American Motorcycle Laws -Are They Strong Enough?

by annbailey on June 3, 2013

Motorcyclists face threats from every other vehicle on the road. Like most states, Indiana has strong laws regarding the driving habits of motor vehicle operators. However, its laws are not particularly aggressive with respect to mandating safety equipment. Many motorcyclists choose to wear protective equipment regardless; motorcycles do not have airbags and the only crumple zone available to motorcyclists is the padding in their protective gear.

Protection from Other Motorists

Individuals operating motor vehicles on Indiana highways must comply with the rules of the road, regardless of whether they are operating a two-wheeled vehicle or a tractor-trailer. All motorists must heed traffic control devices, obey speed limits, and signal lane changes and turns. These rules exist to enhance the safety of all motorists and pedestrians and are not particularly focused on motorcyclists. However, motorcyclists also face regulation involving their driving habits.

Title 9, Article 21, Chapter 10 of the Indiana Code provides that motorcyclists may not ride in such a manner that “deprives another vehicle of the full use of a traffic lane.” Motorcycles may ride two abreast in the same lane, but not share with other vehicles. Motorcycles may not share a lane with more than one other motorcycle. This section prohibits what is commonly referred to as “lane splitting,” which involves the motorcyclist traveling in the space between two vehicles occupying adjacent lanes on the roadway.

Lane splitting is a controversial issue in the United States. Indiana is not alone in prohibiting lane splitting; California remains the sole state where lane splitting is lawful conduct. Motorcyclists who split lanes are at risk of colliding with extended mirrors, weaving vehicles, or even opened doors. If a motorcyclist is struck from the side, he or she can easily become crushed between the two vehicles. Lane-splitting motorcyclists are also at risk of being victimized by road rage.

Despite its potential dangers, there are arguments for making lane splitting lawful conduct. Motorcyclists are often injured in rear-end collisions by motorists who were looking for other four-wheeled vehicles and discounted the possibility of a motorcyclist being present. Allowing motorcyclists to filter through traffic enhances the safety of riders in this respect and eases congestion. Lane splitting can be done safely, although the difficulty in codifying a standard of “safe” lane splitting has stalled a number of efforts in state legislatures across the country.

Motorcyclists also face other forms of regulation specific to two-wheeled motorized vehicles. Motorcycles must have their headlamps illuminated at all times while riding, regardless of the time of day or ambient conditions. This enhances their visibility to motorists who often do not look for two-wheeled vehicles. Motorcyclists may only carry one passenger and not carry any passengers if that passenger inhibits the motorcyclist’s ability to operate the cycle.

Protection from all Collisions

Some motorcycle laws have little to do with other motorists. Others have to do with protecting the motorcyclist from a variety of potential threats including solo collisions. Apart from the aforementioned rules regarding speed limits and safe lane changes, some motorcyclists are required to wear helmets under Indiana law. Motorcycle operators under the age of 18 are required to wear helmets at all times while using a cycle. However, adults are under no such restrictions and no rider is required to wear anything beyond a helmet.

Wearing full gear, including a helmet, is always prudent while riding a motorcycle. Motorcyclists who choose to not wear helmets, whether represented by an Indianapolis personal injury lawyer or not, are 1.3 times more likely to be involved in a fatal collision and 1.5 times more likely to incur an incapacitating injury following a motorcycle collision. In addition to providing protection in the event of a collision, a full-face helmet provides wind protection and protects the rider’s nose, eyes and mouth from foreign debris like insects or rocks.

Whether one believes that new laws should be passed to mandate the usage of helmets or other gear for all cyclists is a matter of subjective opinion. From a public policy standpoint, reducing the consumption of medical services eases the burden on hospitals to pay for debilitating injuries for motorists who are often uninsured, and the burden on insurance providers to pay for preventable injuries is prudent. This reduces the cost of doing business and leads to lower costs of medical services and reduced insurance rates.

However, from an individual liberty standpoint, adult motorcyclists should be free to choose whether they don protective equipment. The presence or absence of protective gear causes no direct physical harm to other motorists and some motorcyclists are capable of paying for medical services out of pocket. Wearing a quality, full-face helmet often reduces a cyclist’s field of view and inhibits their ability to hear while other helmets often provide inadequate protection during a collision. Such visual and auditory constriction can make it particularly difficult to avoid a collision in the first place if a motorist changes lanes into a motorcyclist.

The Importance of Legal Counsel

Whatever the nature of the accident, motorcycle injuries can change a rider’s life in an instant. Even minor accidents can involve broken bones and torn ligaments, which can make using a particular limb difficult. Without adequate medical insurance, paying the medical bills can be nearly impossible. If the injury affects the victim’s ability to work, the injured party and his or her family may incur severe financial burdens even if one has quality health insurance.

If the accident was not the fault of the cyclist, bikers may be entitled to compensation for their injuries. Unfortunately, some motorists are uninsured or have policies from insurance companies that are uninterested in fully compensating the accident victim. If the negligent party was uninsured or if the insurance company does not provide full compensation for one’s injuries, accident victims should consult an attorney as quickly as possible. With qualified legal representation, victims can ensure that they receive the care that they need and that the responsible party fully bears the burden of the loss.

Former news reporter Ann Bailey shares this research for any biker interested in touring through Indiana. The Indianapolis personal injury lawyer group at Sevenish Law is intent on protecting the rights and interests of its clients who may be involved in any collision of a motorcyle, regardless of the circumstances.

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