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Safety Check: Is a motor trike safer than a 2-wheeled motorcycle?

At Georgia Auto Law, we want everyone to get home safe and sound.  So, one of our main goals is to do what we can to help make the roads a safer place.  Today, we are looking at the difference between the “motor trike” and the regular 2-wheeled motorcycle, and we are discussing which is a safer option.

With better traffic visibility, a motor trike can be a safer, however 3-wheelers do have some of their own, specific dangers.

The motor trike–or three-wheeled motorcycle–is a relatively new phenomenon compared to the normal motorcycle.  However, we are seeing more and more motor trikes on the roads today.

There is no doubt that they turn heads, with the look of a state trooper motorcycle from the front and a sort of futuristic hover-craft from the rear.  We have heard them described as part hog part street car, and the names for them are wide ranging: “three-wheelers,” adult tricycles, “trikes,” and even motorcycles with training wheels.

As a motorcycle accident attorney, I have begun to see injury cases that involve these three-wheel motorcycles.  For the most part, these cases involve crashes between the three-wheeler and other cars.

When I first looked into the safety differences, I assumed that with three wheels instead of two the trike was a safer vehicle than the standard two-wheeled motorcycle.  The theory is that with three wheels grounding the trike, there is less of a likelihood for “laying down” as there is with a normal, two-wheeled motorcycle.

If you are considering buying a motor trike for your first step into the cycle-world, or maybe are thinking about converting your current chopper into a three-wheeler, keep these safety points in mind as you make your decision.

Attract more attention

As I said above, the overall design of the motor trike certainly turns heads.  There are many times when I have seen a trike on the road and took a second look.  It could be because it is bigger, or because it just looks different than what we are used to seeing.  Regardless of the reason, it turns out that other drivers and motorists on the road are also noticing motor trikes more often which helps with safety.

In my motorcycle accident practice, most of my motorcycle injury clients were injured because other drivers did not see the motorcycle because they either did not bother to look, or they looked too quickly and “missed” the motorcycle.

Research shows that car drivers are generally looking for other cars and trucks on the road when they look around and are not looking for motorcycles.

When I deal with lawsuits for my clients injured in motorcycle crashes, I regularly speak with experts who all agree that the most dangerous factor facing motorcycle operators are other drivers on the road.  So, to the extent that a cycle can be more visible is a definite safety improvement.

Two rear (or, sometimes, front) wheels, side-by-side, creates a wider frame and a better chance to be noticed by other drivers on the road.  Also, with their widened frame, trikes have much larger center brake light helping visibility.

Getting more attention

There was an extensive report done by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 1981 called the Hurt Report, and it says that approximately 77 percent of crashes involving standard, two-wheeled motorcycles come from the front position (the 11 o’clock to 1 o’clock position).

The primary reason for such a high percentage of crashes in these positions is lack of visibility by the other driver. In my practice, I have seen the same thing over and over again in the motorcycle injury cases I have handled.

What does this mean?  By standing out on the roadways, a motor trike is more likely to be seen by other drivers, which means that the chance of a rear-end collision is reduced.

Additionally, because of the wider frame, a motor trike is not able to fit into as narrow of spaces as a standard crotch rocket. So, motor trike riders are not able to weave in between cars in traffic thus lowering the chance of hitting an opening car door or getting pitted by an impatient driver trying to quickly change lanes.

A 3 wheel motorcycle handles differently

Although better visibility will certainly decrease your chances of getting into an accident with a car or truck, there are certain aspects whereby motorcycle trikes are just as dangerous as two-wheeled cycles.

The motor trike has different physics and handling than standard motorcycles.  Think about riding a bicycle as a kid. We all start with training wheels to keep us upright until we learn how to properly balance.

However, when we finally take those training wheels off, we learn that we not only have to steer to make a turn, but we also have to lean into the turn as well.  The same idea applies to motor trikes and motorcycles.

Anyone who has ridden a trike knows that you have to learn that handling a motor trike is more similar to riding/steering a car.  Whereas a motorcycle rider might use her body to help lean into a turn, trike riders use the handle bar only to properly execute turns and curves.

Motor trikes: your body is still exposed

There is no doubt that motorcycle and trike riders love the openness and freedom of riding.  The wind, scenery, and fresh air blowing across your face is an amazing feeling.

However, this experience that makes motorcycles and trikes so freeing is also what can make them very dangerous.  On a motor trike, your body is still dangerously exposed in the event of a crash. This means that your chances of sustaining a catastrophic injury when riding a motor trike is much higher than if you were in a regular, enclosed passenger car.

You are not secured in a passenger compartment with metal frames, airbags, and other safety features to protect you in the event of a crash.  Because most motorcycle accidents occur from the front, the rider is more likely to eject from the seat and hit another object or the roadway.  Both of these results can lead to severe injuries.

First and foremost, I highly recommend all motor trike riders wear a helmet and take a course on motor trike (or motorcycle) safety and operation.  You would be surprised how much you will learn in a course with professional instructors.

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