Driving around motorcycles requires a different level of awareness
How confident are you when sharing the road with motorcycles? Drivers of cars and light trucks can make serious operating errors based on faulty perception of a motorcycle’s speed and its lower visual profile, handling strategy, and traffic dynamics. It’s a serious issue; there are about 5,000 fatal car/motorcycle crashes each year, and the driver of the car is at fault in about 60% of them. Lower your risk of being at fault in an accident that involves a motorcycle by keeping these five things in mind:
- Follow your state’s distracted driving laws. States that have — and enforce — bans on the use of cell phones and handheld devices while driving record about 11% fewer motorcycle traffic fatalities than do states without bans. Remember, a motorcycle is harder to see than other vehicles and may move in ways that are hard to anticipate, so even a few seconds’ inattention can be deadly. Keep your eyes on the road at all times.
- Double-check before changing lanes or pulling out. The visual habits you rely on when driving around other cars and trucks won’t serve you as well with motorcycles. In two-thirds of car/motorcycle crashes, drivers violated the motorcycle’s right of way — often because drivers simply did not see the motorcycle or accurately judge its speed and distance. In addition, motorcycles are also more apt to fit into a driver’s blind spot and can be harder to spot in low light or poor weather conditions.
- Don’t rely on a motorcycle’s brake lights to warn you when it is slowing down. Many motorcycle riders reduce speed by throttling back or downshifting rather than using brakes, meaning that the visual signals you rely on for cars and trucks don’t always apply. This is a particular hazard around highway exits, where drivers rely on brake lights to warn them when the vehicle in front is slowing down to turn off. It’s very easy to misjudge the speed of a motorcycle, so keep several car lengths between you and motorcycles in your lane.
- Treat turn signals with caution. Cars and light trucks have self-canceling turn signals that shut off the blinking indicator light automatically once the turn has been made. Most motorcycles don’t have that feature, so turn signals must be shut off manually. As any driver knows, it’s very easy to forget to do that. Stay back several vehicle lengths from motorcycles to give them room in case the rider has left on the turn signal accidentally.
- Be aware of road conditions. Motorcycles are much more vulnerable than cars and trucks to road surface hazards such as grooved pavement, potholes, loose gravel, and other issues. Leave plenty of room between your vehicle and the motorcycle riders trying to navigate hazardous surfaces as they may have to take fast evasive action or change their speed or lane position to stay upright.
Safe driving around motorcycles largely comes down to two issues: staying alert, so do more than a cursory check of your surroundings before you pull out or change lanes and leaving plenty of room between your vehicle and the motorcycle next to or in front of you.
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