Highway Construction Zone Hazards For Motorcyclists | Motorcycle Lawyer
What Are Some Inherent Risks Bikers Face In And Around Active Construction Zones?
A construction or work zone is a location where roadwork occurs, often in the midst of vehicular traffic on federal and state-funded or subsidized highways and freeways. What characterizes a construction zone typically includes lane closures that funnel people into fewer lanes of travel or detours. Wood chipping machines and construction workers usually wear orange colors, orange jumpsuits, or jeans.
Sometimes motorcyclists will notice roadside clean-up crews working off a DUI penalty as part of their criminal plea bargain. Other times, passersby see street sweepers and heavy, wheeled, or tracked yellow-colored machines with huge floodlights. Often this heavy construction machinery will be seen tearing up, cleaning, and laying down new sections of road. Steamrollers and cement mixers may be coming and going from a curved, visually obscured section of the road’s shoulder.
Big rig trucks, sometimes operated by private companies under public works contracts, constantly haul debris and trash away from the work zone. In some cases, workers are in smaller groups working underground on faulty or failing electrical vaults. Other times, men and women are repairing or replacing sections of railroad ties and tracks.
Often, the CHP will conduct a round-robin to slow trailing vehicle traffic and place lit hazard torches. Plastic orange cones funnel vehicle traffic into a slower construction zone lane. Speed laws double fines in construction zones to try and stress upon society the dangers inherent to workers and other motorists on their journey.
- Over 100 Roadworkers Killed Yearly In USA?
Moreover, based upon available statistics, aside from bikers and their passengers, at least 100 road construction workers get killed in construction zones yearly in the U.S. But construction zones are vital to safe, smooth roads that remain pothole, debris-free and clean. As our motorcycle accident attorneys know all too well, a simple pothole can easily drop a motorcycle and, as it careens, kill the rider and create other damage to bystanders.
A pool of oil can cause a biker to slide and become trapped under another vehicle, dragging him. But alas, construction zones make our modern economy go round. The hustle and bustle of creating new buildings and infrastructure is key to our way of life. This hustle is especially prevalent in California, with its large population and cities. Although these different work zones are key to our development, they also present a unique hazard to motorcyclists. And no rider remains immune to the potential effects of such a zone.
The constricted traffic will be just the beginning of the issues.
- Driving patterns change in and around construction zones, especially if the area is used to high-speed traffic. For example, auto drivers will take this slower-moving, stop-and-go driving condition as a cue to check their text messages or fidget with their smartphones. Distracted car drivers can easily sandwich a biker between two cars, instantly killing the rider.
How Do You Recognize The Dangers Of Riding Motorcycles And Staying Safe On Surface Streets?
In many ways, riding safely through such construction zones has similar rules for riding safely in other conditions. Like riding through rough weather, the first instinct is often to avoid the area when at all possible. Furthermore, a good rule of thumb is to always ride slow when unfamiliar with the territory.
Your field of vision as a rider is only so large. Keeping track of where you are headed and making sure that you are riding safely should be your number one priority. Ehline Law understands the critical aspects of riding. Our lead attorney, Michael, is a motorcycle enthusiast and understands the values and concerns of bikers. We don’t talk down to motorcyclists or make them feel like their needs are silly.
Our team knows the riding tradition from the ground up and from years of personal experience. For more information about riding safety and tips, please keep reading our column in other parts of the site.
- The Clear And Present Dangers.
Most of all, work zones pose a clear and present danger to motorcyclists in particular. Because of the busier, denser conditions presented by road crews, other vehicle drivers are distracted and also alter their driving behavior. For example, a slowing passenger car motorist or big rig trucker will often use this slower-moving traffic period to tinker with a radio dial, take a bite of their fast-food burger, Snapchat, or text another person on their smartphone.
- Man-Made Obstructions And Hazards?
Furthermore, there are often physical barriers and loose tools of the trade littered around the work area itself, some of which are not always visible to bikers. For example, screws and nails are fairly common on the ground near job sites. Inattentive and careful tradespeople will drop a staple or screw and not even know it. But if a biker picks up a screw in their bike’s tire, it could spell doom after the tire blows out a few miles down the road.
