Canada: Successful Safety Preparation: Common Causes Of Motorcycle Accidents

Last Updated: April 13 2017
Article by D. Joel Dick

The ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius wrote that "Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation, there is sure to be failure".  Because motorcycle riders are a vulnerable class of drivers, so too is there sure to be failure and injury if one does not adequately prepare for and be aware of hazards created by other drivers. In this blog, I discuss common causes of motorcycle accidents and safety recommendations to help you drive defensively and prepare for safe and successful motorcycling.

Common Motorcycle Accident Causes

Car Turns Left in Front of Motorcycle

Circumstances: Arguably the most common cause of motor cycle accidents, at an intersection a car makes a left turn into the path of an oncoming motorcycle. Causes of this type of accident include distraction, lack of focus, impaired visibility, and, as many motorcycle riding publications state, that a driver of a car "perceives merely an absence of cars, not the presence of a motorcycle".

Safety Recommendations: You can help other drivers to see you by choosing high visibility gear. Where possible choose bright colours and patterns for your jacket, bike, and helmet. Of course, driving a motorcycle requires the utmost concentration and vigilance for potential hazards. In fact, you must strive to develop a pseudo-sixth sense to anticipate accidents. When approaching an intersection, look for indications that a car may turn in front of you such as:

  • A car is present and waiting to turn at the intersection you intend to cross;
  • An intersection is clear due to a gap in traffic and the traffic signal in your favour is green; and
  • There are driveways and/or parking lots in close proximity to the road on which you are travelling.

You must also look for potential impairments to other drivers' visibility, the wheels of cars at the intersection to determine direction and positioning, and whether drivers are paying attention to the road and other vehicles. In the event that an accident is imminent, be aware of potential escape routes, road surface conditions, and the capacity of the road to handle your motorcycle's full braking force (gravel, potholes, oil).  According to industry experts, you should never "lay the bike down" in such circumstances. Effective evasive action entails slowing your motorcycle as quickly as possible and keeping it upright is the best way to do so.

Car Changes Lanes and Sideswipes Motorcycle

Circumstances: Because a motorcycle is comparatively small to a car, it is easily lost in a blind spot. Accidents of this nature frequently occur when a car suddenly changes lanes and the driver fails to check blind spots, is distracted, or reckless. Remember, a driver of a car is preconditioned to look for other cars, not motorcycles.

Safety Recommendations: When travelling next to a car, be aware of the driver's blind spots and move out of them quickly by accelerating or decelerating to change your relative position. If you can see a driver's eyes in their mirrors, they have the ability to see you (however, they may not).

Typically, cars change lanes to gain a better position when approaching a stopped intersection or when one lane of traffic is moving faster than another. Look for these circumstances and be prepared for cars changing lanes. Also look for indications that a car may intend to change lanes, including:

  • A driver moving her head and/or checking her mirrors.
  • Weaving in the lane; and
  • Direction and positioning of the wheels;
  • Activated turn signal;

Rear-End Collision

Circumstances: When a motorcycle is struck from behind by a car, it usually occurs when the motorcycle is stopped at an intersection, crosswalk, or in a parking spot.  The driver of the car is either distracted, reckless, or impaired and, while sometimes considered a minor accident when two cars are involved, a rear-end collision involving a motorcycle can be lethal.

Safety Recommendations: In order to avoid such a dangerous accident, seasoned motorcycle riders recommend that you proactively use the car in front of you as a "crumple zone" (an area designed to absorb the energy from the impact of a collision).  You may do so by pulling in front of the car ahead of you at a multi-lane intersection or, if there are multiple lanes of stopped cars, in between a line of cars.

If there are no cars to serve as a makeshift crumple zone, it is recommended that you take the following safety precautions:

  • Use your brake light as a flashing warning beacon by repeatedly tapping the brake lever;
  • Make sure your bike is in gear, never leave it in neutral at a stop, and
  • Check your mirrors frequently and be prepared to accelerate away from a car that appears en route to collide with you.

It is further recommended that you pay close attention to the time of day (late at night or early morning when alcohol consumption is high), weather and road conditions that may impair visibility (riding at dusk or dawn is especially dangerous), and areas where vehicles frequently stop, such as pedestrian crosswalks and school zones.

Car Opens Door Into Path of Motorcycle

Circumstances: When traffic is heavy, there is sometimes a tendency by motorcyclists to drive between a line of parked cars and a line of stationary traffic. Bicyclists refer to this space as the "The Death Zone" because if a driver of a parked car suddenly opens a door into your path, the collision may be life-ending. Another potential hazard in this zone is a pedestrian who attempts to cross the street between parked cars.

Safety Recommendations: It is absolutely critical that you do not ride your motorcycle between a line of parked cars and a line of stationary traffic. This is exceptionally dangerous due to the unpredictability of drivers and pedestrians.


A lack of preparedness can significantly increase the chances and severity of a motorcycle injury, so it is essential that you familiarize yourself with as many potential hazards as possible. If, however, you are a victim of a motor vehicle accident, it is as equally essential that you receive the best medical treatment and legal support available. At Howie Sacks and Henry, we are prepared, experienced, and ready to help you.

For motorcycle safety tips, read "Do You Ride a Motorcycle? Tips for Motorcycle Safety". You may also be interested in reading " Tripping Over Parked Motorcycle Constitutes an Accident" an article about the case of Economical Mutual Co. v. Coughly from the Ontario Court of Appeal, which confirmed that, under certain circumstances, falling over a parked motorcycle can entitle an injured person to benefits under the Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule (SABS).

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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