Virginia Motorcycle Accident Guide

Virginia motorcycle accidents and claims

Questions to the most commonly asked questions about motorcycle accidents, laws, and injury claims in the Old Dominion state

Find out what causes motorcycle accidents, how liability is determined, and what laws might impact your injury claim in Virginia.
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According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motorcyclists are 28 times as likely as passenger-vehicle occupants to die in a crash. Even when motorcycle crashes aren’t fatal, they often result in serious injuries.

When attempting to receive compensation, motorcyclists generally believe they’ll be treated the same as passenger-vehicle occupants. Unfortunately, there’s an implicit bias against motorcyclists that may prevent them from recovering the damages they deserve.

Additionally, motorcycle-specific laws may impact a motorcyclist’s ability to recover damages. This is particularly true in Virginia, which follows the pure comparative fault rule. 

Here at Enjuris, we want you to recover all the damages you deserve. With that goal in mind, let’s take a look at some common motorcycle-accident questions you might have.

Are motorcycle accidents common?

Motorcycle crashes aren’t as frequent as passenger-vehicle crashes, but they tend to be more serious.

In 2017, motorcycles made up just 3% of all registered vehicles in the United States and accounted for 0.6% of all vehicle miles traveled. And yet, per vehicle miles traveled, motorcycle fatalities occurred nearly 28 times more frequently than passenger-vehicle-occupant fatalities.

The number of motorcyclists killed in crashes dropped to 4,985 in 2018 (a 5% decrease), but motorcycle riders are still overrepresented in traffic fatalities.

Facing factsIn Virginia, 86 motorcycle drivers and 2 motorcycle passengers were killed in 2018.
Virginia motorcycle crashes (2018)
Motorcycle occupant Killed Injured
Driver 86 1,392
Passenger 2 103

Source: Virginia Highway Safety Office

What causes motorcycle crashes?

There is a perception among many people that motorcycles are always at fault for motorcycle crashes.

This is, of course, not true.

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 larger vehicles
  • Being struck by a vehicle following too closely
  • Being struck by a vehicle’s extended mirror
  • Being struck by a merging vehicle
  • Being struck by a drunk driver
  • Poor road conditions
  • Mechanical failures
Facing factsThe majority of motorcycle accidents are between a motorcycle and a car. However, motorcycles are more frequently involved in fatal collisions with fixed objects than other vehicles. In 2017, 23% of motorcycles involved in fatal crashes in the US collided with fixed objects (compared to 16% for passenger cars, 13% for light trucks, and 4% for large trucks).

Of course, there are times when a motorcyclist does cause an accident. Common causes of accidents that are the fault of the motorcyclist include:

  • Lane splitting
  • Speeding
  • Unsafe lane changes
  • Sudden stopping
  • Driving under the influence (DUI)
Virginia motorcycle crash driver action (2018)
Driver action Drivers Percent of total
Improper lane change 36 2.0%
Avoiding other vehicle 63 3.4%
Failure to yield 24 1.3%
Following too closely 148 8%
Hit and run 13 0.7%
Improper backing 1 0.1%
Improper passing 29 1.6%
Improper turn 14 0.8%
Left of center (not passing) 15 0.8%
Lights not on 2 0.1%
Ran traffic control 21 1.1%
Speed too fast 102 5.5%
Other 632 34.3%
No improper action 720 39.1%
Not provided 24 1.3%
Total 1,844

Source: Virginia Highway Safety Office

Do I have to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle in Virginia?

Section 46.2-910 of the Code of Virginia says that every motorcyclist and motorcycle passenger must wear a motorcycle helmet that meets or exceeds the standards and specifications of the Snell Memorial Foundation, the American National Standards Institute, or the Federal Department of Transportation.

In addition to being the law, wearing a motorcycle helmet is just common sense.

Facing factsResearch shows that helmets are approximately 29% effective in preventing motorcycle deaths and 67% effective in preventing brain injuries. An unhelmeted rider is 40% more likely to suffer a fatal head injury than is a helmeted rider.

Is lane splitting legal in Virginia?

Lane splitting is when a motorcyclist rides between 2 lanes of cars heading in the same direction. Most motorcyclists split lanes on the highway when traffic slows, but some also split lanes in order to filter to the front of traffic at a stoplight.

Virginia law makes clear that lane splitting is illegal in Virginia. A person who is found lane splitting is guilty of reckless driving.

Lane splitting is illegal in Virginia. Tweet this

Do I need a license to ride a motorcycle?

Yes! You need a license to ride a motorcycle, and a regular motor vehicle license is not sufficient.

To operate a motorcycle in Virginia, you need a valid Class M, M2, or M3 designation, or a motorcycle driver’s license.

Enjuris tip: Wou can learn more about obtaining a motorcycle license at the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles

Do I need motorcycle insurance in Virginia?

You are NOT required to carry liability insurance in Virginia if you pay a $500 uninsured motor vehicle fee (UMVF) to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. Once this fee is paid, you are free to operate a motorcycle in the state uninsured for 12 months (at which point you’ll need to pay another fee).

However, if you cause an accident, you’ll be personally liable for whatever damages result. 

Motorcyclists who prefer to carry liability insurance don’t have to pay the $500 fee so long as the liability insurance they purchase meets the following minimum coverage amounts:

  • $25,000 for the bodily injury or death of 1 person in an accident
  • $50,000 for total bodily injury or death in an accident (i.e., for all persons harmed in 1 accident)
  • $20,000 for property damage per accident

Are there other laws I should know about?

As a motorcyclist in Virginia, you’re subject to the same laws as other motorists. In addition, you must comply with some motorcycle-specific laws. Most of these laws can be found in Article 8, Chapter 13 of the Code of Virginia.

Here are the highlights:

  • In addition to wearing a helmet, motorcyclists must wear eye protection in the form of goggles, safety glasses, or a helmet shield. If your motorcycle has a windshield, no further eye protection is required.
  • Motorcycles carrying a passenger must be equipped with a passenger seat and footrest.
  • With a few very rare exceptions, motorcycles must be equipped with a headlight, horn, and rearview mirror.
  • Motorcyclists are permitted to ride in high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes.
  • Motorcycles are permitted to ride 2 abreast.

Who’s liable for a motorcycle accident?

In order to recover damages after a motorcycle crash in Virginia, you have to prove that someone else caused the accident. Usually, this “someone else” is another driver or motorcyclist.  

Enjuris tip: In most cases, proving that someone else caused your accident means proving that they were negligent. Learn more about the elements you must prove to establish negligence.

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

  • Driving under the influence
  • Distracted driving
  • Running a red light
  • Lane splitting
  • Changing lanes without looking first
  • Speeding
  • Weaving through traffic

In some cases, a motorcycle crash isn’t caused by a motor vehicle driver or motorcyclist, but is instead caused by:

  • Poor road conditions. Property owners are generally required to keep their land free of dangerous conditions. If you crash because the road you were driving on was dangerous (for example, there was a large pothole or loose sewer grate), you might be able to sue the government (if the road is public) or the landowner (if the road is private).
  • Mechanical failure or defective component. If you’re injured in a crash due to a mechanical failure or defective component (for example, the brakes on your motorcycle fail or one of the wheels suddenly locks), you may be able to sue the manufacturer for negligence. This type of negligence case is called a product liability claim.

What happens if I’m partially responsible for the motorcycle crash?

Virginia is one of the few states where a plaintiff is prohibited from recovering any damages if they’re found even the slightest bit at fault. This law is known as the “pure contributory negligence law.”

If you or a loved one has been injured in a motorcycle accident, a personal injury attorney can help. Find an attorney in your area using our free online legal directory.

 

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