For countless Americans, riding a motorcycle is more than just a means of transportation. It’s a lifestyle, a feeling of freedom that is difficult to replicate.
Unfortunately, it’s also dangerous. In fact, while only 3 percent of all registered vehicles in the United States are motorcycles, 14 percent of all fatal crashes in the U.S. involve motorcycles.
For anyone involved in a motorcycle accident in New Orleans, legal ramifications become immediately imminent. This guide will examine the local laws and implications surrounding the topic from the major causes of motorcycle accidents to what to do when involved in an accident within New Orleans.
The Statistical Dangers of Motorcycle Riding
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fact Sheet on Motorcycle Traffic Safety examines just how dangerous riding a motorcycle can be, and why it’s so important to be prepared in case of an accident:
- In 2019, 5,014 motorcyclists were killed in an accident.
- An estimated 84,000 motorcyclists sustained injuries in an accident.
- When compared to vehicle miles traveled, motorcyclist fatalities occurred almost 30 times more frequently than car occupant fatalities.
- 61 percent of motorcycle fatalities occurred in urban areas like New Orleans.
- 91 percent of fatalities occurred on non-interstate roads.
- 76 percent of motorcycles involved in fatal accidents were struck in the front, while only 7 percent were struck in the rear.
- Only 11 percent of Louisiana motorcycle fatalities were confirmed as unhelmeted at the time of the accident.
Any rider knows the inherent dangers that come with riding a motorcycle. It’s important to point out, though, that these statistics point to another important fact: It’s not always the motorcyclists’ fault. A closer examination of the potential causes of motorcycle accidents further confirms that fact.
6 Major Causes of Motorcycle Accidents
A wide range of studies have tried to understand the most common causes of motorcycle accidents. From these studies, we can begin to understand just what might cause motorcyclists to be at a higher risk than other drivers on the road.
- A car making a left-hand turn. Because motorcycles are more difficult to see and more easily hidden in a vehicle’s blind spot, cars making a left-hand turn are in particular danger of not seeing a motorcycle and hitting it as a result. That’s why NHTSA estimated that in 2019, almost 50 percent of crashes involving a car and a motorcycle included a left-hand turn by the car.
- Hazardous road conditions. Motorcycles are more directly affected by hazards on the roads, such as road kill, gravel, slippery roads, or debris dropping from other vehicles. While for most four-wheeled vehicles, these are minor bumps, they can cause motorcycles to lose control and get into a potentially serious crash.
- Speeding by any of the parties involved. According to NHTSA, one third of all motorcycle crashes included at least one vehicle involved in the crash driving above the speed limit. Driving too fast can cause both motorcyclists and car drivers to crash into others because they no longer have the required time to react when the other party unexpectedly slows down, swerves, or takes another action.
- Lane splitting. A popular tactic used by many motorcyclists across the United States to swerve past slow or stuck traffic, lane splitting is illegal in Louisiana. The reason: It’s among the more common causes for accidents, as motorcyclists have less space than usual to maneuver around, be seen by cars, and avoid road hazards.
- Collisions with fixed objects. Colliding with a tree, light post, traffic light, or building is frequently fatal when riding a motorcycle, and accounts for an estimated 25 percent of all motorcycle accident deaths. Other causes, like speeding, only increase the danger that this situation tends to cause.
- Alcohol use and abuse. Drunk driving is a significant issue on the road regardless of vehicle types. NHTSA estimates that nearly 30 percent of all fatal motorcycle accidents in 2019 involved at least one party with alcohol above the legal limit in their system.
While all of these causes come with their own nuances, they can best be summarized in the single top cause for accidents involving motorcyclists.
What Is the Most Common Cause of a Motorcycle Accident in New Orleans?
Put simply, the number one cause of motorcycle accidents is an involvement with another vehicle, usually a car or truck. Whether through left-hand turns, speeding, or alcohol use, motorcyclists are at significant risk not just because their chosen method of transportation might be less safe but also because others tend to treat them, voluntarily or involuntarily, as less significant than four-wheeled vehicles.
That’s important to keep in mind when researching what to do in case of a motorcycle accident in New Orleans. A natural insurance bias against the motorcyclist involved frequently has little bearing on the legal implications, especially when other vehicles are part of the same situation as well.
