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  • August 04, 2018 8 min read

    Motorcycle Liability and what it means for you

    • In two-thirds of motorbike accidents involving another vehicle, the driver of the other vehicle violated the motorcycle rider's right of way and caused the accidentThe risks faced by motorcycle riders and the need to protect their rights of recovery after an accident become readily apparent after reviewing these statistics.
    • Motorcyclists are about 26x more likely to die in a crash than someone riding in a passenger car, and are 5x as likely to be injured
    • per mile travelled in 1998, motorcyclists were about 16x more likely than passenger car occupants to die, and about 3x as likely to be injured in a motor vehicle crash

    Some of the unique problems faced by motorcycle riders on the road include:

    Visual recognition

    Motorcycles are small visual targets, and more likely to be obscured by other vehicles, or by road and weather conditions. This is an issue especially at intersections, where approximately 70 percent of motorcycle-versus-vehicle collisions occur.

    Road hazards

    Hazards that are minor irritations for an automobile can be a major hazard for a motorcycle rider. These include potholes, oil slicks, puddles, debris, or other objects on the roadway, ruts, uneven pavement, and railroad tracks.

    Speed 'wobble' accidents

    Especially at higher speeds, the front end of a motorcycle may come unstable and begin to shake or 'wobble'. This problem may be due to a misalignment of the front and rear tyres of the motorcycle. If an accident is caused by such a high-speed wobble, the manufacturer of the motorcycle might be held financially responsible for any resulting injuries, under a product liability theory.

    Riding skills: familiarity

    A motorcycle requires much more skill and physical co-ordination to operate than a car. Many motorcycle accidents are caused in whole or in part by a rider's lack of basic riding skills, or failure to appreciate the inherent characteristics and limitations of the motorcycle.

    What is negligence?

    Negligence is the legal term for any careless behaviour that causes, or contributes to, an accident. For example, a person is negligent if he neglected to stop at a stop sign and, as a result, hit your car as you were coming through the intersection. A person can be considered negligent whenever he or she had a duty to act carefully and failed to do so.

    Liability case law for motorcycle claims

    It is useful to review case law of accidents involving motorcycles, as these can assist in deciding how liability may be attributed between the parties involved in the accident.

    However, it should be remembered that every accident has to be assessed on its specific circumstances and the facts that can be proved. You may find a case, which is the same, or very similar to the accident that you have been involved in, however, even when the accident appears to be the same as a cited case, the judge's opinion regarding liability can be extremely different. Therefore, case law is best used as a guide only.


    During the year 2008 in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, a high percentage of all motorcycle related collisions occurred at or near to junctions where the other vehicle driver failed to appreciate the presence of a motorcycle. It is more difficult to assess the speed of a smaller vehicle approaching but there are some things that we can do to make ourselves more visible.

    Most European motorcycles are fitted with headlights which stay illuminated at all times. Sometimes uneven road surfaces can cause the light to vibrate and give misleading information to other road users as an indication you may have flashed your lights to give right of way.

    Consider the colour of your clothing. It sometimes may be more appropriate to make yourself more visible by wearing a fluorescent jacket.


    In the case of Farley v Buckley in 2007 a motorcyclist was passing a refuse wagon was travelling in the same direction and indicating to turn left into a side road. The lorry was unable to complete its turn as the side road was narrow and there was a car waiting to emerge and turn right. The motorcyclist, travelling at around 30mph, overtook the refuse wagon with its wheels virtually on the centre white line when the car drove out in one continuous movement at approximately 5-8 miles per hour. A collision occurred. The court held the motorcyclist wholly at fault as it considered that the motorcyclist was travelling at a too high speed, which in the circumstances was reckless, especially having regard to the nature of the manoeuvre that he had been carrying out, the lack of visibility to his left, and the fact that the refuse wagon had been displaying its left indicator.

    Motorcycle LiabilityMotorcycle on main road, vehicle pulling out of side road/junctionIn Higgins v Johnson in 2008 in a county court, a car was approaching a rugby ground on the right and indicated to turn into it. The car had commenced its manoeuvre when it was struck by a motorcycle which was overtaking. The court heard evidence that the car driver first indicated left, then right, then left and then finally right again. The motorcyclist held back but once he believed that the car driver appeared to have settled on a course of continuing straight ahead, he pulled out to overtake. The court accepted independent witness evidence that the car did indicate left, right, left and then right. The final indication happened when the motorcyclist had already begun to overtake. The court held that the car driver failed to check her mirrors or look over her shoulder and had she done so, she would have seen the motorcyclist. However, the court also found that the motorcyclist was aware that there was an indecisive, erratically indicating driver ahead of him yet he proceeded to overtake her on a yellow boxed junction. The court found the motorcyclist 25% to blame on this.


