What can car drivers do to avoid accidents with smaller vehicles?

South Carolina is home to many scenic routes, tourist attractions, and recreational areas. As a result, it’s common to encounter smaller vehicles on the roads – golf carts or other low-speed vehicles, motorcycles, and bicycles. Due to their smaller size, these vehicles may be more difficult to see. In some instances, they may also maneuver in ways that a car can’t. They also lack safety features like seat belts and airbags, so a collision is more likely to cause serious injury to a small vehicle rider than to someone in a car. 

Many drivers want to know how they can help avoid accidents in these situations. Here are some practical ways you can reduce the risk of accidents with smaller vehicles:

Watch Your Speed

Sometimes smaller vehicles surprise you. It’s easier to see a larger vehicle from farther off, so you may find you have to hit the brakes to avoid a bike or golf cart. The slower you’re going, the easier it is to stop in time. Always obey the speed limit, and slow down even further in inclement weather situations, such as rain, sleet, snow, or even fog.

Understand Who Has The Right Of Way

In some situations, accidents occur not because a driver didn’t see a smaller vehicle, but because there was some confusion about who had the right-of-way. It’s helpful to understand South Carolina right-of-way laws, but if you’re ever in a situation where you’re not sure, it’s better to err on the side of caution. If you can do so safely, yield and let the small vehicle go ahead.

Bicycles are not strictly considered “vehicles” under South Carolina law, but in most cases, bicycle riders have the same rights and responsibilities as people driving motor vehicles. However, they are expected to ride as far to the right as possible when on a road, and to use bike lanes where they are present. They’re required to obey stop signs and traffic lights just like cars, and riders must signal when they’re going to turn.

Bicyclists should use walk/don’t walk signals at intersections where they’re available, and otherwise wait until it’s safe to go. However, sometimes they may be in a hurry and fail to do this. It’s always a good idea to slow down and look around carefully when approaching an intersection, just in case a biker is headed that way and doesn’t see you or forgets to stop.

Motorcycles should follow the same rules of the road and right-of-way guidelines as other motor vehicles. Lane splitting, or weaving between rows of cars, is not legal in the state of South Carolina, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never see it happen. Keep an eye out for any unusual movement when you’re stuck in a line of cars.

Golf carts and similar low-speed vehicles can be driven on streets in South Carolina, as long as the speed limit is no more than 35 MPH. They also have to meet certain “street legal” requirements, such as having headlights, taillights, and being licensed by the state. Golf cart drivers are required to follow all the rules of the road. It’s important to note that golf cart drivers are not required to carry insurance like car drivers are, so if a golf cart hits you, it is helpful to have uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. 

What about ATVs? These all-terrain vehicles should not be used on public streets, highways, or parking lots, except in specific situations. They may use a public right-of-way next to the traveled part of a highway, or a limited-access road. They can also use a public street long enough to cross it. Otherwise, if you see an ATV on a road, it’s probably not supposed to be there. However, you should still proceed safely around it, slowing down and allowing it plenty of room. Make note of its location, and when you’re able to pull over safely, call the police to report it. Yelling at the ATV rider to get off the road might seem like a good idea, but it may just distract the rider (or you) and cause an accident.

In general,  many accidents with all sizes of vehicles happen because drivers are confused about the right-of-way at four-way stops. Brushing up on your four-way stop skills can help prevent crashes with both large and small vehicles.

Avoid Distractions

It’s easier to see small vehicles coming when you keep your eyes on the road and pay attention. Sometimes people assume “distracted driving” only means texting and driving. You definitely shouldn’t text and drive! But “distracted driving” also includes anything that takes your eyes and focus off the road – fiddling with the radio or other dashboard controls, fixing your hair or makeup, studying the GPS panel, eating, drinking, changing clothes, etc. The truth is that most people have done distracting activities while driving at one point or another, but you can become a safer driver by focusing solely on your driving in the future. If you need to take care of other activities, find a safe place to pull over and put your car in park.

Look Twice And Save A Life

We handle a lot of motorcycle accident cases. There are many ways these crashes can happen, but one very common situation is when a car or other passenger vehicle turns in front of a motorcycle, causing it to T-bone against the car. You probably know that vehicles already on a roadway have the right of way, and drivers who turn in front of motorcycles usually know this too. Sometimes they may be distracted, but in many cases, they are paying attention to their driving and otherwise obeying the law – they just don’t see the motorcycle coming.

How can this happen? Motorcycles are hard to see due to their small size and only having a single headlight (which may not be on at all if it’s daytime and sunny). For this reason, even a driver who is watching what they’re doing can miss a motorcycle. The “Look twice and save a life” campaign was started to encourage motorists to look both ways twice before pulling out of a driveway, giving the driver a chance to see small vehicles like motorcycles that they may have missed.