Moreover, all of these potential hazards add up. Additionally, they were particularly dangerous for motorcyclists. This doubles if the rider is inexperienced or unfamiliar with the area. No matter how cautious a rider is within the zone of construction danger, a motorcyclist can be dropped and suffer horrifically disfiguring and debilitating injuries or death in construction zone accidents.
No one should have to suffer the blood, gore, and mess from a motorcycle accident in a construction zone. Fortunately, badly hurt riders or their families may be able to obtain significant compensation for their injuries from the negligent driver and other liable parties, if any. We are personal injury attorneys who help bikers in construction zone collisions.
What Are Some Common Causes Of Construction Zone Motorcycle Accidents?
Any construction zone is highly hazardous to solo riders and those traveling in staggered formations. And it’s not just accidents with other vehicles. Sometimes an open pit or maintenance hole is not properly barricaded off, for example. Because of this, single-vehicle collisions are more common on these slowly moving, dense highway arteries.
Whether moving at slow or high speeds, choppers and open-air motorcycles remain at risk for gravel strikes and any number of deadly flying or falling objects. Listed below are many of the hazards faced by motorcyclists traversing construction zones and a few comments, tips, and tricks:
- Construction workers – Third-party and government workers of varying degrees and levels of training and experience are present in construction areas on California roads. In addition to raising issues like the government tort claims act and who the biker should sue, it raises issues like workman’s compensation for injured construction crew members. For example, what if CalTrans officials direct a private worker to work too close to oncoming traffic, and he is killed by an exploding big rig tire retread or hot-knifed tire? Who does his family sue? We know that CalTrans controlled the temporary road where the vehicles were traveling. But what is the worker’s employer? What about the trucking company? Indeed retreads and grooved tires are not legal. And since the temporary road worker was directing traffic into a dangerous area, can the rider sue him also? As you can see, these are not simple, cookie-cutter lawsuits.
- Construction machinery – Discussed above, big rigs, trash hauler trucks, and heavy machinery like backhoes, wood chippers, cranes, and forklifts can cause trouble for bikers near the job site. These machines have multiple blind spots and require human supervision and safety spotters. And sometimes, loads are not strapped down properly, or a tanker truck jackknifes or spills its load of chemicals on the street. All of this can mean instant death to a biker. TIP: Stay away from the sides and rear of heavy trucks and trailers. Assume that they can’t see you. Assume they will have a tire blowout at higher speeds. That flying piece of steel belt and rubber can be a death sentence.
- Catering trucks – For example, roach coaches drain melting ice underneath the vehicle. So in hot conditions, such as in San Bernardino County, California interchanges, pools of water mixed with dirt and debris can make a motorcyclist slide out and lose control, especially on curved roadway surfaces. And it’s not just bikers; a food truck worker could just as easily be ejected from the roach coach during a motor vehicle crash. TIP: Stay in front of vehicles known to leak fluids and liquids.
- Equipment delivery vehicles – A negligent worker directing a delivery vehicle or heavy equipment into traffic or out of can kill inadvertently kill or seriously injure many motorcycle riders in one fell swoop.
- Loose nails, screws – As noted above, it is not uncommon during the calamity of roadside construction for a loose nail or screw, or even a loose box of spilled spikes could be strewn across adjoining traffic lanes. When a motorcycle tire runs over a nail or screw, typically, the front tire flips the object into the tire, with the sharp end penetrating the tire as the tire rolls forward. Over time, the rolling movement of the tire will eject the nail from the tire, causing a blowout while riding. If the rider is lucky, the tire will go flat overnight instead of on the freeway. But in cases where the rider knows the object is in the tire and fails to repair it, the rider can be held liable if the screw dislodges and harms another commuter or pedestrian. TIP: Keep your head on a swivel. Scan the road ahead for sharp objects. Use hand signals to warn other motorists of the road’s impending danger when possible. When riding motorcycles next to construction zones, proceed slowly. Going faster only increases the risk of a blowout. Don’t slam on your brakes if a flat tire occurs while driving and causes a blowout. Come to a controlled stop off a safe section of the road, out of traffic.
