SHARING THE ROAD WITH MOTORCYCLES
In recent years, it has seemed as if most vehicle crash statistics have gone down each year while the number of crashes involving motorcycles has increased every year. Perhaps that trend is starting to reverse. Motorcycle crash fatalities and injuries increased from 2015 to 2016, but then decreased going into 2017.
The NHTSA publication “Traffic Safety Facts: Motorcycles” — published in August 2019 — contains statistics through 2017.
There are two aspects to motorcycle safety:
- what drivers need to know and do to avoid crashes, and
- what motorcyclists need to know and do.
We’ll leave training motorcyclists to another blog post.
Right now, let's talk about what drivers need to know about motorcycles and how they need to drive around them to avoid crashes.
SHARING THE ROAD WITH MOTORCYCLES:
WHAT DRIVERS NEED TO KNOW
Much less safe
Cars have a roll cages, safety belts, and air bags. Motorcycles don’t have any of that. Many motorcyclists don’t even helmets. Any crash between a vehicle and a motorcycle is likely to do far more damage to the motorcyclist.
Subject to the same laws
Drivers and motorcyclists are all required to obey the same laws about speed limits, changing lanes, intersections, turning corners, and everything else. In some states it’s legal for motorcyclists to drive between lanes, but Texas is not one of them.
A motorcycle’s smaller size
Motorcyclists have less visibility to the rear and sides than cars, especially if the rider is wearing a helmet. And they have a much harder time seeing in rainy weather: helmets don’t have wipers on them.
Harder for drivers to spot
A motorcycle’s smaller size makes them harder to spot and more easily blocked from view by other vehicles. And over time our eyes and brains get subconsciously trained to look for certain sizes and shapes in traffic, so we’re often likely to look at a motorcycle – or bicycle or pedestrian – without really seeing them.
Closer and faster than you think
A motorcycle’s smaller size often makes it difficult to judge how close it is or how fast it’s going.
Motorcycles make sharper turns and can accelerate and stop more quickly than four-wheel vehicles. A following distance behind a car that lets you stop without hitting it won’t work when you’re following a motorcycle: it will stop quicker and you’ll run over it before you can stop.
Balance is an issue
Generally speaking, cars do not just fall over, but a motorcycle will. Motorcyclists are trained how to handle this, but that doesn’t mean their passengers are. A passenger leaning the wrong way around a corner can throw a motorcycle off balance. This is another good reason to back off and give a motorcycle more space.
Road surface is more of a danger
Expect motorcycles to move around more within their lane than a four-wheeled vehicle. Cars can usually just roll over small things like potholes, puddles, or bits of trash. But those same things can cause a motorcycle to skid or fall, so riders have to move around to avoid them.
Finally, good motorcyclists hate the bad ones as much as the rest of us do.
There are a few motorcyclists whose bad driving gives all motorcyclists a bad reputation. These are the ones you sometimes see racing along highways, weaving in and out of lanes or riding on one wheel. Treat them just like all the other dangerous jerks on the road: keep your distance, keep your ego out of is, let them go ahead, and cuss them under your breath if you want.
THE MOST DANGEROUS SITUATIONS FOR MOTORCYCLES
Just as there are times when driving is more dangerous for cars, some situations are more dangerous for motorcycles.
If you find yourself driving in any of the conditions described below, back off from any motorcycles near you. Give them the room and the time to keep themselves safe.
- Cars crossing a motorcycle’s path to turn left. 40% of all motorcycle crashes occur at intersections, and 66% of those involve a car turning left in front of a motorcycle.
- Driving in another vehicle’s blind spot
- Being blocked from view by a larger vehicle. Motorcycles can be hidden by another vehicle much more easily than a car, pickup, or SUV, which can sometimes make it seem like “he came out of nowhere!”
- Strong winds, including gusts from passing trucks or vans. A wind that can push a car toward the next lane could push a motorcycle into the next lane.
- Hazardous road conditions, like potholes, loose surfaces like gravel or sand, standing water, changes in surfaces height like seams or railroad crossings.
HOW TO DRIVE AROUND MOTORCYCLES
Remember that a motorcyclist has as much right to the road as you do. Let them have the full width of the lane and don’t crowd them.
Give them 4 to 6 seconds following distance, because their braking distance is much shorter than yours. Back off even more when road conditions are bad or when the weather is wet or windy.
Purposely look for motorcycles
Now, while you’re still a new driver without years of conditioning, train yourself to look for motorcycles – and bicycles and pedestrians – when you look at surrounding traffic.
- Look twice in each direction and check your blind spots twice before moving. Do this especially when turning left at an intersection. This will prevent your being surprised by a motorcycles suddenly “appearing” from behind some truck or fan.
- Instead of glancing in each mirror and each direction for a fraction of a second, make it a habit to let your eyes linger for two or three times as long. With a quick glance you might not see a motorcycle, but if your eyes linger long enough for it to move, your brain will register the movement.
- Just like with all other vehicles, keep your safety space clear. Don’t drive directly beside a motorcycle or with one in your blind spot. Speed up or slow down to adjust your relative locations.
Signal your intentions
Signal that you’re about to turn or change lanes at least four seconds before you make a move. This will let other drivers know your intentions and prepare to deal with them. Because motorcycles are more at risk in a crash, this is even more important when driving near them.
And get into the habit of signaling even when you don’t see other vehicles coming. It’s the vehicles that you don’t see coming – including motorcycles – that are the biggest risk to you.
With more and more people taking to the road on a motorcycle, knowing how to safely drive among them becomes more and more important.
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