If you have passengers in your car, you can also ask them to keep an eye out for motorcycles, bicycles, other small vehicles, or pedestrians, and let you know if they spot any. It never hurts to have more people looking out for easy-to-miss vehicles. Even when paying attention to your driving, you can’t look everywhere at once.

Check Your Mirrors Before Every Trip

You don’t want to find out while about to make a lane change that a partner or family member used your car and adjusted the windows for themselves. Always take a quick look at your mirrors before leaving your driveway to ensure they don’t need to be readjusted. Then be sure to look in your mirrors before turning or changing lanes. But don’t rely solely on mirrors – you should also turn your head and take a quick glance behind you before making any moves.

Look Before Opening Your Door

If you’re parking on a street, this is especially important, but it’s always good to get into the habit. A surprising number of motorcycle accidents happen when someone opens a car door as a motorcycle is passing them by.

Use Extra Caution At Intersections

Another common cause of T-bone crashes with motorcycles is failing to notice the bike approaching an intersection. This is particularly problematic at intersections with stop or yield signs but no lights. Sometimes drivers think that no one is coming, so they may only slow a little while approaching a stop or yield sign. Unfortunately, they may miss a motorcycle about to cross in front of them. Always come to a complete stop at stop signs, and look both ways before proceeding.

Leave Extra Space Around Small Vehicles

If you’re behind a motorcycle, golf cart, or another small vehicle, widen your following distance (which should allow at least three seconds to begin with, in most situations). Sometimes sunlight can obscure a motorcycle’s turn signals, especially since they only have one minimal taillight. If they stop or turn unexpectedly, you should have enough room to stop without hitting them. The faster you are going, the more following distance you should allow, as it will take longer to stop.

This is also more important in areas with road construction or other potential hazards. Even a minor road issue like a pothole, gravel or debris in the road, oil slicks, etc., can wreak havoc for a motorcyclist, while it may be only a simple inconvenience for a car driver. You should understand that small vehicles, especially those with two wheels, are more easily destabilized and toppled than cars. If you hit a pothole or run over some construction debris, you might slosh some coffee on your briefcase or car seat. But a motorcyclist could end up taking a serious spill from the same situation. Stay far back from small vehicles in these situations, and be ready to brake if needed.

Another common cause of motorcycle accidents? Cars rear-ending motorcycles. This usually happens because the car driver made an honest mistake in misjudging how fast the bike was going. Again, lengthening your following distance can help reduce the risk of this kind of rear-end accident.

Turn Down The Radio

Often motorcycles can be heard before they can be seen, which provides added protection in situations where they might not be seen in time. But if you’ve got the radio cranked up too loudly, you may miss this important clue. If you like to listen to the radio or podcasts, keep the volume at a reasonable level so you can still hear outside noises like the rumble of a motorcycle.

Take Extra Care in Rural Or Tourist-Popular Areas

You’re more likely to encounter small vehicles like golf carts, bicycles, or ATVs in these areas. Some tourist attractions rent out golf carts, and although they’re supposed to ensure the renter knows how to operate the cart safely, sometimes this doesn’t happen. You may come across an inexperienced golf cart driver who needs some extra room to maneuver.

In rural areas, there are often long stretches of roads without any marked intersections. These areas are also popular for riding ATVs or dirt bikes, and without any nearby intersections, riders who need to cross a road may do so wherever it’s convenient. Hopefully, they will look to see if traffic is coming first, but if not, or if they don’t see you, be vigilant and ready to brake if needed.

Follow Traffic Laws

These are designed to make everyone safer, including both you and people riding in small vehicles. Use your turn signals, obey traffic signs and signals, don’t drive while impaired, and yield the right-of-way as required by law. 

Good Vehicle Maintenance

Another way to prevent accidents is to keep up with maintaining your vehicle. A car that runs properly will serve you better in a situation where you might have to stop suddenly to avoid an accident with a small vehicle. Make sure your brakes, lights, turn signals, and other necessary car functions are checked periodically and attend to any issues. Tire treads should be checked every few months, and tires replaced when the tread gets too low. Cars with bald tires can’t stop as easily as those with full tread.

At Auger & Auger Accident and Injury Lawyers, we’re always available to offer a free consultation on motorcycle accidents, car accidents or other personal injury cases. If you’re not sure whether you have a case or not, this is a safe way to find out without any risk. We also work on a contingency basis and offer a “zero fee guarantee,” which means we won’t charge you anything if we don’t win your case. If you have questions or concerns about your motorcycle accident, please contact us today to learn more about your options for getting compensation. Call (800) 559-5741 or contact us online today.