    In the case of Powell v Moody (1966), a car in a side road was invited to pass through a gap in stationary traffic on the main road. The car driver slowly drove through the gap across both lanes, when a motorcyclist who was filtering past the right hand lane of the two lanes of stationary traffic collided with the car. The judge found the motorcyclist 80% to blame as jumping the queue was a hazardous manoeuvre, which had carried out with great care. This case is old and the court's view regarding motorcyclists filtering queues of traffic has become more acceptable on the whole.


    In Worsfold v Howe (1979), a car was travelling from a side road onto a main road intending to turn right. A petrol tanker had stopped in the left hand lane of two lanes, allowing the car to proceed forward. The car driver could not see around the tanker so he slowly edged forward across both lanes. A motorcyclist, in the right hand lane, overtook the petrol tanker. A collision occurred between the motorcycle and the car. Both parties were found 50% at fault. The motorcyclist was travelling too fast and had gone beyond his line of sight.

    In the case of Dowling v Dargue (1997), a car was travelling from a side road onto a main road intending to turn right. Vehicles on the main road had stopped to allow the car to carry out its manoeuvre. A motorcyclist overtook the stationary traffic on the main road and struck the front drivers side door/wing of the car. The motorcyclist was found 80% at fault, as he was travelling on the wrong side of the road and within the zigzag area of a pelican crossing. The car driver was found 20% liable as they were travelling faster than merely edging out.


      In Garston Warehousing Co v O F Smart (Liverpool) Ltd (1973) a bus driver stopped and signalled to a car driver that he could pull out of a side road onto the main road. The car driver relied on this and slowly pulled onto the main road. At this point the bus driver saw a motorcycle approaching from behind and sounded his horn, flashed his indicator and gave a hand signal to try and warn the car driver of the motorcycle's approach. The car driver who pulled out of the side road was found to be one-third liable as he should have stopped after passing the bonnet of the bus, and the motorcycle was found to be two-third's at fault for failing to take into consideration the possibility that a vehicle could have been emerging from a side road and also for failing to see or heed the warning signals.

      Car pulling out from a parking space, moped filtering

      In Clarke v Winchurch (1968) a parked car facing oncoming traffic intended to travel to the opposite side of the road. A bus stopped and flashed its lights, to signal to the car driver to commence its manoeuvre. The car driver relied on this signal and inched out. A moped filtered pas the bus and collided with the car. The moped driver was found to be 100% at fault.

      Motorcycle undertaking on the approach to a crossroads

      In Brooks v Burgess a car driver crossed a junction in front of a stationary coach into the path of a motorcycle that was undertaking the coach. The parties were both found 50% to blame. The car driver as she had pulled from the minor road onto the major road and for not taking into consideration that a vehicle/pedestrian could have been moving along the nearside of the coach. Both were carrying out dangerous manoeuvres and should have been aware of the risks involved.

      Car turning right into junction, bike overtakes

      In Hillman v Tompkins (1995) a car pulled out of a traffic queue indicating to turn right into a junction. In the meantime, a motorcycle that was filtering in the same direction went to overtake the indicating car. The car collided with the motorcycle. They were both found 50% at fault. The car driver should have used his mirror before turning and the car had not moved clear of the queuing traffic, so the indication may not have been clear. However, the motorcyclist was travelling too fast on the approach to a junction.

      A vehicle carrying out a U-turn, motorcycle overtaking queue of traffic

      In Davis v Schrogin (2006) a car driver was stuck in a traffic jam on a straight road. A motorcyclist checked the opposite lane and it was clear, so he decided to overtake the stationary queue. The car driver decided to do a U-turn to get out of the queue. He checked to his left and pulled into the opposite lane colliding with the motorcycle. The car driver was found at fault on a 100% basis because he had not checked to his right whilst carrying out his manoeuvre and if he had done he would have seen the motorcyclist. Also, the motorcyclist was so close to the point of impact that he did not have any time to avoid taking action.

      Misleading signals

      In Wadsworth v Gillespie (1978) a car stops at the white lines of a T-junction. The car driver sees the motorcyclist approaching. The motorcycle is still displaying a left hand indicator and the car driver relies on this and pulls onto the main road and collision occurs. The motorcyclist was found one-third at fault for giving a misleading signal and the car driver two-thirds at fault for assuming the motorcyclist was going to turn.

      Please note that this article is for your general information only and is not a detailed statement of the law. It is should not be used as a substitute for specific legal advice.

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