Motorcycles often closer than they appear, study shows

When compared to other types of motorists covering the same number of miles, motorcyclists are about 30 times more likely to be killed in a crash, according to government data. Motorcyclists are also five times more likely to be injured in a crash than occupants of other vehicles. A recent study may help explain some of the reasons why motorcycle accidents continue to occur with such frequency, despite improvements in other areas of traffic safety.

According to a report issued in 2009 by the Highway Loss Data Institute, more than 40 percent of all fatal motorcycle accidents occur when another vehicle turns into the path of a passing or oncoming motorcycle. Researchers at Texas Tech University say that a quirk in the human brain may be a contributing factor in some of these crashes.

Smaller objects appear farther away

According to the TTU study, which was published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, the brain generally perceives smaller objects to be farther away than larger objects, even when they are in fact equal distances from the viewer.

This pattern of misperception may be a factor in some collisions in which a car turns into the path of a moving motorcycle; because motorcycles are substantially smaller than most other vehicles, other drivers may be more likely to overestimate the distance between themselves and an oncoming motorcycle. As a result, these drivers may incorrectly conclude that it is safe to execute a turn, resulting in a collision.

Motorcycle safety lags behind

Statistics from the National Highway Transportation Administration show that there were 4,957 U.S. motorcycle fatalities in 2012 - an increase of more than 7 percent from 2011. These increases have occurred even as other types of traffic deaths have been in decline due to improved safety technology and other advancements.

In fact, according to data cited by the U.S. Department of Transportation, motorcycle deaths have risen so steeply in recent years that they have effectively offset any lives saved as a result of increased seatbelt use and improved vehicle safety.

When a driver's negligence or poor judgment causes a crash that injures or kills a motorcyclist, for instance by turning in front of an oncoming motorcycle, they can be held financially liable for the damage that results. Depending on the situation, injured motorcyclists and their families may be able to receive monetary compensation for their medical bills, lost income and other damages that result from the crash. Talk to an experienced personal injury lawyer to learn more if you or a loved one has been hurt in a motorcycle accident.