Motorcycle awareness ... for all of us!

  • Published
  • By Rod Krause
  • 5th Bomb Wing Safety Office
Some time ago during one of my routine rides to work, I came across what most fellow riders fear the most, the sudden "Deer in the headlights stare" from an oncoming motorist realizing that they just ran a stop sign (of course while they were talking on their cell phone). Fortunately enough, even at my old age with quick thinking and lightning-fast reflexes, I was able to put my Motorcycle Safety Foundation Rider Coach skills to the test, and once again avoided what could have been a disastrous motorcycle mishap.

The majority of fellow riders know that it's the other motor vehicle operators (more and more SUV drivers) who are at fault in most collisions with motorcyclists. This is a reason why organizations, such as American Bikers Aiming Towards Education (ABATE), and the American Motorcycle Association (AMA), and other riders' rights organizations are fighting for increased penalties for motorists who violate our right-of-way.

A recent study conducted by the University of Southern California (USC) found that approximately three-fourths of motorcycle accidents involved a collision with another vehicle, usually a passenger automobile. It was also found that in the multiple vehicle accidents, the driver of the other vehicle violated the motorcycle right-of-way and caused the accident in two-thirds of those accidents. Furthermore the study by USC found that the failure of motorists to detect and recognize motorcycles in traffic is the predominating cause of motorcycle accidents. The driver of the other vehicle did not see the motorcycle before the collision, or did not see the motorcycle until too late to avoid the collision. Did you know that 40 percent of all accidents involving cars with motorcycles are caused by the car driver that has less than 6 months driving experience? Approximately 70 percent of all accidents are the fault of the car driver not seeing the motorcycle. Motorcycle riders often get an unjustified reputation as being reckless, risk takers, and that they generally disobey traffic laws. This perception is unfounded and there are many statistics that back up the fact that most motorcycle accidents are not the fault of the motorcycle rider, but that of another driver.

These findings go to show that the motorcycle rider has unjustly received a bad reputation from the general public as well as from insurance companies that cover motorcycle riders. Motorcycles are inherently prone to accidents caused by other drivers because of their small size. Motorcycles easily fit into the blind spot of typical passenger automobiles. The truth is that most motorcycle riders are very good drivers and keep an eye out for motorists who do not see them. This awareness of other drivers, however, does not prevent all accidents.

All drivers can help reduce crashes by paying close attention to the following:

Watch for Motorcycles! The majority of drivers involved in a mishap with a rider stated that they never saw the motorcycle; or when they did see it or the rider, it was too late (basically, they collided with each other). Drivers should expect to see motorcycles at any time and search aggressively for them. Remember that a motorcycle's headlight is on all the time -- this helps you see them during the day. A motorcycle can easily be hidden behind a car or truck; so it's particularly important to check your mirrors and blind spot before merging or changing lanes, especially in heavy traffic. Also, look for a helmet above, tires below, or a shadow alongside a vehicle that you can't see around. Make sure your view of the road is unobstructed by removing items hanging from a rearview mirror, or the mirror is completely covered by items such as a mini DVD player. Motorcycles are smaller than most cars and SUVs, which can make it difficult to accurately determine the speed of a motorcycle. Always leave adequate room when entering the roadway upon the approach of a motorcycle. Motorcycles are entitled to the same full lane as other vehicles. While it is legal for motorcycles to ride side-by-side, though not advisable, it is illegal for any other vehicle to share a lane with a motorcycle. Be aware that riders will change position within their lane to see and be seen, avoid surface hazards, and to prepare for a turn. Car drivers must never move into the same lane alongside a motorcycle.

For the riders, never assume that you have been seen and approach each intersection with great care. Choose a lane position that makes you most visible to any cars waiting to turn. Be aware of any drivers behind you who may not have time to stop if you have to brake suddenly. When approaching intersections, slow down and cover your brakes and clutch. Avoid flashing your high beam, and make sure your turn signals aren't blinking -- this can send other drivers the wrong message. Consider a short beep of your horn and try to make eye contact. Riding side-by-side reduces your space cushion and limits your escape routes, suggesting to other motorists that it's legal for them to share a lane with a motorcycle. When traveling with other motorcyclists, it is best to ride in a staggered formation, using both sides of the lane. When riding in a large group, leave gaps in the formation to allow other vehicles to pass or exit the freeway.

In closing, all of us can share the road and do it safely as long as the "Rules of the Road" are followed; we keep our eyes open for each other, and use common sense while operating any type of vehicle. Play it Safe, Keep it Smart, and remember ... Take a second and double check - motorcyclists are dying to be seen!

(Originally published in the Combat Edge, April 2009)