Brian, thank you for taking the time to design a site dedicated to a logical approach to biking.
Most of the internet sites today seem to be focused on promoting fear of motorcycling. As a retired 30 year veteran of law enforcement (most of it in patrol division) I think I know a little about what causes accidents and I totally agree with you. Most of my police career was spent in a patrol car (never a m/c officer), but I have ridden my own bike. I can personally testify to the fact that m/c crashes can hurt and crutches are no fun to walk with!
I’ve had the sad experienced of investigating a young man’s death; the result of carelessness on his motorcycle. I have seen many more die in auto accidents than motorcycle accidents. Believe me when I say I know that operating any motor vehicle on the highways of the U.S. is can be dangerous. It can also be fun.
I turned 68 a few months ago and I just bought a new touring bike. I am looking forward to a long summer of fresh air and wide open spaces. In my more mature years I stick to riding the back roads and small towns in my home State of Idaho. Strictly recreation, I think I know my limitations. As long as my health holds out I plan to keep on keepin’ on!
LOVED this piece! As a fairly recent biker (last July) and one who just got to ride yesterday and today for the first time this year (although I rode clear into December — in Maine! — and once the week after Xmas), it really hit home. You’ve brought up some excellent points that I had never considered.
I’m curious — do you know of any actual statistics as to whether riders have shown to be safer than drivers? I’m having a debate at work where some feel I shouldn’t ride my bike on company business because it’s inherently not as safe. I’m trying to track down actual numbers to back that up.
It didn’t help that when I bought my first bike, I got my permit and, 45 minutes of best-friend-instruction later, dumped the bike and landed in the hospital. I took the Basic RiderCourse (from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation here in the States) a few weeks later, came out with my bike endorsement, put thousands of miles on the bike, and haven’t looked back (metaphorically; I actually look back in the mirrors all the time!). But all anyone remembers is me dumping it, naturally.
Personally, I think they’re miffed because I get more out of my mileage reimbursements. But so do the small four-cylinder cars over the big SUVs some drive… can’t penalize one and not everyone!
Anyway, loved your piece, and in fact your entire site. I’ll be referencing it to anyone who will read it.
Riding Safely depends on your brain above everything else. More than what you wear or what you ride, your brain keeps you safe on a motorbike. One in three motorcycle accidents occur when riders are all by themselves, with no-one else around. The main cause in these and other cases is not recognizing danger and/or rider errors like over-braking or cornering too fast. Motorbikes have no seat belts so it all depends on the rider – and that means your brain. The best way to increase safety is to retrain your brain to ride safely. You cant change what others do but you can change yourself, so take charge and train yourself to ride safely.
1. No Fear
Fear is an attention thief that distracts you from what is going on around
Fear makes you wear a helmet and ride safely, but on a bike it’s a liability, as it reduces your ability to act. Fear is an attention thief that causes tunnel vision and makes you over-react to events. It is a gremlin that sits not under your bed but in your head. Indeed if you ride in constant fear, better give it up entirely. Yes a motorcycle is risky but all life is risky. People die walking. And fear doesn’t stop death, it just stops life. On a motorcycle, full attention puts fear where it belongs – in the background. When you get on a motorcycle say “No Fear!” and mean it. Train your brain to put fear aside when you ride.
2. All-round vision
When riding, don’t look at the car ahead, look many cars ahead
All-round vision is different from the point vision you use to read a book. It is critical on a motorcycle because it takes in everything at once. All-round vision works best when you don’t focus on one thing but look to the distance. So when riding, don’t look at the car ahead, look many cars ahead. Your all-around vision will then tell you if anything happens with the nearby cars. If a car is incoming, you need to know how far and how fast, not if it’s a Holden or a Ford! Your all-round vision does this for your entire field of vision! Train your brain to use your all-round vision.
