When we think of accidents on the road, we tend to think only of plain old cars. It is easy to forget that we share our roadways with motorcyclists. Florida’s year-round sunshine makes it an ideal location for motorcycle riding. To many, riding a motorcycle is not just a means of transportation, but a hobby or a lifestyle and a form of personal expression.
Whatever the reason for riding a motorcycle, riders need to pay heed to the special issues that motorcyclists face on our roads. Motorcyclists are subject to some laws that differ from car drivers, but in many ways, the laws are the same.
One of the biggest areas where car and motorcycle laws differ is insurance. As you may know, in Florida, it is mandatory that drivers carry personal injury protection (PIP) insurance. This is also known as “no fault” insurance, because it provides medical and lost wage benefits to drivers injured in an accident, regardless of fault. It is a system set up to allow those who are injured to be able to pay for medical treatment or recover wages quickly and without the need for court intervention. PIP does not even require that a driver collide with another driver; a driver who hits a tree or runs off the road can obtain PIP benefits.
But PIP laws do not apply to motorcyclists. They cannot get PIP, and it will not cover motorcyclists even if they have another car in their household that does have PIP insurance.
This brings up special concerns. Motorcycle riders need to make sure that they have a form of insurance that fully covers them for medical expenses incurred as a result of an accident. Even with standard health insurance, motorcyclists may not have a policy to cover them for lost wages should they have to miss work as a result of an accident.
Permanency Requirements are Different
Because PIP cannot be obtained by motorcycle riders, they do not have the same restrictions on being awarded damages in court that car drivers do. PIP requires car drivers to show that they have a permanent injury in order to obtain full damages for injuries sustained in an accident. Often, expert medical testimony is needed to meet that requirement, and the victim bears the burden of showing the jury how serious and permanent his or her injuries are.
That threshold does not apply to motorcyclists. A jury can legally award damages for any type of injury, even those that are not permanent, to motorcyclists.
Differences in Laws
There are some laws that only apply to motorcycles, and not cars, but most of these apply to licensure and equipment. For example, motorcycle riders need to have a special endorsement to their license allowing them to operate a motorcycle. Motorcycles need to have proper exhaust systems that do not exceed a certain noise level. They must have lighting, rear view mirrors, and stop lights. They must have handgrips lower than shoulder level and footrests.
Motorcycles are entitled to a full lane of traffic, just as cars are. It is illegal for a car to share a lane with a motorcycle. Not only is it illegal for a car to try to impede on a motorcyclist’s lane, but it is also illegal for a motorcycle to try to pass a car by sharing the car’s lane.
Motorcycle Accidents are Serious
Motorcycle accidents are serious, and the injuries and deaths caused by them seem to keep piling up. Florida leads the nation in motorcycle-related deaths, and Miami-Dade lead the state in motorcycle-related deaths. Even though only 7% of vehicles on our roads are motorcycles, they are involved in 19% of the traffic accidents that involve fatalities.
It is no wonder that these accidents are so serious and often so deadly. Unlike in a car, where the driver is surrounded by a shield of metal in a multi-ton, often steel reinforced cage, motorcyclists’ bodies are directly exposed to the road and to the impact of an accident. Even an accident that is small, which would not move a traditional vehicle very much, can send a motorcycle and its rider flying.
Debris on the roadway can present problems, as well. An object in the road that a car would just run over can lead to a motorcycle turning over or crashing. Motorcycle drivers who have uninsured motorist (UM) coverage can file lawsuits to recover damages from the “phantom drivers” who carelessly drop and leave items on the road.
Some of these injuries and accidents are preventable. A 2013 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study showed that 25% of accidents involved riders who did not have the proper motorcycle licensing requirements.
Florida does not have a mandatory helmet law for motorcycle riders under the age of 21. For those over the age of 21 who ride without a helmet, riders must carry $10,000 in medical insurance. Many studies indicate that wearing a helmet can save lives, or at the very least, reduce the severity of injuries sustained in an accident.
Although there is no legal requirement to wear a helmet, in court, a negligent driver can allege that a motorcyclist who was not wearing a helmet worsened the sustained injuries or caused them completel, by the failure to wear one. Expert witnesses may need to be called into court to testify as to the extent that the lack of a helmet contributed to injuries.
Who Causes Motorcycle Accidents?
There is a general opinion that motorcyclists ride dangerously, and cause many of the accidents in which they are involved. But in fact, studies are inconclusive. One study conducted by South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research showed that 60% of the time, drivers of other vehicles were responsible for accidents that involved motorcycles.
This may be due to the fact that motorcycles, being smaller, may seem like they are going faster, even at lower speeds. It may also be due to distracted driving. If being distracted can prevent a driver from seeing other cars, it certainly can prevent them from seeing a motorcycle.
If you are injured in a motorcycle accident, contact Brill & Rinaldi today about a free consultation to discuss your case and your injuries.