Safe riding is more of a skill of the eyes and mind than of the hands and feet. You need to develop a set of street riding strategies that allows you to gather critical information to make good decisions and avoid problems.
Almost all activities people engage in have some level of risk. Operating a motorcycle requires your constant and full attention to reduce risk. Consider the following steps to manage risk and be a responsible rider:
Accept the responsibilities associated with operating a motorcycle:
Riding a motorcycle involves some risks not encountered when driving other types of vehicles. Some of these risks include:
Once you become aware of the risks associated with motorcycling it is time to accept those risks. Choosing to accept the challenges of being a responsible motorcyclist means to think about the consequences of your riding behavior in traffic. It also means accepting personal responsibility for the results of your decisions and actions, as well as developing good skills and judgment.
To manage risk you must be aware of the potential risks and then have a plan to reduce the risks.
SM – SEE is a Service Mark of MSF. Used with permission.
SEE is a powerful, but simple, strategy – Search, Evaluate, Execute. It is the strategy to help you understand what is going on in traffic and to be constantly planning and implementing a course of action. Let’s examine each of these steps.
Searching aggressively as far ahead as possible, to the sides and behind to identify potential hazards and escape routes, may help to avoid a crash. When searching ahead you should search for:
While it’s most important to keep track of what’s happening ahead, you can’t afford to ignore situations behind. Knowing what’s going on behind will help you make a safe decision about how to handle trouble ahead. To search behind:
Don’t forget to check the instruments and gauges regularly, too.
Once you have identified the hazard(s), the next step is to quickly determine if they could affect you. Ask yourself, “what if?”
Think about how hazards can interact to create risk for you. Anticipate potential problems and have a plan to reduce or eliminate the risk. Think about your time and space requirements in order to maintain a margin of safety. You must leave yourself time to react if a dangerous situation occurs.
Carry out your decision. What are you going to do and how are you going to do it?
To create more space and minimize harm from any hazard:
Apply the SEE strategy to give yourself time and space. It works anywhere, and can help to ensure your safety and the safety of others.
The greatest potential for conflict between you and other traffic is at intersections. Cars that turn left in front of you are the biggest dangers. Your use of SEE at intersections is critical.
Increase your chances of being seen at intersections. Ride with your headlight on in a lane position that provides the best view of oncoming traffic. Provide a space cushion around the motorcycle that permits you to take evasive action.
When approaching an intersection where a vehicle is preparing to cross your path:
Traffic-Activated Sensor Lights
Traffic-activated sensor lights can be troublesome for motorcyclists since the sensor may not detect your presence.
To ensure the best chance of being detected, stop where the sensors are located. They are usually visible in the road surface.
It is extremely important to maintain an adequate “cushion of space” between vehicles.
Increasing the distance between vehicles will provide you with:
A responsible rider recognizes that space is the best protection against potential hazards.
In some ways the size of the motorcycle can work to your advantage. Each traffic lane gives a motorcycle three paths of travel, as indicated in the illustration.
Your lane position should:
In general, there is no single best position for you to be seen and to maintain a space cushion around the motorcycle. No portion of the lane need be avoided – including the center, if weather and roadway conditions permit.
Position yourself in the portion of the lane where you are most likely to be seen and you can maintain a space cushion around you. Move from one side of the lane to another to increase your distance from other vehicles. A responsible rider changes position as traffic situations change. Ride in path 2 or 3 if vehicles or other potential hazards are on your left. Remain in path 1 or 2 if hazards are on your right. If vehicles are present on both sides of you, the center of the lane, path 2, is usually your best option.
The oily strip in the center portion that collects drippings from cars is usually no more than 2 feet wide. Unless the road is wet, the average center strip permits adequate traction to ride on safely. You can operate to the left or right of the oily strip and still be within the center portion of the traffic lane. Avoid riding on big buildups of oil and grease usually found at busy intersections or toll booths.
Following Another Vehicle
Motorcycles need as much distance to stop as cars. It is recommended that new motorcycle operators try to maintain a four second following distance behind the vehicle ahead. This allows you space to stop, swerve, and to keep a reasonable space cushion.
A larger cushion of space is needed if your motorcycle will take longer than normal to stop. For example if you are riding 40 mph or more, if the pavement is slippery, if you cannot see through the vehicle ahead, or if traffic is heavy and someone may squeeze in front of you, open up a five second or more following distance.
Keep well behind the vehicle ahead even when you are stopped. This will make it easier to get out of the way if someone behind you is not slowing down. It will also give you a cushion of space if the vehicle ahead starts to back up for some reason.
To gauge your following distance:
Speeding up to lose someone following too closely only ends up with someone tailgating you at a higher speed.
A better way to handle tailgaters is to get them in front of you. When someone is following too closely, change lanes and let them pass. If you can’t do this, slow down and open up extra space ahead of you to allow room for both you and the tailgater to stop. This will also encourage them to pass. If they don’t pass, you will have given yourself and the tailgater more time and space to react in case an emergency does develop ahead.