What Are the Most Common Motorcycle Injuries?
Because of their increased exposure, motorcyclists can be more likely to sustain injuries when involved in a crash. In fact, it’s uncommon for a motorcyclist to walk away completely uninjured when involved in a crash with a moving vehicle. The most common injuries when riding a motorcycle include:
- Lower extremity injuries, especially leg injuries. In fact, NHTSA found that nearly half of all motorcycle injuries are to the legs, ankles, and feet of riders.
- Traumatic brain injuries, and other injuries to the head, become the most common injury type when riders weren’t wearing a helmet at the time of the crash.
- Fractured and broken bones are especially common when riders are hitting the ground at unnatural angles, which commonly occurs when the accident involves another vehicle.
- Spinal cord injuries are among the more serious injury types and occur when the motorcyclist lands on the back or neck after a crash.
- Internal injuries, including injuries to organs, are dangerous because they might not be immediately diagnosed and as a result worsen over time.
It’s also important to keep in mind that injuries can worsen with age. A Brown University study found that declining reaction times and vision along with the larger bikes common among older riders are the most likely reason for this trend.
Important Louisiana Motorcycle Laws Any Rider Should Know
Before and after a crash, it’s vital to understand the laws impacting how the legal situation plays out. In Louisiana, motorcyclists should know a few key rules and regulations related to their vehicle type. These statutes are outlined in detail in Title 32, “Motor Vehicles and Traffic Regulation.”
General Louisiana Laws that Apply to Motorcycles
Statutes 32:51 and 32:52 state that both the vehicle and the driver of the vehicle need a state-approved license to legally operate a vehicle on Louisiana roads. Meanwhile, statute 32:58 stipulates a general safe driving rule:
Any person operating a motor vehicle on the public roads of this state shall drive in a careful and prudent manner, so as not to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person. Failure to drive in such a manner shall constitute careless operation.
Motorcyclists are also subject to the same statutes as other vehicle operators when it comes to speed limits (32:61), blood alcohol levels (32:98), and prudent vehicle operation (32:64).
Motorcycle Helmet Laws in Louisiana
Unlike some other states, Louisiana clearly states in statute 32:190 that riding a motorcycle is only legal when wearing a helmet. More specifically, the helmet needs to be specifically designed for riding motorcycles, properly secured with a chin strap, and include lining, padding, and a visor.
Failure to wear a proper helmet alone, even when not involved in any other type of illegal activity or crash, results in an automatic $50 fine. Louisiana also only permits helmets for which the manufacturer has purchased liability insurance in the event that fault in the design or manufacturing could result in a motorcyclist injury.
The only exception to Louisiana’s strict helmet law is participation in parades or other public exhibitions, which requires an explicit permit by the police in charge of the event.
Motorcycle Riding Laws in Louisiana
In statute 32:191, Louisiana law specifically outlines riding conditions for any motorcyclist on its roads. These include riding only on the permanent and regular seat attached to the motorcycle, not carrying any other person or child, and only carrying passengers when the motorcycle is specifically for the passenger’s age and weight.
In addition, motorcyclists can only ride on their bike when facing forward, sitting astride the seat, with one leg on each side of the motorcycle. They cannot carry anything that might prevent them from keeping both hands on the handlebars, while children need to be at least five years old to ride as passengers and only when the child is properly seated and wearing a safety helmet.
Lane Splitting and other Lane Laws in Louisiana
Statute 32:191.1 goes into more depth on the above-mentioned lane splitting. It states that all motorcycles must have access to a full road lane, with no vehicle encroaching on their authority to that lane. Motorcycles are, however, allowed to ride side-by-side in a single lane as long as no more than two bikes occupy a single lane.
Operators of a motorcycle may not legally overtake and pass in the same lane occupied by the vehicle being passed or drive between lanes of traffic, which constitutes lane splitting.
Other Motorcycle Regulations to Keep in Mind
Various Louisiana laws also cover the standards that the motorcycles themselves have to be under. For example, 32.191.3 stipulates the need for adequate footrests and handlebars, 32.190.1 covers motorcycle windshields, and 32.303 focuses on the adequate height and operational functions of motorcycle headlamps.
