How to Handle Yourself After a Motorcycle Accident
How to Handle Yourself After a Motorcycle Accident
Even the most careful motorcyclists sometimes become involved in accidents. These unfortunate incidents can be costly, frustrating, and lead to severe injury or disability. Your actions immediately following an accident and later on can significantly influence how such an event will impact you. This guide demonstrates how to act in your own best interests if you are involved in a motorcycle accident.
Handling Matters at the Scene
Get yourself to safety.The first thing you should do after an accident is remove yourself from harm's way by getting off the roadway and out of traffic. Distance yourself from anything that may cause you additional harm, such as:
- A vehicle that is leaking gasoline.
- A vehicle or structure that is on fire.
- Damaged structures that could collapse.
- Roadside cliffs or drop-offs.
Check yourself and others for injuries.Call 9-1-1 immediately if you or anyone else involved in the accident is hurt. Very few motorcyclists walk away from accidents without some kind of injury, and some of the most serious injuries are not readily identifiable. As such, you should seek medical attention even if you believe you are not hurt.
- Although less common than injuries to the lower and upper extremities, injuries to the chest and abdomen from motorcycle crashes tend to be more serious.This is due to the potential for organ damage and/or internal bleeding from blunt-force impact to the midsection.
- Lower extremity injuries are the most common type of motorcycle crash-related injury.These often involve bone fractures and are usually not fatal if dealt with properly by medical professionals.
Remain calm.Although it may be difficult to maintain a calm demeanor when you have just been involved in a motorcycle accident, it is important that you do not do or say anything that could make the situation worse in any way or indicate culpability. For example, do not:
- Argue with other parties involved in the accident.
- Assign blame for the accident.
- Physically engage others in a hostile manner.
- Intentionally inflict additional damage to property.
Report the accident to local law enforcement.This is only necessary if emergency services (9-1-1) were not contacted. Except in very minor incidents (such as those that result in no injuries and minimal property damage), law enforcement may be needed involved in order to:
- Control traffic.
- Record details of the accident.
- Determine whether immediate legal action is required.
Do not leave the scene.It is important that you remain at the site of the accident long enough to exchange relevant information with all parties involved and/or law enforcement officials. At a minimum, you should obtain the following details:
- Property damage information in the form of photographs or written descriptions.
- Insurance and/or contact information from all parties involved.
- Identifying information for the vehicles involved, such as make, model, and year.
Take photos of the scene.If you have a working cell phone or camera with you, take pictures of the scene and the damage to the vehicles or other property involved so there is contextual evidence of the details of the incident.
- Do not perform this step if doing so will put you or others at risk of injury or cause further property damage.
- Be sure to capture information about your surroundings, such as street signs or nearby buildings.
Obtain information from any witnesses who are willing to provide it.This could include anything from a name to a written description of what they saw. If you end up in a legal dispute regarding the events of the accident, a witness' account of the incident could be useful in arguing your case.
- Don't pressure witnesses to say or do anything they don't want to do. Some might be willing to make a statement to police but won't want to be asked to testify in court or be harassed by insurance companies.
- At a minimum, take down voluntary witnesses' names and phone numbers so you or your representative can get in touch with them later. Again, make sure it's okay with them that they be contacted.
Dealing With the Aftermath
Contact your insurance company.As soon after the accident as you are able, you need to inform your insurance company of the incident.
- Provide the agent with all relevant information you collected at the scene, such as the names of the parties involved, the make, model, and year of all vehicles involved, and the names and contact information of any witnesses.
- If you are asked about your injuries and/or damage to your vehicle, say that you will furnish these details once you have had your injuries assessed by a doctor and your motorcycle's damage assessed by a mechanic. This will help ensure that you do not underestimate compensation to which you may ultimately be entitled.
Do not admit fault for the accident to anyone.This includes other parties involved in the incident, law enforcement officers, and insurance company representatives. This will help you avoid being blamed for anything that was not your fault and will keep your insurance company from inappropriately denying your claim.
- It is best to simply limit who you speak to regarding details of the accident. Even simple statements such as "I'm okay" can be used against you later if you end up seeking compensation for your injuries.
- If an attorney is assisting you in handling your accident, direct inquiries surrounding the incident to him or her.
- Never lie about your role in an accident, especially to law enforcement or your insurance company.
Contact an attorney.Many lawyers specialize in motorcycle accident cases. It may be in your financial and legal best interests to acquire assistance dealing with your situation. The following are good reasons to seek legal advice:
- You were wrongly accused of being at fault by other parties involved in the accident.
- Your insurance claim was denied.
- Your damages (medical or otherwise) exceed the limits of your insurance coverage.
- You incurred severe physical injuries and associated costs as a result of your accident.
Follow your doctor's orders.If you were injured in your accident and received medical care, your doctor likely gave you instructions or recommendations for your rehabilitation. In order to heal from your injuries and minimize any lasting effects, be sure to do exactly as your physician says.
- Follow up with your doctor as recommended.
- Adhere to instructions for prescribed medications.
- Follow through with prescribed therapies or procedures.