3. Don’t Hurry
Decide right now to never hurry at an intersection
Hurrying makes you want to get somewhere quicker and take more risks. It is different from speed, as an astronaut going fast in a speeding rocket needn’t hurry. When you plan, remember that Life also has a plan, and its Big Plan always has priority over your little plan. Hurrying is not worth it because you can hurry 99 times and be OK, then one day be slowed down for life. This applies especially to risk points like intersections. Decide right now to never hurry at an intersection. This one choice may one day save your life. When hurriers meet on the road, it is often in accident alley. Train your brain to never hurry.
4. Ride Defensively
A defensive rider flows on the road like water, filling the empty places others don’t want
Defensive riding is adapting to other drivers regardless of road rights. A defensive rider flows on the road like water, filling the empty places others don’t want. If water can’t go one way it goes another. Just as water goes around obstacles and does not oppose them, so when riding go with the flow. Riding safely is adapting to other road users, not confronting them. If some idiot swerves in front of you, don’t chase him to give the finger. Avoid him. He is an accident going somewhere you don’t want to go. Train your brain to ride defensively.
5. Be All There
Inattention is the rider’s number one enemy
Inattention is the number one killer on the road, not speed or drink. Cell phones are more dangerous than alcohol. Our brain can do on many things at once but you can’t ride a bike like this. Inattention is thinking about anything other than what you are doing right now. If you think you are cool, that is inattention. If you are thinking of when you arrive, that is inattention. If you are angry that is inattention. The cure to inattention is to be mentally one, so the first rule of riding is to be all there. Train your brain to be all there when riding.
6. Be seen
Give others a chance to avoid you – always use your indicators
On a motorcycle, seeing is your best defense and being seen is the next best. If a driver can see you, they can avoid you. In over two-thirds of bike-car accidents, the driver didn’t see the motorcycle coming. Some ways to be seen are:
• Headlights. Always ride with headlights on.
• Visible Gear. Wear visible helmet and gear.
• High Beam. Flash your high beam when needed.
• Visible Position. Ride so drivers can see you easier.
• Indicators. Use your indicators to help others to avoid you.
Always indicate when changing lanes, even when no-one is around. Make no exceptions. One day, when you think no-one is there and there is, it may save your life. Train your brain to be seen so others avoid you – always use your indicators.
7. Ride to conditions
Ride to suit the conditions, whatever they are
Conditionsare the circumstances in which you ride, including the weather, day or night, the road, the bike, and even your body when affected by alcohol, drugs or fatigue. When conditions change the laws of physics that govern riding, you have to change how you ride! When it rains, stopping and cornering are very different, much more for a motorcycle than a car. Its like playing a game of checkers that suddenly becomes a game of chess. Yet we are creatures of habit, so accidents happen when you ride as before in the rain – conditions have changed but your brain hasn’t. Riding to conditions means adapting to change – when you hit a patch of oil on a turn, its a whole new set of rules! So in fog, how slow should I go? The answer is slow as you have to. If necessary, get off the bike and walk. Train your brain to ride to suit the conditions, whatever they are.
8. Build safety habits
Practicing unsafe habits is like plotting your own downfall
Riding a motorcycle is about building habits by practice. Since you must build habits to ride, build safe ones. In the Army, when we had rifles on exercise the safe habit was to always point them in a safe direction, whether loaded or not. Practicing unsafe habits is like plotting your own downfall. Not accelerating at intersections is a safety habit. Riding to the side of the car ahead is another one, as is always indicating. Safety habits sound like work, but a good habit is no more work than a bad one. And once established, habits are no work at all because they happen automatically. Look after your habits and one day they will look after you. Train your brain to acquire safety habits.
Good riding, like good wine, is smooth
Stability is more than just not falling off the bike, it is how well you balance. With experience, you reduce the natural wobble that occurs as you ride. New riders wobble a lot, skilled riders don’t. Good riding, like good wine, is smooth. Stability shows most when you start and stop. In a stable start you just lift your feet and go. An unsteady start requires swerving and foot dragging that wears out your shoes. Motorcycle skill is not how fast you can go, but how slow you can go. Any fool can twist an accelerator, but to bring a bike to a complete stop, stay vertical, then calmly drop a leg, takes skill. Train your brain to ride with stability.
