Top 10 Things Car and Truck Drivers Should Know about Motorcycle Riders
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation says that there are four deadly words that are repeated over and over by car and truck drivers who accidentally hit motorcyclists: “I didn’t see him.” Often, that turns into a blame game: “The motorcyclist was in my blind spot.” “He was going too fast.” “He wasn’t obeying traffic laws.” In my experience, many of the motorcyclists I represent know all too well how dangerous it can be to ride Denver’s streets as many car and truck drivers aren’t sure how to safely share the road with motorcycle riders, so they have to take extraordinary measures to be seen.
When you shut down your awareness of them you become blind to riders.
For example, did you know that when you see a motorcyclist swerving from right to left in their lane it’s often because they’re trying to be certain the person in front of them can see them through their rearview and sideview mirrors? Did you know that motorcyclists stop to the right of your back bumper to avoid being crushed between cars if the car behind them doesn’t stop in time?
Ditch Your Stereotypes of Motorcyclists
Yes, we have all seen the motorcycle riders who are clearly playing loose with the law (and with their lives) and it’s easy to stereotype “all riders” based on a few bad bikers. But that mindset could rapidly turn into blindness.
What do I mean by blindness? When you categorize an entire type of people (motorcycle riders) as “idiots” or “reckless,” then you shut down your concern for them. And then you shut down your awareness of them: you become blind to riders. And then bad things happen when you’re still required to share the road with motorcycle riders.
One of my good friends recently decided to buy a motorcycle because her kids are now teenagers and driving themselves around. She wanted a more economical way to get to and from work. This woman is a computer scientist at a large tech company, mother, wife, neighbor, philanthropist, community volunteer, gardener, friend and daughter. Sort of blows up all your stereotypes of “typical motorcycle riders,” right? What if you hit this woman because you aren’t watching for motorcycles on the road?
So, I’d like to share the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s list of “Ten Things All Car and Truck Drivers Should Know About Motorcycles.”
- Over half of all fatal motorcycle crashes involve another vehicle. Most of the time, the motorist, not the motorcyclist, is at fault. There are a lot more cars and trucks than motorcycles on the road, and some drivers don’t “recognize” a motorcycle – they ignore it (usually unintentionally).
- Because of its small size, a motorcycle can be easily hidden in a car’s blind spots (door/roof pillars) or masked by objects or backgrounds outside a car (bushes, fences, bridges, etc). When you need to share the road with motorcycle riders, take an extra moment to look for motorcycles, whether you’re changing lanes or turning at intersections.
- Because of its small size, a motorcycle may look farther away than it is. It may also be difficult to judge a motorcycle’s speed. When checking traffic to turn left at an intersection or into (or out of) a driveway, predict a motorcycle is closer than it looks.
- Motorcyclists often slow by downshifting or merely rolling off the throttle, thus not activating the brake light. Allow more following distance, say 3 or 4 seconds. At intersections, predict a motorcyclist may slow down without visual warning.
- Motorcyclists often adjust position within a lane to be seen more easily and to minimize the effects of road debris, passing vehicles, and wind. Understand that motorcyclists adjust lane position for a purpose, not to be reckless or show off or to allow you to share the lane with them. (Always give a motorcyclist the entire lane.)
- Turn signals on a motorcycle usually are not self-canceling, thus some riders (especially beginners) sometimes forget to turn them off after a turn or lane change. Even experienced riders can forget to shut off a signal from time-to-time.
- Maneuverability is one of a motorcycle’s better characteristics, especially at slower speeds and with good road conditions, but don’t expect a motorcyclist to always be able to dodge out of the way.
- Stopping distance for motorcycles is nearly the same as for cars, but slippery pavement makes stopping quickly difficult. Allow more following distance behind a motorcycle because you can’t always stop “on a dime.”
- When a motorcycle is in motion, see more than the motorcycle – see the person under the helmet, who could be your friend, neighbor, or relative.
- If you crash into a motorcyclist, bicyclist, or pedestrian and cause serious injury, your life will also be changed. Could you ever forgive yourself?
A Word About Impatience and Frustration
We are all in such a hurry to get from point A to point B. (We even tailgate and get impatient when we’re looking at Colorado’s fall colors!) How many times in the last month have you hollered out loud in your car because of frustrations on the road? How many times have you pleaded (in your mind or out loud) for the “slow-poke” in front of you to get out of your way (possibly changing lanes to zoom around and cut them off)? How many times have you hit the gas to make a left turn on a yellow or red light, cutting across oncoming traffic?
This impatience and frustration can kill motorcyclists and scooter riders.
I recommend that you watch this video from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s website. You’ll probably relate to at least one of the people in the video. (The busy mom hit way too close for home with all of the driving that my busy family does. I recognized her feelings of frustration and distraction.)
The video also brings up another reason that you need to be extra cautious when taking a left turn in front of oncoming traffic: Your passenger is the target that will take a direct hit from oncoming motorcyclists and cars. If you won’t calm down for your own safety or for the safety of other drivers and riders on the road, then at least try to calm down for the safety of the loved ones you’ve got in your own car.
When you’ve seen as many victims of tragic accidents as I have, I can tell you that I look twice every time I signal a change in my driving. And if I’m sitting at an intersection to make a left-hand turn, I never gun it to race through a red or yellow light. It’s just not worth it.
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