- Loose gravel and debris – Like nails and screws, loose rocks, gravel, or some other debris presents severe risks to motorcycle riders rolling on two tries. Handling and control over a motorcycle become impeded, and fishtailing or sliding out presents a challenge to even the most experienced motorcyclists. Even when paying the most excellent attention, losing control of a bike in a construction zone remains a possibility due to another person’s negligence. Sometimes a rider cannot navigate around the gravel and debris field created by the bottlenecked road construction zone.
- Negligent traffic direction – Don’t assume the CHP will show up to direct traffic. And even if they do, use your own common sense. If a cop directs your riding formation off a cliff, you will not do that because of common sense. So use common sense. Workers are notorious for using the wrong judgment, causing a negligent traffic pile up on a major freeway such as the Interstate 10 Freeway.
- Roadkill – Another interesting area for discussion is animals killed in road construction zones. Because of human activity, many animals become scared after habitat disruptions. Dogs may even jump out of the back of a truck to try and chase a raccoon or coyote, for example. Animals in the road easily become roadkill. For most cars, they can handle running over a dead carcass with little damage to their suspension. But a motorcycle rider will find themselves flung from a bike depending upon the size of the dead animal blocking the path. TIP: Maintain a greater following distance, decelerate, and carefully scan the highway ahead.
- Unmarked open trenches and pits – This is a fairly scary scenario for a rider. Sometimes in heavy weather and winds, signage and barricades marking open pits and grooves. In some cases, workers failed to do a site inspection to alert themselves as to fallen, missing, or removed trench barricades. Workers with shovels usually open up grooves and pits to conduct maintenance on pipes or electrical lines. In some cases, sections of rebar protrude outwardly and can easily impale and kill anyone falling into the trench.
- Poorly placed grates and steel plates – We have all felt it. The slippery steel plates designed to cover and bridge unfinished pavement often have ridges that grow to a point they become a tripping mechanism or impediment to a rider. Heavy trucks and other vehicles tend to move the plates covering holes over time, opening up the hole and creating that deadly ridge between the trench and the paved area. Like potholes, drop-offs from uneven edges along the pavement remain a treacherous threat for motorcycle navigation compared to a more stable three or four-wheeled vehicle.
- Gas and electrical explosions – Downed powerlines from a crane snagging the wire can kill workers and drop exposed, high-voltage power lines right into oncoming motorcyclists. Riders have no grounded roll cage to protect them. They are totally exposed to whipping, snapping, and told wire flying around. Burn injuries, death, and lacerations are part and parcel of these scenes. And as noted above, an underground electrical vault explosion is possible and may even be why workers are there, to begin with.
- Pooled water hazards – As noted above under discussion on food trucks, puddles of water from melted ice may be more common in construction zones because unmarked potholes and uneven utility hole covers clogged with debris may become obscured from vision by water puddles. Most of the time, the water is runoff from rain, sleet, and snow. Sometimes the pools are from construction activity during road repairs. Failing to warn riders of the known dangers increases the likelihood of a motorcycle wreck. And yes, the rider of the survivors can sue for negligent failure to warn if they can prove prior notice and reasonable means of warning riders, for example.
- Negligently Placed Road barriers – Road barriers are often necessary for construction work. For example, open trenches and pits should be roped off at a minimum. But barricades are often used to protect opposite lanes of traffic from veering into oncoming road traffic. Although enclosed vehicle occupants can be seriously injured after colliding into a barricade, nothing compares to the dangers faced by motorcyclists hitting human-made dividers. After a crash, riders can suffer severe and debilitating injuries and handicaps. For example, brain injuries, spine injuries, amputation, and dismemberment, as well as wrongful death, remain common and permanent problems for bikers and their loved ones. Rope and wire barricades can literally cut a motorcycle rider in half or chop their head off.
- Tailgating accidents – Some travelers in California lose emotional stability in heavy traffic. Filled with rage, these impatient motorists may begin to tailgate out of frustration, even in stop-and-go traffic. Any sudden stop means the rider could be thrown forward and flung into the air. Any time there is insufficient time to slow down, speed up or stop, the risk is high for innocent riders.
- Speeding – Speeding, discussed below, is illegal, especially in construction zones. The chances of sideswiping or rear-ending a lane-sharing biker are dramatically increased due to speeding. Rear-ending a motorcycle rider at high speeds can spell certain death. Riders are lucky to escape with only severe injuries.
