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Rule of 3s: Is motor trike safer than 2-wheeled motorcycle?

May 15, 2017 by Steven M. Gursten

Better traffic visibility is a motor trike safety plus, but 3-wheelers have their own unique dangers

Motor trike motorcycle

We’ve all been seeing more motor trikes — or three-wheeled motorcycles — on the roads.

They definitely grab attention: some look a little like a police motorcycle in the front and a Batmobile from the back. Others can be best described as part chopper, part hot rod. And I’ve heard people call them everything from “trikes,” or adult tricycles, to motorcycles with “training wheels.”

As a motorcycle accident lawyer, I’m starting to see injury cases involving these three-wheel motorcycles when they are involved in crashes with other cars. I had assumed that with three wheels grounding it, a motor trike is safer on the road than their two-wheeled traditional counterpart. If you’re thinking of making a motor trike your first cycle, or have considered converting your old hog into a trike, keep these points in mind as Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month continues through May.

A motor trike gets the kind of attention that helps prevent crashes with cars

As mentioned, the unique design of a motor trike catches the eye. I’ve had to do a quick double take when one passes my way, and as it turns out, so do other motorists on the road. That helps.

Most of my motorcycle injury cases involve drivers who either don’t see a motorcycle at all because they don’t look, or they look but they don’t “see” the motorcycle that is there to be seen because they are looking for other cars and trucks on the road. The human factors experts that I talk with when I have these motorcycle accident lawsuits all agree that it is the other drivers on the road that are the biggest danger for motorcycle operators. Two side-by-side wheels in a widened back (or, in some cases, the front), a center brake light and a wider rear body means more visibility and a better chance to be seen from other motorists on the road.

The Hurt Report — a motorcycle safety study initiated by the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and first published in 1981 — says that approximately 77 percent of accidents involving two-wheeled motorcycles comes from the frontal (or “11 o’clock to 1 o’clock”) position.

This high percentage of crashes from these two positions is due to the lack of visibility from the other driver. This is also what I’ve seen time and again as an accident attorney with my own motorcycle cases.

By sticking out, so to speak, a motor trike is better spotted by other vehicles, and the chances of rear-end collisions are lessened.

In addition, a motor trike doesn’t allow for enough narrowness to allow for it to zip between cars stuck in traffic — which also means you won’t slam into a car door that’s opening or get hit by a frustrated motorist who is changing lanes.

Don’t swerve at the curve on your motor trike

Better visibility will lower your odds of getting into a motorcycle accident with another car or truck.

But in other respects, motorcycle trikes can be just as dangerous as a two-wheeled cycle. The motor trike simply has different physics than motorcycles.

Let’s go back to our days of learning to ride a bike. We used training wheels to hold our balance, but when they came off, we discovered that making turns meant we had to lean as well as steer.

With motor trikes and motorcycles, the same concepts apply.

Trike riders will have to learn that handling a motor trike is a lot like riding a car. Use the handlebar, not your body (as motorcycle riders might do leaning into a curve). Also, remember that, like a motorcycle, your body is still dangerously exposed and more susceptible to catastrophic injury when riding a motor trike than riding in a 6,000 lb. passenger car. You’re not inside an enclosed space with more metal and airbags and safety features to protect you. And as the majority of motorcycle accidents happen from the front, you’re likely to fly off the seat and make impact with either the object you hit or the road surface. Both can be very bad.

Finally, I strongly urge all motor trike riders to always wear a helmet and follow the same basic rules of safe motorcycle riding as people on traditional two-wheel motorcycles.

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