10.Recognize risk situations
Never cruise beside another vehicle, in their blind spot
Risk situations are the scenarios in which accidents likely occur. Experienced riders avoid accidents by recognizing risk scenarios. Studies show that in 90% of accident cases, the risk is directly in front of the rider before the accident and they did not recognize it. For example, riding alongside a truck puts you in its blind spot but this is not obvious – until it suddenly pulls into your lane. Experienced riders always cruise behind or in front of a next lane vehicle for that reason. A common rider accident situation is overtaking a car that has slowed or stopped in the road for no apparent reason, when it suddenly turns and you crash into it. Again experienced riders recognize the car is “unknown” and stay behind until what it is doing is clear. Innumerable situations lead to accidents, but in every case recognizing and avoiding them is better than riding risk blind. Train your brain to recognize risk situations.
Hi Brian, A couple years back I came across your website “Riding Safely”…I must say, I printed off all the online pages and refer to it often. I relate/and support the risk analysis that you have put forward and your insight/advice has really helped me become a better rider. I started riding my dad’s Honda 400 back when I was about 14 years old, and now pushing close to 50 I have enjoyed my riding days and look forward to more. So just wanted to say that all the effort that you put to your website is still be used to help riders…thanks!
Dear Brian, I started reading your book, not finished yet, but I just wanted to drop you a note to tell you that I like it and will keep reading it. For me, safety is number one priority. When I was going to be age 70, I thought I would like to do something I can enjoy but never tried before. Riding a motorcycle seemed to be a fun. I went to a driving school and asked if I can get a motorcycle driving license. I was told to move it around, and get it up. I was able to do. After a few months I got driving license successfully. It is really a fun! Chiba City, Japan
Dear Brian, I can’t thank you enough for such a wonder book. The website is simply flawless. Loved the way it has been designed and written. Actually I was late to the party, started driving just 2 years back at the age of 32 :). For one reason or another I was always scared while riding. However after reading your book I am pretty sure that at last I can connect the dots of those “eventful days” when the bike was on top of me instead of the other way around 🙂 And let me know if you have published this book in India or else where, I would like to have a hard/soft copy of it. Again a job very well done, hats off for sharing such a wonderful experience. Thanks.
Great site. I’ve ridden for years, and I think my hyper defensive riding has kept me safe.
Head on a swivel, never ride beside a car. Thanks for the additional info. Under inattention you really need to add texting to the list of distractions. Maybe put it first. ? It appears that texting is the leading cause of the recent increase in the automobile fatality rate. Keep up the good work
Dear Brian, I have just enjoyed reading your web site. Really good stuff! I am a motorcycle instructor in the UK. If only all riders and drivers could live by the information in your web pages. I am sure road crashes would reduce massively. Best wishes and keep the shiny side up!
Hi, I wanted to comment on your web site and motorcycle safety. Some motorcycles can have a better view, to avoid accidents and trouble, but I think you are missing some important factors. You say a rider is usually higher than a car driver and so has a better view, that riders have no car body around them to create vision blind sports, and that a bike can move left or right in the lane for a better view if a truck blocks your vision.
Motorcycles like BMWs 650s, 700 and 800 models, and other standup posture vehicles, like the Honda nx700 or the Kawasaki Versys would be safer than high speed vehicles like the Hyabusa or the low riding custom choppers or most of the Harley Davidson motorcycles.
The problem with the motorcycle industry in general, and separate manufacturers is that there seems to be no effort to determine which motorcycles are safer, and get into fewer accidents. It seems that, with cooperation from emergency services – police, fire departments, this would be data that could be easily obtained. In fact, I think you will find that most requests for this kind of information is generally met with hostility from traditional motor manufacturers and dealerships, like Harley Davidson. If you don’t believe me, walk into a local H-D dealership and see what they say.