How Is Accident Responsibility Determined in Louisiana?
Louisiana has a fault-based system of determining responsibility in any type of motor vehicle accident. Anyone involved in an accident looking to seek compensation needs to prove to a judge or jury that another party was legally at fault. This other party could either be others involved in the accident or non-persons like a local city or municipality responsible for hazardous road conditions.
However, Louisiana does not always ascribe full fault to one party or another. Instead, the state operates under a “comparative fault” or negligence law. It states that
In any action for damages where a person suffers injury, death, or loss, the degree or percentage of fault of all persons causing or contributing to the injury, death, or loss shall be determined, regardless of whether the person is a party to the action or a nonparty, and regardless of the person’s insolvency, ability to pay, immunity by statute, or that the other person’s identity is not known or reasonably ascertainable.
In other words, if a motorcyclist in an accident is partially at fault for the accident, they possibly can’t recover full damages from others who are partially at fault. However, they can still recover damages at the same percentage as those others who were determined to be responsible for the accident. If, for example, the motorcyclists were 40 percent responsible for an accident, they could still recover 60 percent of damages from others.
What to Do If You Have a Motorcycle Accident in New Orleans
The first and most important step to take after being involved in an accident is to ensure immediate safety, if possible. Further accidents can happen if the rider or motorcycle is still in immediate danger of the road or other hazardous conditions.
The second immediate step is to contact 911, which will dispatch both police and EMT responders. This ensures that everyone involved in the accident receives immediate medical attention and that police will investigate the accident in a timely fashion. Police officers will interview any involved parties and witnesses and create a police report that may be crucial in the event of a lawsuit.
Remain at the site of the accident until police confirm you can leave. In conversations with other involved parties, witnesses, and the police, do not admit to any fault in the accident. Apologizing might be a natural reflection but could lead to blame in the entire situation when that situation is not yet clear. Investigations, rather than apologies at the scene, will determine who is at fault. Staying factual is crucial.
If possible, the next step is gathering evidence. This includes taking photos and recording videos of the accident scene, including damage to and license plates of the motorcycle and other involved vehicles. Road and weather conditions, any hazards, and other details may also be important later. Ask witnesses for contact information and potentially for their help in taking pictures if you’ve been too severely injured.
After the accident, contact an attorney and avoid repairing your bike right away. Keep the receipts for any expenses directly and indirectly related to the accident, including doctors visits, the cost to rent another vehicle while your bike is being repaired, etc.
When to Contact a New Orleans Motorcycle Accident Lawyer
As soon as possible after the accident, contact a qualified and specialized accident lawyer for help with managing the insurance claim and potential other claims for damages. An experienced professional can help you better understand the laws and regulations involved, and help you comply with the necessary statutes as you look to file a claim and move forward from this traumatic event.
After an initial consultation and sharing of evidence, an attorney will help to review the case in all its details and make an initial judgment call about the parties that might have been at fault. Potential for a claim arises if that determination results in a conclusion that the negligence of the motorcyclist seeking professional help didn’t cause the accident.
Most importantly, the attorney becomes your partner in the legal and insurance process that follows. That may include preparation for potential court appearances, filing claims against other responsible parties, and working with the insurance company and adjuster on your behalf.
How Dudley DeBosier Can Help With New Orleans Motorcycle Accident Cases
Dudley DeBosier has extensive experience in New Orleans and Louisiana personal injury cases, particularly related to motorcycle accidents. We understand the everyday dangers of the road and know that even cautious drivers may be involved in accidents through no fault of their own.
As a result, we will fight for any motorcyclist who has been in an accident or might be hastily classified as reckless or dangerous by insurance companies. We’ll be there for you 24/7, and every day of the year, providing you with updates and standing by your side every step of the way in the legal process.
That’s the Dudley DeBosier Difference, and we’re proud to extend the same promise to you.
Let us help you protect your future and get the justice you deserve, starting with a free case assessment for every prospective plaintiff. Get in touch with our New Orleans motorcycle accident attorneys by filling out our contact form, or simply calling 866-338-4649.
Chad Lederman at the Dudley DeBosier New Orleans Office reviewed all content on this page. Contact Dudley DeBosier by calling 866-490-8994.