- Distracted or inattentive driving – As noted above, some vehicle operators use construction zones as an opportunity to think about other things. So they may be fudging with the GPS to find a faster route or playing with their cell phone. Sometimes people take this time to slurp down their “to go coke” and burger. TIP: Look for drivers eating and talking on phones in road construction areas.
- Merging lane problems – Shifts in the surface of the road while simultaneously merging the traffic into fewer lanes also presents problems for riders. Autoists do not look out for motorcycles, which can spell disaster. Sometimes the type A driver is just being aggressive and purposefully tries to cut motorcycles off. Maybe the driver is jealous of the advantages in traffic the biker has to move ahead of the disgruntled driver. Either way, the rider must look out for and avoid these scofflaws at all costs.
- Faulty or malfunctioning construction zone signage – Cautions signs and road construction ahead signs are very important to warn vehicles of the dangers ahead. Failure to warn of these hazards can quickly result in a chain collision pile up. And motorcycle riders are at the most significant risk of being killed in the danger zone. Again, you can sue the defendants, and there may be many, but it won’t bring someone back. TIP: Take steps to aim ahead and conduct a pre-ride safety meeting that includes looking at recent traffic reports to alert yourself of construction zones.
What Steps Should You Take After A Motorcycle Accident in A Construction Zone?
Often riders have no way to take steps. They are relying on a biker buddy or spouse to figure it out. For example, the fallen rider could be in a coma or be a vegetable from their traumatic brain injuries from emanating from the crash. It could be their internal organs, such as their lungs, are collapsed, and they are not on a breathing machine with little chance of recovery.
Riders and their buddies should take immediate steps before, during, and after an accident to increase their chances of fair compensation in case of a crash. Gathering evidence is always crucial, but you are a few other steps riders and their families can take to protect their rights to recovering money after a motorcycle accident.
- Hail the police to the accident scene – Most injury lawyers agree that a Traffic Collision Investigation Report is crucial to pin down certain parties and facts about the collision. You can only get one by calling the cops at the crash site. Insurance companies usually assume party one in the Report is the at-fault party. So now there is a record, and even the names of police you can call to trial. Sometimes they even gather contact info from crash scene witnesses you can obtain statements from later!
- And sometimes, such as in DUI cases, the Report will show if a notice to appear or arrest warrant was issued, and the actual code section was violated.
- Take an ambulance to the hospital – Sometimes, you may think it’s a minor road rash or a scraped knee. Even if your bike is damaged, you may figure it’s cheaper and easier to handle outside of insurance. Could you not do it? Once the adrenaline and shock wear off, you may have a burst disc or fracture inherent in motorcycle accidents. For example, a cracked helmet could signal internal head trauma. Even if you think you are ok, delaying medical care is your fault, and it will be used as an excuse by the defendant to avoid paying the plaintiffs their fair share of money damages. So make sure and see a doctor and get stabilized immediately. Don’t wait until your symptoms become exaggerated. You may be forced to miss work, but you can claim lost contract value and wages against the person that hit you.
- Get the other person’s information – Remember that everyone in the construction area, including construction workers, is the potential defendant. So gather as much information about the people there, including their employer names.
- Snap video and images of the crash scene– Take pictures of everything you see, including all angles of vehicles, skid marks, debris fields, and so forth. Take geotagged selfies as well. That way, you can prove you were at the accident scene and the injuries were not fabricated to try and get insurance money.
- Secure your helmet and riding gear – Preserve your broken helmet, gloves, jeans, boots, and other equipment in a secure location under your possession, custody, and control. You may need this evidence at trial, so do not use it again after the crash.
- Never give a recorded statement to ANYONE – In California, it’s illegal to record someone on the other end of a phone call unless you have received permission in advance. Moreover, you are not a trained lawyer, and the insurance company is introduced to ask loaded questions that assume facts to trap you into looking dishonest. DON’T DO IT! Anything you say to the adjuster can and will be used against you in a court of law.
- Never sign a release without a lawyer – Some intelligent people will try and get you to sign a medical or general release of all claims with no lawyer present. Doing so almost always places you at risk of losing rights to monetary compensation and future medical care. Never sign documents without first having an attorney review them in total. Sometimes you actually give up the right to recover anything, and you had no idea!