BMW dealerships have a much different attitude about safety, including focusing on a promoting high visibility clothing. I think that in general, BMW riders are going to be safer, because it’s part of the lifestyle. There isn’t a focus on looking dark and black. This means that BMW riders, in general, are going to be more visible to automobile drivers.
Hi, I’m a 43 yr old female who has just bought her first bike ever! I’ve done the pre-learner’s course which is required in NSW (Australia) which was my only experience controlling a bike (I’ve been a pillion passsenger). But now that the reality of becoming a bike rider has sunk in, I’m feeling a bit nervous! And that’s made worse by everyone I know giving me negative comments and horror stories. Your site gave me some great information and helped calm the nerves. I’m looking forward to getting out there and enjoying my bike. My plan is to ride for half an hour or so every day, outside peak hour traffic (I live in Sydney) so I can get really comfortable with controlling the bike and myself before I start adding heavy traffic to the mix. Maybe I’m being too cautious, but I want to make sure I’ve got the basics right – as much for me as for the people sharing the road with me. Thanks again
I was just cruising through your site and wanted to say thanks for the great info. Actually I Googled “cross winds motorcycle” and there was your site. I’m a relatively new rider with only 400+ miles under my tires and I’m always looking for good information about safety on a bike. The reason I looked up cross winds is because on my second highway trip, just minutes ago, (I don’t care for highways yet) I got hit by a couple of really good gusts that pushed me around a bit and I made me a bit nervous. They never covered winds in the basic rider course I took. I did fine but ended up a bit tense after several gusts and took the next exit. That’s it… thanks. Keep up the great work.
Hi mate, Dan here from Sydney, Australia. Just wanted to say a big thank you for the site in general. Three years ago I was involved in a bad accident and I have not ridden since. Have been feeling the need to get back on the last few months and decided to look up any info I could find online, this is how I stumbled across your website. I read through the site a few times and it really did wonders for my confidence and mindset. I hired a bike last weekend and really got the feel for it again, now looking at buying a bike.
I recommend this site to anyone. From beginners to long time riders alike, brilliant resource for riders regardless of their experience. Thanks again.
The final word on riding a motorcycle is learn, not like the the boy in the picture with his fingers in his ears. Riding connects you directly to life, and life is always talking to us – we just have to listen. Yet when it comes to road accidents, the current system is designed to do just the opposite – to hide the mistakes that people make on the road. If you talk to a lawyer, the first thing they tell you in an accident is never admit any fault. If you talk to a psychologist, they tell you that the key to learning is to recognize faults. Can you see the contradiction here? If you never admit any fault, how can you learn?
Airplanes are a thousand times safer than cars because when airplanes crash, the cause is formally investigated and safety recommendations published so the aviation community learns from its mistakes. In contrast when cars crash, there is at best a legal process that aims to protect privacy and establish legal blame and punish the guilty party. When I read of a car accident in the paper, causes aren’t mentioned, names are often suppressed, and it reads like people were just driving along when “an accident happened”, so the driving community learns nothing from the event. Planes are safer than cars because the aviation community learns from their mistakes but the driving community doesn’t. This is why the number of people killed in cars every year far exceeds those killed in airplanes – for 2016 in the US alone it was 37,461 people. Something is wrong here!
Its time for a new approach, based on learning safety not allocating blame and punishment. If an adult runs over their toddler in their driveway, prosecuting them for murder doesn’t help anyone and there is no community learning. Think how many people are alive today because plane crashes are not hushed up to protect airline privacy. What is the car equivalent of the NTSB, an impartial body that investigates air crashes and publishes safety advice? There is none, so I suggest a web-based grass-roots approach – a web platform where people can voluntarily share accidents and suggest to others how to avoid them. People will tell their story if they are genuinely anonymous and legally immune. Perhaps some of the millions obtained from speeding tickets can be used to fund local community safety projects for road vehicles. Then we can all learn from the experiences of others. The Stories part of this site was added to let you publish your own experiences to help other riders – so please make use of it!
