In crashes with motorcyclists, car drivers often say that they never saw the motorcycle. It’s hard to see something you’re not looking for, and most drivers are not looking for motorcycles. Also, from ahead or from behind, a motorcycle’s outline is much smaller than a car.
Even if a driver sees you coming, you aren’t necessarily safe. Because you and your bike are smaller than other vehicles, it’s easier for others to mistake your distance and speed. However, you can do a lot to make it easier for others to see you and your cycle.
Most crashes occur in broad daylight. If you don’t wear bright clothing, you double your risk of not being seen during the day. Remember, your body is half of the visible surface area of the rider/cycle unit.
Clothing that helps you be seen includes bright orange, yellow, or green jackets or vests. Your helmet can do more than protect you in a crash. If it is brightly colored, it can help others see you.
Any bright color is better than drab or dark colors. Fluorescent clothing (helmet and jacket or vest) is best for daytime riding. At night, it is best to wear reflective gear. Reflective material on the sides of helmet and vest will help drivers coming from the side spot you. It can also be a big help for drivers coming toward you on the road ahead or from behind.
The best way to help others on the road see your motorcycle is to keep the headlight on—at all times. Studies show that, during the day, a motorcycle with lights off is twice as likely to go unnoticed by other road users.
The signals on a motorcycle are similar to those on a car. However, signals are far more important to a rider.
Turn signals do two things for you:
(1) They tell others what you plan to do. Use them anytime you plan to change lanes. Use them even when you think no one else is around. It’s the car you don’t see that’s going to give you the most trouble.
(2) Your signal lights make you easier to spot. Drivers behind are more likely to see your turn signal than your taillight. That’s why it’s a good idea to use your turn signals even when what you plan to do is obvious. For example, when you are on a freeway entrance ramp, drivers on the freeway are more likely to see you— and therefore make room for you—if you use your turn signal.
Not turning off a signal is just as bad as not turning it on. A driver may think you plan to turn again and pull directly into your path. Once you’ve made your turn, check your signal to make sure it is off.
Your motorcycle’s brake light is not as noticeable as the brake lights on a car— particularly when your taillight is on. (It goes on with the headlight.) Still, you can help others notice you by tapping the foot brake lightly before you slow down. This will flash your brake light. It is especially important to signal others by flashing your brake light whenever:
- You are going to slow down more quickly than might be expected (for example, when you are going to make a turn off a highspeed highway).
- You are going to slow where others may not expect it (for example, when you will slow to turn in the middle of a block, at an alley).
If you are being followed closely, it’s a good idea to flash your brake light before you slow—even if you won’t be slowing more quickly than might be expected. The tailgater may be looking only at you and fail to see something further ahead that will make you slow down.
POSITION FOR BEING SEEN
Though the size of a motorcycle can make it harder for other drivers to spot you, you can make size work to your advantage. A car driver has very little choice about where they position their car in a lane. However, each marked lane gives a motorcyclist
three possible paths of travel, as indicated in the illustration.
Each ‘”mini-lane” is approximately four feet wide. By selecting the appropriate “mini- lane,” you can make yourself more easily seen by others on the road.
In general, the center portion of the lane (the middle “mini-lane”) is the best position for riders when it comes to being seen. Some people feel that riding in the center portion is dangerous. They argue that the grease strip which often appears in this portion
(formed by droppings from other vehicles) is slippery and will cause riders to fall. Such fears are overblown.
Grease strips are usually no more than two feet wide. Since the center portion of the lane is four feet wide, you can operate to the left or right of the grease strip and still be within the center portion. Unless the road is wet with rain, the average grease strip gives just as much traction as the rest of the pavement. Of course, big buildups of grease—as may be found at very busy intersections or toll booths—should be
The main idea of positioning yourself to be seen is this: Ride in the portion of the lane where it is most likely that you will be seen. In other words, ride where it will be most difficult for other drivers to miss seeing you. Here are some ways to do this.
Stay Out of Blind Spots
Either pass the other vehicle or drop back. When you pass a car, get through the blind spot as quickly as you can. Approach with care, but once you are alongside, speed up and get by quickly.
Let the Driver Ahead See You
When behind a car, try to ride where the driver can see you in their rearview mirror. Riding in the center portion of the lane should put your image in the middle of the rearview mirror— where it’s most likely to be seen. Riding at the far side of a lane may let you be seen in a sideview mirror, but most drivers don’t look at their sideview mirrors nearly as often as they check the rearview mirror.
Help Drivers at Intersections See You
The most dangerous place for any rider is an intersection. That’s where most motorcycle crashes take place. The most common cause of these crashes is that the car driver never saw the rider.
The best way to increase your chances of being seen as you approach an intersection usually is to ride in the center portion of the lane with your lights on.
However, it will sometimes be better to move to another position.
If you are approaching a blind intersection, it is best to move to the portion of the lane that will bring you into another driver’s field of sight at the earliest possible moment. In the picture below, the rider has moved to the left portion of the lane— away from the parked car—so the driver on the cross street can see the rider as soon as possible.
Most motorcycle horns are not very loud, but they’re better than nothing. Get your thumb on the horn, and be ready to use it whenever you need to get someone’s attention.
It is a good idea to give a quick beep before you pass anyone you think may move into your lane. Here are some situations:
- A driver in the lane next to you is getting too close to the vehicle ahead and may want to pass.
- A parked car has someone in the driver’s seat.
- Someone is in the street, riding a bicycle or walking.
In an emergency, a warning beep won’t be enough. Blast the horn in a true emergency and be ready to slow or turn away from the danger.