- Retain a lawyer immediately – It is proven that lawyers can get people more money than people representing themselves in an auto accident. A sophisticated and trained attorney will hold your hand and guide you through the intricacies of motorcycle accidents. Avoiding paperwork as the statute of limitations problem presents a heightened risk for construction zone accident claimants. The government Tort Claims Act filing process is arduous and wrought with pitfalls, even for a generally qualified lawyer. So never attempt administrative actions without the advice of a trained lawyer. Only a trained advocate can identify all the liable parties and resolve your claim properly. (See also, eight tips after a motorcycle accident).
Who Are The Potential Defendants In A Motorcycle Rider Work Zone Accident?
As noted above, there can be many defendants who acted in concert to cause or create the accident and injuries. Below is a quick list of potentially liable parties in a motorcycle work zone collision or crash:
- CalTrans – Always look at Caltrans as a potential defendant in roadside construction zones. They usually direct a lot of road repairs and hold control. An experienced CalTrans accident attorney is always key to winning freeway construction mishap cases against the State of California.
- Local Government Repair Crews.
- Third-Party Contractors.
Double The Penalty In Construction Zones, Fines, And Negligence Per Se.
The California Vehicle Code (“CVC”) mandates that vehicles slow to a posted speed other than the normal, customary speeds for that location. Under negligence per se rules, if the violation caused your injury, and you were in the class designed to be protected by the statute, the defendant is presumed liable under California law. So now, the defendant must shift the burden back or be faced with paying for the injury.
- Also, in addition to this potentially valuable rule, the state may even double the fine for a violation of law within a construction zone, such as for speeding, as an example.
California Vehicle Code Section 42009 States: “(a) For an offense specified in subdivision (b), committed by the driver of a vehicle within a highway construction or maintenance area, during any time when traffic is regulated or restricted through or around that area pursuant to Section 21367, or when the highway construction or maintenance is actually being performed in the area by workers acting in their official capacity, the fine, in a misdemeanor case, shall be double the amount otherwise prescribed. In an infraction case, the fine shall be one category higher than the penalty otherwise prescribed by the uniform traffic penalty schedule established pursuant to Section 40310.” (Source). Although not all violations of traffic laws are misdemeanors and therefore doubled, many are increased. So bikers and passenger car occupants should heed these rules. Insurance does not pay traffic fines.
How Much Money Can I Get For My Motorcycle Construction Zone Accident Claim?
Depending on how much money you get depends upon insurance or ability to pay. This is why personal injury lawyers love cases against FedEx, UPS, and the United States Postal Service delivery trucks. These defendants all have money. Even in cases where you get a million-dollar judgment, if there is no money to pay you, your lawyer will probably drop your lawsuit.
- Other Insurance issues. Minimum insurance. U/M, UIM.
Sometimes you maybe get lucky and exhaust the underlying policy limits of the other defendant(s) and go after your own Uninsured or Underinsured insurance to pay you for your motorcycle accident. But this assumes you had purchased insurance to handle this in advance.
- Damages Available As a Plaintiff.
A plaintiff is entitled to recover special and general damages from all legally liable defendants.
- Special damages include money for past, present, and future medical bills and lost wages and income. This remuneration includes replacing your motorcycle or repairing it with OEM parts.
- General damages include money for things like pain and suffering and intangible losses agreed to exist and tabulated by a jury.
Lawyers like those at the Los Angeles-based Ehline Law Firm Los Angeles, personal injury attorneys will endeavor to gather evidence and build a case around it. Without a great lawyer, motorcycle accident victims are severely disadvantaged in getting paid what they are due.
Marvelous results require a lawyer you can trust and believe in. That’s us; we put that strength by your side. If you or a close family member suffered injuries in a motorcycle accident construction zone, start an online chat with us or send us the facts of your case using our convenient online contact form. We offer free legal consultations over the phone. And you don’t pay unless we win. Call to schedule a free consultation at (213) 596-9642. At least reach out using our convenient website form to learn how we can assist you in getting justice.
At Ehline Law, we service Northern and Southern California, including central Los Angeles, Torrance, the South Bay, Long Beach, Santa Monica, Marina del Rey, Newport Beach, San Diego, San Bernardino, and more locations listed here.