycle crashes cost roughly 2 times more than car accidents to treat over the first 2 years after the collision.

Serious injuries result in serious damages.

In Illinois, the following damages are available to a person injured in a motorcycle crash:

  • Economic damages. These are the damages that you can put a price tag on. For example, medical expenses, lost wages, and property damage.
  • Non-economic damages. These are damages that don’t carry an objective price tag. For example, emotional distress caused by the accident, as well as pain and suffering caused by the accident.
Enjuris tip: In most cases, the amount of money you can recover for your damaged motorcycle is based on the reasonable cost of necessary repairs. If the motorcycle is damaged beyond repair, the money awarded is based on the fair market value of the motorcycle right before the crash — in other words, the amount you could have sold the motorcycle for before the crash (as opposed to what the motorcycle costs brand new or what you paid for the motorcycle).

Staying safe and avoiding motorcycle accidents

Here at Enjuris, we want you to recover the damages you deserve if you’re involved in a motorcycle accident. But even more than that, we want you to avoid serious injury altogether.

If you’re a motorcyclist, consider the following tips on how to prevent an accident or reduce your injuries in the event of a crash:

  • Wear a helmet. Researchers have found that helmets are about 37% effective in preventing motorcycle deaths and about 67% effective in preventing brain injuries. To get the most protection, make sure your helmet meets the U.S. Department of Transportation standards, fits snugly all the way around, and has no obvious defects (such as cracks or loose padding).
  • Wear gloves. Gloves, preferably leather or a similar durable material, allow for a better grip and help protect your hands in a crash.
  • Wear the right clothing. Your jacket and pants should cover your arms and legs completely. In addition, they should be tight enough to keep from flapping in the wind, but loose enough so that you can move freely. In general, leather offers the most protection, followed by sturdy synthetic material. With respect to boots, be sure they’re high and sturdy enough to cover your ankles and provide support. You also want to make sure the heels are short so they don’t catch on rough surfaces. Finally, tuck in the laces so they don’t catch on your motorcycle.
  • Check your motorcycle before you mount it. Before mounting the motorcycle, check the following: tires (air pressure and general wear), fluids (hydraulic fluids and coolants), headlights and taillights, left and right turn signals, and high and low beams.
  • Check your motorcycle after you mount it. Once you have mounted the motorcycle, complete the following checks before riding: clutch and throttle (make sure they work smoothly), mirrors (make sure they’re positioned properly and not obscured by dirt or snow), brakes (make sure the front and back levers feel firm and that each one holds your motorcycle when the brake is fully applied), and horn.
  • Always communicate your intentions when riding. When riding a motorcycle, you don’t want to surprise others on the road. Be sure to use turn signals and brake lights liberally.
  • Enroll in a safety course. The Cycle Rider Safety Training Program is authorized by the Illinois Department of Transportation and offers both new and experienced riders free motorcycle safety courses.

Even when you take all the right steps, accidents can happen.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a motorcycle accident in Illinois, use our online directory to locate an experienced personal injury attorney in your area.


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