Sharing the Road with Motorcycles

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Today’s motorcycle riders are friends, relatives, and neighbors, but many car drivers still have not adjusted to motorcycles appearing in traffic. Traveling by motorcycle is appealing to some people; they are fuel and space efficient and can be fun to ride. Motorcyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as automobile drivers. While everyone must follow the same traffic laws, motorcyclists face additional dangers because motorcycles require exceptional handling ability and motorcyclists are more vulnerable to injury and death than car drivers if involved in a crash. It is important to understand more about motorcycle operation.

From ahead or behind, a motorcycle’s outline, whether 2 or 3 wheels, is much smaller than a passenger vehicle’s outline, and most drivers expect to see larger vehicles on the road and are not looking for motorcycles. The small profile of the motorcycle may make it appear farther away and traveling slower than it actually is. Drivers need to take a second look, and then a third. Always make a visual check (mirrors, too) of blind spots before entering or leaving a lane of traffic and at intersections. Be alert for a motorcyclist to appear unexpectedly.

Allow a Full Lane

Motorcycles are allowed the full width of a lane in which to maneuver. Although it may seem that there is enough room in the traffic lane for a motor vehicle and a motorcycle, the motorcycle needs the room to maneuver safely. Do not share the lane. Understand that motorcyclists may adjust lane position for their own safety, not to be reckless or show off. Motorcyclists often adjust position within a lane to be seen more easily or to minimize the effects of road debris, passing vehicles, or other conditions. Often, this means riding in the left portion of the traffic lane to allow a better view of some traffic and road situations. It also makes the motorcycle more visible to other traffic. However, as traffic and road conditions change, the rider may move. This move could be to the center of the lane or even to the right side to avoid traffic or to be seen by others on the road.

Road Conditions

Remember that road conditions which are minor annoyances to motorists can pose major hazards to motorcyclists. Motorcycle riders may change speed or adjust position within a lane suddenly in reaction to road and traffic conditions such as potholes, gravel, wet or slippery surfaces, pavement seams, railroad crossings, and grooved pavement.


Intersections are the most likely places for car/motorcycle crash to occur. This usually is the result of a car driver NOT SEEING the motorcycle and turning into the motorcycle’s path. Misinterpreting a rider’s intentions can also lead to crashes. The rider will move to one side of the lane in preparation for a turn or possibly to move away from a hazard unseen by other motorists. Do not assume the rider’s intention until the maneuver is unmistakably started, such as a turn into an intersection or driveway. Don’t be fooled by a flashing turn signal on a motorcycle – motorcycle signals may not be self-canceling and motorcyclists sometimes forget to turn them off. Wait to be sure the rider is going to turn before you proceed.

Following Too Close

Allow more following distance — three or four seconds – when following a motorcycle so the motorcycle rider has enough time to maneuver or stop in an emergency. Space between the two vehicles should be increased to avoid sudden braking. In dry conditions, motorcycles can stop more quickly than cars. Both riders and drivers are more likely to make incorrect decisions if there is not enough stopping distance or ability to see and react to conditions. This leads to crashes. A rider’s chance of injury is greater if forced to avoid obstacles ahead, as well as a driver following too closely.

Passing and Being Passed

The rules for passing other vehicles are similar for motorcycles. The motorist being overtaken by a motorcycle should maintain lane position and speed. Allow the motorcyclist to complete the pass and assume proper lane position as quickly as possible. When passing a motorcycle, allow a full lane to the motorcycle. Never crowd into the same lane as the motorcycle. Returning to the original lane too soon can force a rider to swerve to the right into traffic or off the road.

Partners on the Road

What all this means is, motorcycles are full partners in the traffic mix and must be treated with the same courtesies. Watch for the unexpected and give them their share of the road; a rider may be the neighbor next door.

This section is designed to encourage drivers of all other kinds of vehicles and motorcyclists to “share the road” with each other and is provided through the courtesy of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.