In this world you meet all sorts of people, and likewise on the road you meet all sorts. As in life, knowing what motivates people to do annoying things make them less annoying, and also helps you to handle them. In life it doesn’t pay to confront people doing what is in their nature, and riding is the same. Its better to adapt your actions to theirs, unless you are their teacher, which on a motorcycle you are not. When you meet the driver types below on the road, the goal is not to “teach” them what is “right”, but to recognize them and adapt.
If a car in a side road creeps forward, slow down
A creeper is a driver at a give-way or stop sign that creeps forward as you approach them. In general, they are people in a hurry. Creepers are annoying because you never know if they will go. Maybe they dont either. If a car in a side road creeps forward I slow down. If it creeps again, I slow down again, and so on. I go slower and slower until they stop creeping and let me go. When I am close and they stop, I accelerate past before they can do anything stupid like quickly pull out behind me. I dont want some driver in a hurry accidentally hitting the back of my bike. Or if creeping out is the only way for a driver to enter a constant traffic stream, I may wave them in.
Watch out for drivers who swing one way to go another
A wide-turner is a person who swings leftbefore turning right to get a better turn. This is annoying because you assume a car swinging left is going left, and they dont – they swing left to go right! Even when stationary and indicating right, a wide-turner still swings left first to make the turn, so dont pass them too close on the left. Its just a habit they learned somewhere, unaware of its affect on others. Note that big trucks have to make a wide-turn to get around a corner, so give them wide berth when they do.
Dont follow a half turner too close or you may run into the back of them
A half-turner is a person so cautious that they have to stop in the middle of any turn to “catch their breath” . Its surprising how many people do this. It is annoying because you expect them to complete the turn and they dont. For some reason, they stop mid-turn just to check all is OK. If you are following too close, you can run into the back of them. Dont get frustrated. Not everyone is as confident as you!
First slugs are annoying when only they get across and all the other drivers behind have to wait for the next green
A first slug is the first in a stream of cars that takes off very slowly when the red light turns green. They take all the time in the world to go as they will always get across. They are annoying because their tardiness means the cars behind dont get across and have to wait for the next green. They are people who consider time at a red light “wasted”, and so spend it talking, changing a CD or adjusting their dash screen, so they are not ready when the light goes green. Sometimes only a honk from behind wakes them up. An experienced motorcycle rider can safely slide alongside a stream of cars at a red light into the gap behind the first car. Then when the light goes green, shadow them across in the gap behind them (not for beginners).
Sunday drivers are especially annoying in rush hour traffic
Sunday drivers are people who drive very slowly in rush hour traffic, maybe retired people with no reason to hurry just out for a drive in their old banger. They are annoying because have all the time in the world but others around them dont. There is a time to go out and smell the flowers, and rush hour traffic is not it. They frustrate other drivers who may need to be somewhere on time, like work. Hopefully on highways they are in the left lane. One a motorcycle, just let them be. If one day you become be a Sunday driver, go out in the middle of the day when the traffic is light!
Blockers won’t give up what they see as their “right”, so dont get agitated and try to squeeze around them unsafely
Blockers are people who try to force others to go at the speed limit all the time. Their pleasure is to sit in the fast lane at a slow speed to stop “speedsters”. They are annoying because they are trying to control other people. In their mind, they have every right to be in that lane, but in fact the road code states that drivers should always keep as far to the left as possible. The psychology term for this behavior is anal retentive, the desire to obstruct a natural flow. When you meet such a driver on a motorcycle understand they are doing this on purpose. Blockers won’t give up what they see as their “right”, so dont get agitated and try to squeeze around them unsafely. Take your time and choose your moment.
When they suddenly stop on a highway, sudden stoppers become a major accident risk
Sudden stoppers are drivers who jam on their brakes when a bird flies past. They think the best response to any danger is to jam on your brakes. They are not only annoying but dangerous, as their fear often causes rear-end crashes. When they suddenly stop on a highway, sudden stoppers become a major accident risk. In accidents, it is not your speed that counts but your speed relative to other vehicles.
