Section 5: Street Strategies
5.1 – Risk Awareness/Acceptance
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:
- You must have a motorcycle license or permit.
- You will be expected to follow the laws and rules of the road.
- You must share the road with other users (i.e. pedestrians, bicyclists, large vehicles, etc.)
- Ride alcohol and drug-free.
- Always wear protective gear.
Riding a motorcycle involves some risks not encountered when driving other types of vehicles. Some of these risks include:
- Vulnerability – motorcycles provide less protection in a crash and do not have the stability of cars. This is why you should always wear protective gear.
- Visibility – motorcycles are not as visible as other types of vehicles because of their size. Other motorists may not be looking for motorcycles in traffic. This places you at risk.
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.
5.2 – Risk Management
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:
- Road and surface characteristics – potholes, bridge gratings, railroad tracks, debris, curves, slippery surfaces, etc. may influence your riding strategy,
- Traffic control markings and devices – look for traffic signals and signs to help you know what to expect ahead.
- Other roadway users – vehicles in front of you traveling in the same direction, those behind you, vehicles traveling in the opposite direction, those entering and leaving the roadway and turning. Pedestrians also can cross your path of travel or reduce your escape route options.
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:
- Check your mirrors – frequent mirror checks should be part of your normal searching routine. Make a special point of using your mirrors when you are stopped at an intersection, before you change lanes, and before you slow down.
- Use head checks – checking your mirrors is not enough. Motorcycles have “blind spots” like cars. Before you change lanes, turn your head, and look to the side for other vehicles. Only by knowing what is happening all around you, are you fully prepared to deal with it.
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 and space 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:
- Adjust your position and/or direction.
- Adjust your speed by accelerating, stopping or slowing.
- Communicate your presence and intentions with turn signals, lights and/or horn.
Apply the SEE strategy to give yourself time and space. It works anywhere and can help to minimize your risk and the risk 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:
- Slow down.
- Select a lane position to increase your visibility to that driver.
- Cover the controls to reduce the time you need to react.
- As you enter the intersection, move away from the vehicle.
- Do not make radical movements, as drivers might think you are preparing to turn.
- Be prepared to take action.
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.
5.4 – Space Management
It is extremely important to maintain an adequate “cushion of space” between vehicles.
Increasing the distance between vehicles will provide you with:
- Time to react.
- Space to maneuver.
A responsible rider recognizes that time and 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:
- Increase your ability to see and be seen.
- Avoid others’ blind spots.
- Avoid surface hazards.
- Protect your lane from other drivers.
- Communicate your intentions.
- Avoid wind blast from other vehicles.
- Provide an escape route.
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 minimum four- second following distance behind the vehicle ahead. This allows you space to stop, swerve, and 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:
- Pick out a marker, such as a pavement marking, sign, pole or other stationary point, on or near the road ahead.
- When the rear bumper of the vehicle ahead passes the marker, count off the seconds: “one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three, one-thousand-four.”
- If you reach the marker before you reach “four,” you are following too closely.
- Reduce speed and then count again at another stationary point to check the new following interval. Repeat until you are following no closer than “four-seconds.”
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. 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.
5.5 – Escape Routes
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 on the top of the next page, the first box shows a rider who has three escape routes open, if an alternate path is needed. The second box shows a rider who has not planned an escape path. The rider has nowhere to go if an alternate path of travel is needed, which leaves the rider 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. (NOTE: 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:
- You slow when others might not expect (for example, turning off a high-speed highway.)
- You slow where others may not expect it (for example, in the middle of a block or at an alley.)
If you are being followed closely, it’s a good idea to flash your brake light before you slow down. 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.
5.7 – Speed Management
Handling Dangerous Surfaces
- Slippery surfaces
- Railroad tracks
- Grooves and gratings
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:
- Reduce Speed – Slow down before you get to a slippery surface to lessen your chances of skidding and increase your following distance. Your motorcycle needs more distance to stop. And, it is particularly important to reduce speed before entering wet curves.
- Avoid Sudden Moves – Any sudden changes in speed or direction can cause a skid. Be as smooth as possible when you speed up, shift gears, turn or brake.
- Use Both Brakes – The front brake is still effective, even on a slippery surface. Squeeze the brake lever gradually to avoid locking the front wheel. Remember, apply gentle pressure on the rear brake.
Surfaces that provide poor traction include:
- Wet surfaces – Particularly, just after it starts to rain and before surface oil washes to the side of the road. When it starts to rain, ride in the tire tracks left by cars and avoid pooled water and highway ruts. Often, the left tire track will be the best position, depending on traffic and other road conditions as well.
- Ice or snow covered surfaces – Snow melts faster on some sections of a road than on others. Patches of ice can occur in low or shaded areas and on bridges and overpasses. It is recommended you avoid snow and ice covered surfaces.
- Shiny surfaces – Metal covers, steel plates, bridge gratings, train tracks, lane markings, leaves and wood can be very treacherous when wet.
- Dirt and gravel – On curves and ramps leading to and from highways, dirt and gravel can collect along the sides of the road. Choose a lane position that minimizes the risk of injury.
- Oil spots – Watch for these when you put your foot down to stop or park. You may slip and fall. Securing the proper footing will help you from losing your balance or falling.
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.
- Trains and motorcycles don’t mix. Never race a train to the crossing — even if you tie, you lose.
- The train you see is closer and faster moving than you think. If you see a train approaching, wait for it to go by before you proceed across the tracks.
- Be aware that trains cannot stop quickly. Even if the locomotive engineer sees you, a freight train moving at 55 miles per hour can take a mile or more to stop once the emergency brakes are applied. That’s 18 football fields!
- Never drive around lowered gates — it’s illegal and deadly. If you suspect a signal is malfunctioning, call the 1-800 number posted on or near the crossing signal or your local law enforcement agency.
- Do not get trapped on the tracks; proceed through a highway-rail grade crossing only if you are sure you can completely clear the crossing without stopping. Remember, the train is three feet wider than the tracks on both sides.
- If your vehicle ever stalls on a track with a train coming, dismount immediately and move quickly away from the tracks in the direction from which the train is coming. If you run in the same direction the train is traveling, when the train hits your vehicle you could be injured by flying debris. Call your local law enforcement agency for assistance.
- At a multiple track crossing waiting for a train to pass, watch out for a second train on the other tracks, approaching from either direction.
- When you need to cross train tracks, go to a designated crossing, look both ways, and cross the tracks quickly, without stopping. Remember, it isn’t safe to stop closer than 15 feet from a rail.
- ALWAYS EXPECT A TRAIN! Freight trains do not follow set schedules.
- Trains may be prohibited from sounding their horn at crossings. Check the railroad track visually in both directions before crossing.
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.
An Emergency Notification Sign (ENS), posted at or near a highway-rail grade crossing, lists a telephone number along with the crossing’s US DOT number and is used to notify the railroad of an emergency or warning device malfunction.