Back in my early days of riding, someone once told me “just assume you’re invisible to cars”, and that advice has saved my bacon on numerous occasions. Hell For Leather recently published the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s “Ten Things All Car & Truck Drivers Should Know About Motorcycles”, and it’s worth reprinting here for both car drivers (“cagers”, in motorcycle speak) and motorcycle riders. It wouldn’t be a RideLust piece unless I added my own commentary, so I’m going to cite the MSF text in italics, with my own advice in regular type. It should be enough to say, “don’t drive or ride with your head up your ass”, but sadly that’s not the case. Here’s what the MSF, and yours truly, has to say on the issue:
1) 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).
I’ll just parrot the advice that was given to me years ago – make yourself as noticeable as possible, and always assume that drivers don’t see you. I ride with my high beam on during daylight hours, and always try to make eye contact with oncoming drivers. If I see that they’re not paying attention, I always anticipate the most bone-headed move possible.
2) 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). Take an extra moment to look for motorcycles, whether you’re changing lanes or turning at intersections.
Never ride in a driver’s blind spot for longer than you have to, even if you’re riding a Harley with open pipes. I’m a big fan of assertive riding, because it gets you noticed. Does that occasionally piss off drivers? Sure, but it’s kept me in one piece on two wheels for a lot of years.
3) 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 at an intersection or into (or out of) a driveway, predict a motorcycle is closer than it looks.
Again, always assume the oncoming car doesn’t see you. Cover your front brake, but be equally prepared to countersteer and roll on the throttle. If you see a cell phone glued to the driver’s ear, you can be almost certain you’re invisible to them.
4) 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.
If you’re in traffic, don’t do this unless you flash your brake lights. Since most of a bike’s stopping power comes from the front brakes, I use my rear brake to activate my brake light when slowing. Gentle pressure is the rule of thumb here – you’re not braking with your rear wheel, just gently dragging the rear brake to give cagers behind you a heads up.
5) 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.
If you’re being crowded by a car, use the bike’s advantage to your benefit. A quick roll-on of the throttle will leave Mr. Not Paying Attention To Lane Discipline in your rear view mirror. I’d rather explain to a cop why I was riding 95 miles per hour, than have a cop explain to the missus that she needs to come claim my body.
6) 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. Make sure a motorcycle’s signal is for real.
What can say here, other than if you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem? Turn your signals off when you’ve merged or completed a turn.
7) 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.
Add to that, “especially if they’ve never had formal rider training”. How many riders practice countersteering (pull right, go left) on a regular basis? How about riding a slalom course or figure 8? If you’ve never had formal rider training, I’d strongly encourage you to sign up for an MSF class as soon as you can.
8) 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 it can’t always stop “on a dime.”
On a bike, never allow yourself to be tailgated. Speed up, slow dow, change lanes or pass cars on the shoulder if you have to. You will not win a match against an inattentive or potentially psychotic driver in a car.
9) 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.
Um, yeah. That’s great advice, that’s liable to escape a driver’s mind just as soon as they get a phone call. With the exception of sociopaths and serial killers, no one generally wants to kill another human being, but fatal accidents happen every single day.
10) If a driver crashes into a motorcyclist, bicyclist, or pedestrian and causes serious injury, the driver would likely never forgive himself/herself.
Guilt aside, the driver would also need to prepare for years worth of protracted litigation, but that still won’t change a driver’s ingrained behavior. As a rider, it’s your responsibility to stay safe, because no one is going to watch out for your safety as much as you will.