So, you’re driving along a city street and there’s a motorcycle behind you. If you’re like me, you become hyper-aware of that motorcyclist, knowing that you need to be as predictable as possible, keep him in your rearview mirrors, and look twice every time you make a move in order to better interpret the motorcycle behavior.
But then you come to a stop and that guy pulls up on the right – almost next to your back, right tire – and you’re thinking, “What is he doing?!” He may even be in your blind spot. Why didn’t he stop squarely behind you so that you can see him?
I’m sure that it can seem like he’s just messing around, playing loose with road laws, and generally being difficult. But what if he’s being safe?
Before you read any more, you need to watch this terrifying video.
The action unfolds like this:
- The motorcyclist is trailing a car at a very safe distance.
- When the car slows, the motorcyclist slows down.
- Then, there is a slowing of traffic for a reason we can’t entirely see and the oncoming traffic to the left is at a stop. (Did you notice the truck veering across the yellow lines to attempt to pass the car in front of him? He nearly hits our biker.)
- Suddenly, the car in front slows to a stop and the motorcyclist pulls to the right, probably in the car’s blind spot.
- Up ahead you can see two more bikers pulled to the right.
- What happens next is so sudden and shocking that you’ll probably have to watch it a couple of times like I did.
Can you imagine if that biker was right in line with the car in front of him? He’d be dead. And the other riders up ahead would be severely injured. In this case, the motorcycle behavior likely saved their life.
Motorcycle crashes make up 15 percent of traffic fatalities even though motorcycles only make up 3 percent of the total vehicles on the road.
Now, for those who aren’t regular bikers, you might think, “Yeah, but that’s a freak accident. There’s no need for bikers to always pull to the right because that kind of accident is so rare.”
It’s not rare. In fact, it’s becoming more common in Denver as our streets become more congested and drivers become angrier. However, the most common motorcycle-versus-car accident is when drivers make a left-hand turn across oncoming traffic and plow right into a biker who has no time to react.
In the first five months of 2017, my friends at BikerDown received 42 calls for assistance from motorcyclists who were hit by drivers. An alarming number of those bikers were hit by cars making left-hand turns right into them and several of those bikers lost their legs.
Laurie Easton-Montoya, founder of BikerDown, told me, “If a biker is riding legally and calmly down a road and a car makes a left-hand turn right into him, what options does he have? Or if he’s sitting at a stop light and a car runs right into the back of him, what are his options? None. Even at 15 miles per hour, the biker will sustain significant damage to his bike and body.”
Drivers Need to Look Twice for Motorcyclists
Sometimes it can seem like motorcyclists “aren’t behaving.” And because we’ve all seen a motorcyclist pull stunt moves in crazy traffic, we tend to assume that any behavior that seems different is more of the same: unsafe road jockeys trying to play around with their bikes. (For the record: you also see a TON of bad auto driving behaviors and you don’t assume that all car drivers are road jockeys, right? Let’s stop stereotyping motorcyclists, shall we?)
Here’s another example of motorcyclist behavior that can seem distracting and unsafe: when a motorcyclist seems to be swerving left and right while in a line of cars moving forward. I know it can seem like he’s horsing around, but he may simply be trying to assure that he isn’t in someone’s blind spot.
I’m convinced that 99% of car drivers out there aren’t “hunting” for motorcyclists to mow down. But to motorcyclists, it can often feel that way. Talk to any motorcycle rider and he or she can tell you horror stories about near-misses, horrible accidents, and buddies who lost their lives in motorcycle-versus-car accidents.
Motorcycle Behavior: Dodging road debris looks like playtime but is really critical.
As auto drivers, we have a responsibility to stay alert when motorcyclists are around us. Here are a few more examples of ways that you can honor motorcyclists on the road and keep them safe:
- When you see a single headlight or two headlights close together: Slow down and take your time. Look twice!
- Give the motorcycle in front of you plenty of room. It’s hard to tell when a motorcyclist is applying the brakes because their taillights are always on.
- Don’t panic when they swerve within their lane: If a motorcyclist moves close to the center line, it could be because he or she is making sure they can be seen by the driver in front of them. They’re avoiding a blind spot. They might also be avoiding slick oil buildup that can occur in the center of a lane or even dodging small road debris that doesn’t affect a 4-wheeled vehicle.
- Change lanes cautiously: Make absolutely certain there’s no one in your blind spot.
- Left-hand turns can be killers! If you’re turning left in front of oncoming traffic, give yourself a ton of room before turning. And look twice!
- Use your turn signals: You should always communicate your plans to other drivers, but this is particularly important around motorcyclists. Signal to indicate your turns and drive predictably.
The Department of Transportation estimates that motorcycle crashes make up 15 percent of traffic fatalities even though motorcycles only make up three percent of the total vehicles on the road. Roughly half of those crashes involve collisions with another vehicle. In my experience as a Denver motorcycle attorney, most motorcyclists out there are trying to ride safely but they are very vulnerable on those bikes. Literally, every month, I meet a motorcyclist who was injured by a driver who says, “I didn’t see him!” But that isn’t the motorcyclist’s fault; it’s the driver’s.
If you’re confused by a motorcyclist’s behavior, do your best to remain predictable. Always signal your intentions, stay within the speed limit, don’t slam on your brakes, don’t tailgate (they can stop a LOT faster than you can!), and always, always look twice before turning.
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