Motorcycle riders frequently enjoy riding in groups or clubs in addition to riding alone. Club, pack, or group riding affords riders the opportunity to make new friends, share experiences, and achieve a sense of belonging. It can also add an extra level of excitement to riding that is not present when bikers ride solo. Organized group riding events may revolve around established club activities, charity events, or even funerals. Whether a group consists of hundreds of riders or just a few, this form of riding also entails certain risks of injury and liability in addition to its advantages.

risks benefits motorcycleThough some riders may feel a false sense of protection on the road when surrounded by fellow bikers, pack or group riding can involve added accident and injury risks over and above those present when bikers are riding alone. Safe group riding requires, among other things, knowledge and proper use of group-riding hand signals, compliance with traffic laws and rules of the road, and bike-riding skill. A single error by one forward-riding group member can cause a chain collision involving every rider behind. The malfunction of a defective or poorly maintained bike can wreak similar disaster on a group. Smart pack riding requires organization, a planned route, a seasoned group leader (or co-leaders), and prior communication among members regarding group rules, formations to be used, hand signals, other safety tips, and emergency procedures. Some clubs or groups may ask that prospective riders’ motorcycles be inspected for safety prior to a ride and that riders demonstrate adequate riding experience.

Though such planning and preparation may be the ideal, in reality, most large groups of motorcycle riders consist of riders who are unknown to each other, who have widely divergent levels of riding skill and experience, and who have engaged in little or no communication beforehand. These issues create extra safety risks for group riders and, at the same time, increase riders’ exposure to liability for accidents and injuries they may cause.

Group-riding Formations

Group-riding formations are an integral part of safe pack riding and should be discussed and agreed upon before a group begins a ride. In addition to free-for-all (which is the least predictable and, by definition, the least controlled), staggered, side-by-side, and single-file formations are most commonly used. The safest formation for a particular ride may depend on the number of riders, the chosen route, and road conditions, among other factors. Staggered formations are created by having one rider on the left side of a lane, the rider behind the first on the right side of that lane, and the third rider behind the second and on the left side of the lane—and so on. Staggered, and side-by-side formations (in which riders are positioned parallel to each other in a single lane), should only be used on roads or highways broad enough to accommodate them and only when traffic conditions and laws allow. Group riding on narrow, single-lane, or winding roads is more safely executed in a single-file formation, with each rider following directly behind another.

Safe Following and Side-by-side Distances

Group riders also need to be aware of the distances between the bikes in front of and behind them. Bikers who ride too close to the bikers in front of them often cause group-riding accidents when forward-riding bikers encounter road debris, lose control, or are forced to brake without warning. One of the unique risks of riding in a pack (particularly if you are riding in the middle of the group) is the inability to see traffic and road conditions ahead of you or to control the bike-to-bike distance allowed by the driver behind you.

Riding too close, in a side-by-side formation, to the biker beside you may also increase the risk of injury-causing accidents. Curves taken too widely by one biker, for instance, can easily result in a sideswipe with a close adjacent bike or the forcing of the adjacent bike off the road, into another vehicle, or into a guardrail or other stationary object.

Hand Signals for Group Rides

Group riders commonly employ hand signals designed to increase group-riding safety. Hand signals to indicate intended lane changes, left or right turns, and to warn other riders of debris or other dangerous conditions in the road ahead are among the signals most important to biker safety. Group leaders are well-advised to review hand signals with group members before a ride and to instruct members to watch for other riders’ signals at all times.

Liability for Group-Ride Accident Injuries and Deaths

Motor-vehicle drivers may be found legally responsible for injuries and deaths caused to bikers riding in a group to the same extent, and for the same reasons, they may be found liable for injuries sustained by motorcyclists who were riding solo. Failing to give bikers the right of way, moving into lanes already occupied by bikers, and failing to keep a lookout for motorcycles are acts of driver negligence that can lead to motorcycle-accident injuries and deaths in both solo and group-riding situations. Drivers who become belligerent upon encountering motorcycle groups and who, for example, move too quickly around them in an attempt to escape them may also be found liable for bikers’ resulting injuries or deaths.

In addition, motorcyclists who are part of a riding group may be found liable for other cyclists’ negligently caused accident injuries and deaths. Motorcyclists have a duty, at all times while riding, to exercise reasonable care for the safety of other motorcyclists, motorcycle passengers, and other vehicle occupants. The breach of this duty of care is considered negligence under the law and may result in a motorcyclist’s liability for accident injuries and deaths determined to have been caused by the biker’s negligence.

A motorcyclist who is riding too close to the bike just ahead, for example, may be found liable for injuries and deaths caused by the motorcyclist’s collision with the bike ahead or by another accident caused by the motorcyclist’s attempt to avoid such a collision. The motorcyclist may be found liable not only for the injury or death of a rider with whom the motorcyclist collides, but also for the injuries and/or deaths of other riders who have been hurt in consequence of the initial collision.

In addition to riding too close to other bikers, any other incidence of rider negligence that is found to have been a cause of another biker’s injury or death may lead to a group rider’s liability. The failure to use proper hand signals, not watching for or responding to other bikers’ signals, violation of speed limits, riding at excessive speeds for road conditions, creating an unsafe formation for road conditions and route, cutting off another cyclist while making a wide turn, and crowding other cyclists into each other or other traffic are just a few of the many ways in which a pack-riding biker may breach the duty of care owed to other bikers.

The camaraderie and shared pleasure of group motorcycle riding is countered, to some extent, by the increased risk of injury and liability from group-riding accidents. Our national team of motorcycle-injury lawyers has extensive experience with motorcycle-accident cases, including those arising out of injuries and deaths caused by motorcyclist or driver negligence in group-riding situations. We work with the best experts in the field to determine the cause or causes of your group-riding accident, the nature and extent of your injuries, and the damages to which you are entitled. Our respected team of motorcycle-injury lawyers and paralegals is ready to fight for the justice you deserve from any driver who has negligently caused your injury or loved one’s death, whether that driver was operating a motorcycle or another type of motor vehicle.