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Motorcycle Laws and Accidents

As the weather turns nicer, more and more motorcycles are on the road. Unfortunately, motorcycle accidents are on the rise in North Carolina. This was highlighted by a recent accident off of I-485 in north Charlotte, North Carolina, on May 1, 2021. Witnesses reported that a motorcycle was attempting to do a trick on I-495 when it hit another motorcycle containing a driver and a rider. The passenger died at the scene and the drivers of the two motorcycles were taken to the hospital with serious injuries. 

If you are involved in an accident while driving a motorcycle, your chances of injury and death are greater than if you were in a car. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that in 2019, motorcyclists were “29 times more likely than passenger vehicle occupants to die in a motor vehicle crash and 4 times more likely to be injured.” This equated to 5,014 motorcyclists dying in 2019. Of the motorcyclists involved in accidents, the NHTSA estimates that 30% did not have a valid license. 

The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) estimated that in 2019 (the most recent statistics available) there was a decrease in the number of motorcyclists injured in accidents, but an 8.9% increase in motorcyclist deaths in North Carolina. The NCDOT also determined that 77.5% of motorcycle accidents led to injury, and 5% to death. By contrast, less than 30% of car accidents led to injury and only about .3% resulted in death. Clearly being involved in a motorcycle crash has a greater risk of death than does a car accident.  

The Rules for Motorcyclists in North Carolina

Motorcyclists are expected to follow the basic rules of the road that apply to anyone operating any type of motor vehicle. There are additional rules and regulations that apply just to motorcyclists. 

In many states, motorcyclists must have more than just a regular or commercial driver’s license. In North Carolina, motorcyclists need to have a motorcycle endorsement or motorcycle permit on their driver’s license. Riders with provisional licenses are also eligible for a motorcycle learner’s permit. Anyone between 16 and 18 needs parental consent to obtain a motorcycle permit or endorsement. Motorcyclists with only a learner’s permit are not permitted to drive with any passengers, under any circumstances. 

In order to receive a motorcycle permit or endorsement, you will have to pass a motorcycle skills test. A motorcycle skills test involves demonstrating that you can start and stop a motorcycle, make turns safely and handle any other movements that the examiner requests.  In order to receive a motorcycle endorsement, which has less restrictions then a motorcycle permit, you will also need to pass an off-street skills test. 

North Carolina requires those operating a motorcycle to wear a helmet. The helmet must have a chin strap and must meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 218. Failure to do so could result in a motorcyclist receiving a ticket. 

Like cars, motorcyclists are expected to keep their motorcycles in good working condition. This includes having functional brake lights, mirrors, turn signals, headlamps, rear lamps, a license plate that can be seen from 50 feet away at night, a working exhaust system, and horns. 

In addition, motorcyclists cannot travel with more than two motorcycles side-by-side in one lane. Motorcyclists are permitted to ride in the HOV lane during certain hours, including rush hour. 

Insurance is required to legally operate a motorcycle in North Carolina. Motorcyclists must have coverage for bodily injury (per person and per incident) and property damage. 

If You Are Injured in a Motorcycle Crash

Like any other car accident case, if you are injured in a motorcycle accident you will need to prove negligence on the part of the other driver in order to recover damages. 

North Carolina is a contributory negligence state meaning that if the person injured is even partly at fault, he/she may not be able to recover damages against the person who caused the  accident. Therefore, if the motorcyclist was even partially at fault, they may not be able to recover damages. 

Fortunately for North Carolina motorcyclists, while North Carolina’s motorcycle helmet law requires the wearing of a helmet, it makes it clear that failure to wear a helmet will not be “considered negligence per se or contributory negligence per se in any civil action.” N.C. Gen. Stat. §20-140.4. That caveat could be extremely important in a motorcycle accident case. If the statute did not contain this express language, then the party who caused the accident could argue that the motorcyclist was partially at fault for his/her injuries because he/she was not wearing a helmet. As a violation of the law, it could have the effect of ending the motorcyclists chances of recovery. The statute’s language allows a claim to proceed even if the motorcyclist was not wearing a helmet.  

The facts leading up to the crash will be extremely important to establish negligence and avoid the contributory damages theory being applied. It would be best to consult with a Charlotte, North Carolina attorney so that you can discuss the specifics of the accident and what damages would apply. 

Damages in North Carolina

Assuming that you are able to prove that you were not at fault for the accident, you may be able to recover damages. Available damages include:

  • Economic Damages. These damages are easily identified and include medical bills (doctors visits, hospital stays, prescriptions, rehabilitation), property damage (the cost to fix your motorcycle), and lost wages for time missed from work due to your injuries
  • Non-Economic Damages. These include pain and suffering, emotional distress and loss of consortium. 
Why Do I Need a Charlotte Law Firm?

The Charlotte, NC based lawyers at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC are experienced motorcycle accident attorneys who can help you understand your rights and whether or not you have damages and should proceed with a claim. Please contact our office at 704-714-1450. There is no fee for an initial consultation.

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