I had reached a certain age; grown the requisite over-sized waistline (I’m being kind to myself) and now sported a graying beard. Like tens of thousands before me sharing these similar traits, I purchased my first motorcycle. Go figure! And I have to say I’m enjoying the heck out of my weekend rides.
Recently, I took a Sunday ride into Lancaster County, Pennsylvania which has a significant Amish population. Passing their meticulously maintained farms I noticed as young men busily hitched up horses and buggies to take their dates out for an afternoon ride. It seemed like a wonderful rite of passage as theses couples sat quietly looking forward, sharing the beauty of their surroundings and probably considering their future possibilities together. It actually made me reflect a bit about the good things that have occurred in my life and how simple things are often the most valuable. Experiences like this out in the fresh air are certainly one of the things I enjoy most about riding a motorcycle.
And, of course as a motorcyclist dedicated to road safety, I take one or two advanced safety courses almost every year and look forward to being trained by some of the top two-wheel safety professionals in America. So, why I am telling you all this?
May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month. While many drivers may be subject to the antics of certain motorcyclists, by far most of the people who ride motorcycles are just like you and me, average Joes and Janes who enjoy their hobby and are mindful and respectful of everyone’s safety on the road. And because we need to share the road with all types of vehicles I want to offer several techniques to help create greater awareness of the particular hazards that may be encountered when on the road with motorcyclists.
Smart, safe drivers are always aware of locations and movements of the other vehicles with which they share the road. However, for many drivers, motorcycles do present a special challenge. It is important to realize that each of our brains is programmed to see what it expects to see—typically that is standard to large size vehicles. As a result, drivers regularly fail to spot a motorcycle until it is right upon them even though it is clearly located in their field of vision. This is especially true at intersections.
Eliminate Blind Spots: In addition, a motorcycle’s small profile can easily disappear in a driver’s blind spot. To avoid this problem—eliminate your blind spots. There is no reason to have them. Typically, everyone does a good job of properly adjusting the rearview mirror but, in most cases, the side-view mirrors, which are designed to see objects to the side of the vehicle, are adjusted too far inward. When this is the case, you end up looking at the vehicle itself, rather than at the road and other vehicles, creating unnecessary blind spots.
Look Farther Ahead and Scan: Always look farther ahead and regularly scan your mirrors so you have more time to see and identify what is around you. Do not allow your brain to go on auto pilot and blend critical traffic details into generic, meaningless information. Motorcycle season or not, this scanning method should be used every time you are behind the wheel. It will make a huge difference in keeping you and those around you safe.
Signal Intentions Early: This next point addresses a pet peeve of mine—waiting until the last second to signal your intentions. According to a study by the University of Southern California, a leading contributor of motorcycle crashes is the failure of drivers to provide timely turn signal notifications. A high percentage of these crashes occur when other drivers provide less than two seconds notice of their intentions. It is necessary to give everyone around you enough time to increase their space cushion and coordinate their own maneuvers with yours.
Share the Road: While motorcycle riders are equally responsible for their own safety, their small visual footprint and vehicle limitations do require additional safety considerations by their fellow drivers. The smaller size of a motorcycle does not mean a smaller safety zone is adequate. Give motorcycles the same space you would any other vehicle. The importance of building space and increasing available reaction time between yourself and a motorcycle is a critically important. By using these “visual recognition” and “road sharing” techniques in your everyday driving, you will be a safer driver under all driving conditions and circumstances.