Looking for Trouble

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The two biggest dangers facing you as a rider are: (1) oncoming cars that turn left in front of you and, (2) cars on side streets that pull out into your lane. Never count on “eye contact” as a sign that a driver has seen you and will yield the right of way. All too often, a driver looks right at a motorcyclist and still fails to “see” them.

No matter what you do, you can’t guarantee that others will see you. The only eyes you can really count on are your own. A good rider is always “looking for trouble”—not to get into it, but to stay out of it.


The best way to avoid trouble is to see it coming as soon as possible. Experienced riders make a practice of looking far ahead. On city streets, they scan the road from one-half to a full block ahead. On the highway, they look as far ahead as they can see clearly.

Experienced riders don’t just “stare off into space.” They keep track of what’s happening right ahead of them as well. By looking far as well as near, they get a complete picture of the situation ahead and leave themselves plenty of time to adjust to problems. Thus, they can spot and handle trouble without having to make a panic stop or a sudden swerve that can cause a crash. Here’s what to look for while scanning the road ahead:

  • Road Conditions—Keep checking the road surface ahead for slippery spots, bad bumps, broken pavement, loose gravel, wet leaves or objects in your path
  • Traffic Conditions—When there is a car directly in front of you, look over or through the car for traffic stopping or turning further down the road. Check the roadside for cars that may pull away from the curb or cut into your lane from side streets or driveways.
  • Escape Routes—Look for open space where you can leave the road in a hurry if you have to. Scanning the road and roadside for escape spots is most important when you are riding in heavy traffic.


While it’s most important to keep track of what’s happening ahead, you can’t afford to ignore what’s happening behind. Traffic conditions can change quickly. By checking your mirrors every few seconds, you can keep track of the situation behind.

Knowing what’s going on behind can help you make a safe decision about how to handle trouble ahead. For instance, if you know someone is following you too closely, you may decide to avoid a problem ahead by turning away from it, rather than by trying to stop quickly and risk being hit by the tailgater.

Frequent mirror checks should be part of your normal scanning routine. Make a special point of using your mirrors in these situations:

  • When you are stopped at an intersection—Watch cars coming up from behind. If the driver isn’t paying attention, they could be right on top of you before they see you.
  • Anytime you plan to change lanes—Make sure no one is about to pass you.
  • Anytime you will slow down—It is especially important to check if the driver behind may not expect you to slow, or if they may be unsure about exactly where you will slow. For example, they might see you signal a turn and think you plan to slow for a turn at a distant intersection, rather than at a nearer driveway.

Many motorcycles have rounded “convex” mirrors. These give you a wider view of the road behind than do flat mirrors. However, they also make cars seem farther away than they really are. If you are not used to convex mirrors, get familiar with them. Here’s how: While you are stopped, pick out a parked car in your mirror. Try to form a mental image of how far away it is. Then, turn around and look at it. See how close you came. Practice with your mirrors until you become a good judge of distance. Even then, allow extra distance before you change lanes.


Mirrors do a pretty good job of letting you see behind. But motorcycles have “blind spots” just like cars. Before you change lanes, make sure to make a head check: turn your head, and look at traffic to the side. This is the only way you can be sure of spotting a car just about to pass you.

On a road with several lanes, make sure to check the far lane as well as the one next to you. A driver in the distant lane may be headed for the same space you plan to take.


As a motorcycle rider, you can put yourself in a position to see things that a car driver cannot see.

  • On Curves—You can move from one portion of a lane to another to get a better view through a curve. Moving to the right portion of your lane before a left-hand curve and staying on that side until you come out of the curve lets you spot traffic coming toward you as soon as possible. On right hand curves, a left-center position is best. It lets you see oncoming cars fairly early without putting you so far left that you run the danger of being hit by a car that tries to “cut” the curve by drifting into your lane.

  • At blind intersections—An intersection is anywhere a driveway, alley, or road meets another road. Blind intersections can make it hard to see danger coming from the side. If you have a stop sign, stop there first. Then edge forward and stop again, just short of where the cross-traffic lane meets your lane. From thatposition, you can lean your body forward and look around buildings, parked cars, or bushes to see if anything is coming. Just make sure your front wheel stays out of the cross lane of travel while you’re looking.


  • At the roadside—Angle your motorcycle so that you can see in both directions without straining and without having any part of the cycle in the lane of travel. Angling your motorcycle so that you can get a clear view in both directions is particularly important if you plan to turn across a lane of traffic.