By Dan Cooper
Motorcycles can be thrilling to ride, or more modestly, simply seen as inexpensive transportation. In an age where fuel costs could increase, cheap transportation can attract inexperienced riders. It is important that drivers of larger vehicles be proactive in protecting the safety of all motorcyclists. But, remember, safely sharing the road is everyone's responsibility.
Be observant, plan ahead, think "VSV"
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation tells us that more than half of all fatal motorcycle accidents involve a second vehicle. Part of preventing these accidents involves being observant, but another part is simply planning ahead. Planning for emergency actions behind the wheel can help prevent accidents. To share the roadway more safely with motorcycles as the driver of a car, truck or SUV, think "VSV" – Vulnerability, Spacing and Visibility.
A motorcycle is inherently more dangerous than a car due to far less protection surrounding the rider. Other than a helmet and clothing, a motorcyclist has no protective barrier – the chance of serious or fatal injury is increased accordingly.
Experienced motorcyclists have learned to practice defensive motorcycle driving or try "driving for the other guy." They anticipate dangerous actions on the part of motorists out of a sense of self-preservation. They really have little choice, and inexperienced riders sometimes learn this lesson the hard way. Unfortunately, some die learning it. With no fenders to speak of, motorcycles do not have "fender benders."
A motorcycle is entitled to the entire width of a traffic lane, not just part of it because it is a smaller vehicle. Road conditions frequently force motorcyclists to weave within their traffic lane. Remember that bikers adjust their lane position from side to side for a reason. Stay alert for whatever that reason may have been.
Following a motorcycle requires a driver's full attention. Not only are motorcycles far more maneuverable side to side, but they can stop more quickly, too. And frequently, riders reduce their speed by downshifting, where no brake light is activated. Try to maintain a three- to four-second following distance to avoid problems with reaction time.
When approaching intersections, give a little extra space if possible when following a motorcycle. You never know when a biker is going to have to stop quickly to avoid a crash. And make the extra effort to actively look for motorcycles at intersections, especially if you are turning across a traffic lane.
Also, please remember that a motorcycle's exceptional maneuverability is heavily compromised in bad weather conditions. Riders avoid many accidents by virtue of a motorcycle's excellent handling characteristics. But a wet or snowy pavement takes most of that advantage away.
VisibilityThe ultimate problem for proper spacing is created by blind spots. Almost all vehicles have at least one blind spot that is not covered by mirrors or the driver's direct field of vision. Experienced motorcyclists know not to ride in obvious blind spots, but not all riders are equally experienced.
And with motorcycles, reduced visibility is a problem even outside of blind spots. Due to its smaller size, a motorcycle's speed can be misjudged, and it can appear to be farther away than it really is. That is, if the driver sees the motorcycle at all. Drivers of larger vehicles are often conditioned to look for cars and trucks due to their prevalence, meaning the physically much smaller motorcycles can easily be missed in a quick glance for oncoming traffic. Most accidents involving a motorcycle and a larger vehicle are the result of the larger vehicle's driver failing to yield the right of way, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). And the NHTSA notes that one of the most common scenarios for these kinds of accidents is when a driver turns across the path of an oncoming motorcycle.
Of course, motorcyclists also share responsibility for obeying traffic laws. Unsafe riding practices can produce ugly consequences, especially since a bike is so much harder to see in traffic. That’s why "driving for the other guy" is often a skill learned out of necessity for a motorcyclist, but it’s a good practice to emulate behind the wheel of your car, too. It’s a welcome habit that can save lives, including your own. Whenever you’re driving, it’s best to keep an eye out for everything – things with 18 wheels, four wheels, two wheels and no wheels. In addition to cars and motorcycles, you need to be alert for bicyclists and skateboarders that jump off sidewalks and pedestrians focused on their phones. Sharing the roadways responsibly is a policy worth practicing every time you’re out on the road.
Dan Cooper is an award-winning writer with more than 35 years experience. He specializes in automotive content and is based in Kerrville, Texas.