Is it usually the car driver's fault in a motorcycle accident?

Car driving in the rain on country road

Motorcyclists making claims arising out of road traffic accidents have often complained to me that car drivers, witnesses and sometimes police officers struggle to oppress a predisposition that inclines them to believe, that car on bike accidents, are on the whole caused by the biker.

Through investigating accidents I have found that the majority of Police Officers and witnesses try to express considered and objective views -  but I have come across a few comments that might support the bikers’ complaint that there is a a touch of prejudice in some. Here are some of my favourite examples:

  • An investigating officer admitted that his starting point was: “9 out of 10 times it is the motorcyclists fault”.
  • A civilian witness to a parked car pulling out into oncoming traffic thought:  “the car driver didn’t do anything wrong -  she just pulled out of the parking space in the normal way but unluckily she did it straight into the boy on the bike.”
  • A client who had been travelling in the nearside lane of a dual carriageway in a 30 mph zone was progressing past the stationary traffic in the offside lane until one of the stationary cars tried to move lane and drove into him.  A car driver travelling behind the biker in the same lane thought the biker was “illegally undertaking”.

It’s the first comment, the “9 out 10 times..” that is the serious one.  What’s the evidence?

A recent government study offered the following figures: 

  • Motorcyclists represent 1% of all road traffic on the roads but account for 21% of the fatalities.
  • The largest single category of motorcycle crashes, accounting for 38%, are ones in which a vehicle emerges from a side road onto the main road into the path of a motorcyclist.
  • In 80% of those cases fault was attributed solely to the other vehicle.  
  • A further 21.5% of all motorcycle accidents that were recorded were caused by the other driver.

Whilst we must always be careful of accepting statistics at face value - after all, only recorded incidents can be included and attributing fault will likely always be an imperfect process – they must be a better measure than anyone’s natural inclination.  

Those of you that can add up as fast as you ride may have already worked out that: 80% of 38% added to 21.5% equals 51.9% - indicating that over half of bike/car collsions are the car driver’s fault. Even if that were to become common knowledge I doubt that the quotations that I started with would be replaced with a new adage: “It is usually the car drivers fault”.  Why is that?   More next time….

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