Vehicles and motorcycles need a full lane to operate safely. Do not share lanes with other vehicles. Lane sharing can leave you vulnerable to the unexpected and reduces your space cushion. You should ride in a staggered formation when following other motorcycles and position the motorcycle in the center of the travel lane, if weather and roadway conditions permit, to discourage motorists from attempting to squeeze by the motorcycle. Do not ride between rows of stopped or moving motor vehicles. This can be dangerous.
Do not assume that drivers merging on an entrance ramp will see you. Minimize the potential for danger by giving them plenty of room. Change lanes if one is open. If there is no room for a lane change, adjust speed to open up space for the merging driver.
Avoid riding in the blind spot of a vehicle. Responsible riders recognize that vehicles traveling in the adjacent lane may unexpectedly change direction forcing the rider into a potentially dangerous situation. Vehicles in the next lane also block your escape if you come upon a hazard in your own lane. Adjust your speed until a proper and adequate space cushion has been established between vehicles.
An escape route is an alternate path of travel that you can take if a hazard develops in your path. No matter what the conditions, always use SEE and plan an escape route. In the illustration, the first box shows a rider who has three escape routes open, should they need to take an alternate path. The second box shows a rider who has not planned an escape path. The rider has nowhere to go if they need to take an alternate path of travel, which leaves them vulnerable to potential hazards.
In crashes with motorcyclists, drivers often say that they never saw the motorcycle. From ahead or behind, a motorcycle’s outline is much smaller than a car’s. Also, it’s hard to see something you are not looking for, and most drivers are not looking for motorcycles. More likely, they are looking through the narrow, two-wheeled silhouette in search of cars that may pose a problem to them.
Even if a driver does see you coming, you aren’t necessarily safe. Motorcycles may appear farther away, and seem to be traveling slower than they actually are. It is common for drivers to pull out in front of motorcyclists, thinking they have plenty of time. Too often, they are wrong. However, you can do many things to make it easier for others to recognize you and your cycle.
Most crashes occur in broad daylight. Wear bright colored clothing to increase your chances of being seen. Remember, your body is half of the visible surface area of the rider-motorcycle unit.
Reflective, bright colored clothing is best. Bright orange, red, yellow or green jackets or vests are your best bets for being seen. Brightly colored helmets can also help others see you. Reflective material on a vest and on the sides of the helmet will help drivers coming from the side spot you. Reflective material can also be a big help for drivers coming toward you or from behind.
The best way to help others see your motorcycle is to keep the headlight on – at all times (new motorcycles sold in the USA since 1978 automatically have the headlights on when running). Studies show that, during the day, a motorcycle with its light on is twice as likely to be noticed. Also use your low beams in fog or at night when traffic approaches.
The signals on a motorcycle are the same as those on a car. They tell others what you plan to do. Use them anytime you plan to change lanes or turn. Use them even when you think no one else is around. Due to a rider’s added vulnerability, signals are even more important. They make you easier to spot.
When you enter a freeway, drivers approaching from behind are more likely to see your signal blinking and make room for you.
Once you turn, make sure your signal is off or a driver may pull directly into your path, thinking you plan to turn again.
Your motorcycle’s brake light is usually not as noticeable as the brake lights on a car – particularly when your taillight is on. (The taillight goes on with the headlight.) If the situation will permit, help others notice you by flashing your brake light before you slow down.
It is especially important to flash your brake light before:
If you are being followed closely, it’s a good idea to flash your brake light before you slow. The tailgater may be watching you and not see something ahead that will make you slow down. This will hopefully discourage them from tailgating and warn them of hazards ahead they may not see.
Be ready to use your horn to get someone’s attention quickly. Keep in mind that a motorcycle’s horn isn’t as loud as a car’s, therefore, use it, but don’t rely on it. Other strategies may be appropriate along with the horn.
Handling Dangerous Surfaces
On slippery surfaces, you should use added caution. Motorcycles handle better when ridden on surfaces with good traction. Maintaining balance and cycle control are difficult on slippery surfaces.
To reduce your risk you can take certain preventative measures:
Surfaces that provide poor traction include:
Railroad Tracks, Trolley Tracks and Pavement Seams
Usually it is safer to ride straight within your lane to cross tracks. Turning to take tracks at a 90 degree angle can be more dangerous – your path may carry you into another lane of traffic.
For track and road seams that run parallel to your course, move far enough away from tracks, ruts, or pavement seams to cross at an angle of at least 45. Then, make a quick, sharp turn. Edging across could catch your tires and throw you off balance.
Grooves and Gratings
Riding over rain grooves or bridge gratings may cause your motorcycle to weave. Maintain a steady speed and ride straight across. Crossing at an angle forces riders to zigzag to stay in the lane.
Regulations in red are new this year.
Purple text indicates an important note.