Do Riders Make Better Drivers?

  • Published
  • By Brian Sapp
  • 27th Special Operations Wing
It has long been a theory of mine that motorcycle riders make better automobile drivers. I think as motorcyclists gain the knowledge for what keeps them safe on bikes, they tend to use that same information while driving automobiles. Why do I bring this up? Let me set the scenario for you.

One afternoon I was riding my motorcycle out the base gate and following a little red car onto the highway. As the driver of the car and I traveled eastbound on the highway and approached my turn off, we both must have seen the same thing -- eastbound cars exiting onto an adjoining freeway as well as other cars coming off the freeway and merging onto the highway's eastbound right lane.

The driver of the red car and I both took all of this into account and appropriately turned on our left turn signals and moved to the left lane as we approached the intersection. I didn't give much thought to the SUV that was heading westbound on the highway and
entering the left-turn lane to cross the eastbound lanes in front of us and head south, other than to just mentally note that it was there. There were cars everywhere at the intersection. The thought of the SUV's driver just whipping right across the eastbound lanes without slowing or even looking to see if there were any eastbound vehicles didn't even cross my mind. But that's exactly what the driver did and pulled right in front of the little red car I was following.

The red car immediately braked, made a defensive swerve and somehow managed to avoid a head-on collision at 55 mph. I still haven't figured out how he missed the front of the SUV. The SUV caught him in the driver-side-rear door and rear fender, leaving a nice
impression of the SUV bumper down the back half of the car. The car bumped over a little, came back to the inside lane and slowed down as the SUV continued across the intersection and stopped. As all of this happened right in front of me, all I could do was react by braking hard (yep, I locked 'em up), downshifting, swerving and trying to miss the red car and the SUV as I passed between them.

I managed to pull over on the right shoulder of the highway. The car pulled over to the shoulder behind me. I was pretty shaken up so I let the driver check on the occupants in the SUV.

As I stood there trying to lower my adrenaline level, the driver of the red car came back and said the two occupants in the SUV were OK but the front end of their vehicle was busted up. We started talking about what had happened as we waited for the sheriff to arrive and take our statements.

The driver of the red car was an active-duty Airman who also happened to be a motorcycle rider. He said that he'd seen me behind him as we left the base and knew I
was still back there. As the accident happened, the only thing he could think about was, "Where is the bike?" He consciously thought about that as his rider/driver skills took over subconsciously and did the driving for him.

Why is this so important to me? His motorcycle instincts are what made him swerve back to the inside lane giving me an escape route. Sounds simple, right? He was doing what he always does on a bike by taking into account not only what's in front of him, but also what's next to and behind him. If he had gone left, I would've plowed right into him and been in a world of hurt.

As you drive -- or ride, maintain your awareness of what's going on around you, not just what's in front of you. When I give motorcycle safety briefings, I tell riders to expect every vehicle to pull out in front of them. That afternoon I wasn't practicing what I preach. I saw
the SUV but didn't give it much thought. I'm glad the driver in the red car did!

To my fellow rider driving the little red car, I can't thank you enough. My hands stopped shaking about three hours after the accident. I'm glad no one was hurt and we were all able to drive away, although I'm not sure how far the SUV got with a busted radiator. Thanks for thinking of me on the bike, and I hope all is well with your car. Let me know the next time you're up for a ride, I'll ride with you anytime!

Keep the shiny side up!
(This article first appeared in Wingman, Spring 2011)