by Mike Wascak, Road Captain
From Motorcyclist Magazine - January 2015
Sharing the road with other drivers can really stink. They don't often take their driving seriously, which makes our goal of getting home in one piece much harder. Unfortunately, this trend is getting worse as drivers seem to devote more attention toward distracting electronics than looking outside; it's especially bad for motorcyclists.
This is the world in which we ride, meaning you have a decision to make. Are you willing to learn how to manage the risk of sharing the road with these numbskulls? If your answer is no, then you might consider taking up another activity or perhaps riding exclusively on the racetrack. If your answer is yes, then your best chance of survival is to use specific risk-reducing strategies.
Whether you know it or not, you already practice survival strategies. The question is if you're using these strategies effectively and consciously. Many riders do not. They ride along reacting to situations as they arise in a knee-jerk manner. Average riders can get away with this much of the time - that is until they become overwhelmed with a particularly hairy situation that requires rapid decisions and precise evasive maneuvers.
One of the differences between the average rider and truly proficient rider is how well-developed and conscious his or her survival strategies are. Another unique trait of skilled riders is that they treat difficult situations as a gratifying challenge. Riding home from work becomes a sort of game that pits rider against distracted or careless drivers.
Those who play this game well are Jedi Masters of situational awareness, able to look at any scenario in front of them and see what is unfolding well before there are any obvious clues. The first step to acquiring these mad survival skills is to have an intimate understanding of the situations that are most likely to cause harm.
The biggest of these is the failure of other drivers to see motorcycles among the visual cacophony typical of urban, suburban, or even rural settings. Knowing this, it is critical that you help drivers to see you. Way too many riders unknowingly hide from view and then wonder why drivers pull out in front of them. One of the most effective strategies for being seen in traffic is to choose lane positions that provide drivers the best chance of seeing you around surrounding cars and trucks. Scan the roadway and traffic patterns to identify the ideal lane position for the best angle of view for visibility. A simple change of position from the center to the left portion of your lane can be the difference between a driver recognizing your presence and a close call or collision.
Another key strategy for being seen is providing ample following distance between you and the vehicles ahead. Allowing at least a couple of seconds of following distance keeps you in plain sight. Wearing brightly colored riding gear can also help you stand out. You don't have to go all hi-viz to be conspicuous. A white or other brightly colored helmet and a jacket with contrasting colors are also effective. Be sure your gear has some retro-reflective material if you're planning to ride past sundown.
Even with excellent lane positioning and visibility measures in place, sometimes drivers still fail to see us. This means we must be on high alert whenever other roadway users are near. Watch for head movements inside cars and observe drivers' mirrors for clues that suggest lane change, since not everyone uses turn signals. This is especially important when approaching intersections of any kind.
Around this point in the discussion the "loud pipes" contingent chimes in. Sure, loud exhaust noise can alert drivers that a motorcycle is in the vicinity, but it does not tell them exactly where the noise is coming from. Also, drivers are more likely to act on what they see and not so much on what they hear. This is why it's better to use strategies for being seen rather than relying on being heard.
Instead of griping about having to ride among the soccer moms and commuters, learn to accept that managing traffic is an integral part of riding a motorcycle. Use strategies for being seen and learn to play the game well. You'll be safer while also having more fun. Are you game?