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The recent death of a San Jose motorcycle officer calls attention to the risks taken by California motorcyclists every day. The officer was on duty, but the fatal crash was unrelated to his law enforcement work. It was the kind of accident that could happen to any motorcycle rider.

According to news reports, Officer Michael Katherman was riding northbound on 10th Street. As he entered the intersection with Horning Street, an oncoming minivan turned left. It isn’t clear from media accounts whether the minivan driver struck Officer Katherman or turned in front of him, causing Officer Katherman to collide with the minivan.

The minivan driver stayed at the scene and is not suspected of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Like many motorcycle collisions, it is likely that the minivan driver simply failed to see the approaching motorcycle. Similar recent Northern California motorcycle collisions include a Dodge Charger that made a left turn in front of two oncoming motorcycles, killing both riders, and a rider who suffered fatal injuries after swerving into a light pole to avoid colliding with a Mitsubishi Mirage that was making a left turn.

Left Turns in Front of Motorcycles

Accidents like those described above are all too common. About 36% of fatal motorcycle accidents occur because a car made a left turn in front of an oncoming motorcyclist. Left turns are almost always more dangerous than right turns, but they pose a particular risk to motorcycle riders.

Left turn accidents are largely attributable to what Prof. Patricia DeLucia calls the “size-arrival” effect. Her research revealed that drivers perceive smaller oncoming vehicles as being more distant than they actually are. Prof. DeLucia established that a driver who sees large and small vehicles approaching from the same distance at the same speed will expect the larger vehicle to arrive first because the smaller vehicle seems to be farther away. Drivers are therefore more likely to turn left in front of a smaller oncoming vehicle (such as a motorcycle) than a larger one.

That research is consistent with a Florida study of motorcycle accidents over a period of ten years. The study concluded that most collisions between a car and a motorcycle are the fault of the car’s driver. A significant number of those collisions involved cars that turned left in front of motorcycles. In addition to misperceiving the speed of the motorcycle, drivers often said they just didn’t see the oncoming motorcycle, perhaps because drivers are conditioned to look for cars rather than vehicles that have a smaller profile.

California motorcycle crash injuries

Statistical data reveals that the most common serious injuries from motorcycle crashes are:

  • Fractured legs and feet
  • Head and brain injuries
  • Crush injuries, including organ damage
  • Fractured arms and hands
  • Fractures of bones in the torso
  • Wounds, punctures, and amputations
  • Skull fractures and facial injuries
  • Neck and spinal cord injuries

Road rash, while not in the same category of severity as the injuries listed above, is the most common result of a motorcycle crash. Skin abrasions caused by sliding along pavement are very painful and, in some cases, leave permanent scarring.

California motorcycle riders who are injured in a traffic crash caused by another driver’s carelessness are entitled to compensation. A prompt case evaluation by a California motorcycle accident attorney can help victims obtain the justice they deserve, including reimbursement for lost wages, medical expenses, disability, pain and suffering, and other losses they experience.