Maximize your insurance claim entitlement.Even if your injuries and/or damage to your motorcycle seem minor, be sure you are not undercompensated in an accident that is someone else's fault. Here are a few things to consider before agreeing to an insurance claim settlement:
- Some injuries have long-term impacts. You should have a doctor conduct a thorough assessment of your injuries and inform you of any potentially long lasting issues. These should be factored into your claim.
- Compensation can extend beyond medical care and vehicle repair. If you lose wages from an inability to work, are stuck with hefty transportation costs associated with your medical care, or encounter any other expenses associated with your accident, you should build these costs into your claim.
- You cannot re-open a claim once a settlement is finalized. This is a good reason do it right the first time. Be thorough in assessing damages and asking for the compensation you deserve so you don't end up getting short-changed.
Preventing Motorcycle Accidents and Injuries
Wear protective gear.Always wear a helmet, a thick jacket, pants, and padded gloves when riding a motorcycle, whether you are the driver or a passenger. You are very exposed on a motorcycle, so wearing protective equipment (even if your state does not legally require it) will minimize your injuries and could save your life should you become involved in an accident.
- Motorcyclists wearing helmets are 40% less likely to die of a head injury in a crash.
- Motorcyclists wearing helmets are 15% less likely to suffer nonfatal injuries in a crash.
Never operate a motorcycle while intoxicated.You are much more likely to get into an accident if you ride while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. Alcohol consumption reduces reaction speed, affects balance, and impairs judgment.You are putting yourself and others at increased risk of injury or death by riding under the influence. It's also illegal!
- Statistics show that 29% of motorcycle crash fatalities involved a rider with a blood alcohol level above the national legal limit (which is 0.08%).
- One third of motorcycle accidents are the result of a rider being under the influence of alcohol.
- Motorcyclists aged 20 to 24 years experience a higher rate of alcohol-related crashes than any other age group.
Adjust your riding style to weather/road conditions.It is easy to lose control of your motorcycle in poor weather, especially in precipitation or conditions of reduced visibility. It can be difficult to come to a quick stop on a wet road, which increases your chances of having an accident.
- Reduce your speed in bad weather. This will allow you extra time to react to unexpected situations and will reduce the time and distance it takes to slow or stop your motorcycle.
- Keep a wide breadth when passing or following other vehicles. You can't predict what other drivers will do, and they are even less likely to be aware of you if visibility and/or weather conditions are poor. You will have more time to react if you keep your distance.
- Turn carefully. You are more likely to lose traction in corners and crash if road conditions are wet or icy. Reduce this risk by slowing down and staying as upright as possible when turning or cornering in bad weather.
Exercise caution and good judgment.This means obeying traffic laws, adhering to posted road signs, and avoiding risky maneuvers. Many motorcycle accidents are attributed to reckless behavior on the part of the motorcyclist, meaning they are easily avoidable with common sense.
- Do not speed. More than a third of motorcycle accidents are at least partially attributable to excessive speed on the part of the motorcyclist.Speeding reduces control, increases necessary stopping distance/time, and increases the likelihood that a crash will be fatal.
- Always signal when turning or merging. Failure to use turn signals when merging or turning on a motorcycle increases the likelihood that another motorist will accidentally hit you. Motorcycles are hard enough to see as it is; make yourself as visible as possible!
- Do not "split lanes." This practice (riding between two designated traffic lanes) exposes motorcyclists to the increased possibility that another motorist could unknowingly merge into them. By staying within the designated lanes, you are much less likely to be accidentally struck by a merging vehicle.
Ride defensively and be vigilant.Many motorcycle crashes are the result of reckless or aggressive driving by other motorists. It can also be difficult for the driver of a car to see a motorcycle. Cars merging or turning suddenly, for example, pose significant risk to motorcyclists.
- Use your horn and lights. You can make your presence known to other motorists by using your horn if they get too close or start to merge into you. By having your headlight and brake light on, you will be more easily seen by other motorists.
- Scan traffic far ahead of you so you can be prepared to slow or brake your motorcycle if necessary. If you see a lot of brake lights or road obstructions up ahead, you can anticipate necessary actions and slow down early to avoid rear-end collisions.
Avoid situations beyond your level of comfort and skill.Inexperienced motorcyclists are more likely to get into accidents, especially in busy traffic or when road conditions are dangerous. Knowing your limits could save your life!
- Stick to roads with lower speed limits and less traffic, such as surface streets and highways, until you are used to your motorcycle and have a high degree of control while riding.
- Do not assume that a friend's motorcycle will handle the same as yours, or your new bike will be similar to your old one. Every motorcycle is different in terms of handling, weight, traction, acceleration, and braking. Until you are comfortable on that particular bike, exercise extra caution.
- Use your judgment to determine what is safe and reasonable immediately following a motorcycle accident. Every situation is different and will require that you respond appropriately.
- Do not self-diagnose your injuries following a motorcycle accident. Internal injuries can be difficult to detect and fatal if left untreated, and it is always best to seek medical attention for a serious accident.
Video: What to Do if You Crash Your Motorcycle
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Jennifer Litton, MD