A good friend in New Jersey was being tail-gated by a big van in a hurry. She tried to avoid by changing into the slow lane but the van immediately followed. At that moment a sudden stopper in the slow lane jammed on their brakes for some reason, making everyone suddenly stop. My friend who was following safely managed to stop in time, but the van tail-gating her crashed into her car with great force. The entire back of her station wagon was caved in. The policeman attending said she only survived because she was a small lady, but the result was neck and back problems that continue to this day. The hurry-up driver was fined but the little old lady who caused it all was let off. My friend concluded there was nothing she could have done. I concluded that the best first response to tailgaters is to make space.
Hard bargainers are annoying because they think that indicating some how clears a way
Hard bargainers is my name for drivers who think that indicating is an offer not an intent. They are annoying because they seem to think that indicating some how clears a way. As my wife explains to me when there is no gap to change lanes: “If you indicate, they will let you in”. When I asked “But what if they don’t?” she replied “Well, if they speed up, you don’t go, but if they let you in, wave to thank them.” Later, I was in a car with my brother driving when a car ahead indicated to turn in front of him, and he sped up! I didnt ask why, but I guess in his mind the other car “offered” to change lanes and he “refused”. Unfortunately, some drivers make an “offer” you can’t refuse, as they just indicate and go anyway. On a motorcycle, it is not a good idea to play Chickenwith a car, because you always come off worse. If a car indicates to turn into your lane, take them at their word and let them. You are a fox, not a chicken.
A lane wobbler is a driver who wobbles about in their lane, maybe even crossing the line then swerving back. There can be are many reasons for this, none of them good. They could be checking their cell-phone, adjusting their music, fiddling with dash controls, drunk, drugged or very tired. It doesnt matter – the response is always the same, keep away from them! They are not in control of their vehicle. Whatever you do, dont accelerate up along side them to see what they are doing. You dont want to know.
The human brain is a three-in-one system that interacts with the world in a feedback loop – action followed by a result that alters our state, e.g. you eat what tastes good to allay hunger. In the picture, the main brain feedback loop in red has the three control centers in green that evolved over millions of years to manage it:
The moving center packs in over half the nerves of the brain!
Moving. In the hind-brain right next to spinal cord, this center specializes in complex actions. It is said to be primitive but over half the nerves in the brain are packed in here! It learns motor skills like riding a bicycle.
Emotional. Based in the mid-brain, this center interprets body states like pain to give emotions like fear. It remembers these states via the autonomic nervous system, e.g. fear activates a cascade of hormones to increase heart rate and breathing, ready for fight or flight.
Intellect. Based in the higher cortex, this center specializes in pattern analysis and higher functions like language, thought and planning. Its weakness is that this most complex part of the brain also the slowest.
The Centipede’s dilemma. A centipede was happy – quite! Until a toad in fun Said, “Pray, which leg moves after which?” This raised her doubts to such a pitch, She fell exhausted in the ditch Not knowing how to run.
This shows what happens when the intellect tries to take over what the moving center does.
Only the moving center can learn a fast motor skill like riding a motorcycle
The brain has three ways to handle any situation and on a motorcycle you need to get it right! All the centers are good at what they do, but its no good trying to bang in a nail with a saw. The emotional center is good for people, the intellect can handle complex patterns, but only the moving center can learn a fast motor skill like riding a motorcycle. For more detail see Paul Gillis’s excellent e-book. This is NOT Triune theory, that the human brain contains a “reptile brain” inside a “mammal brain” inside a human brain. We only have one brain – the human brain. The moving center is no more a reptile brain than your hand is a “monkey hand”. The human brain today is state of the art – there is no “old” brain – and the moving center is the best at what it does.
Blind sight. When brain damage destroys cortical sight, if asked what they see, such people say “Nothing”. Yet the same people can catch a ball thrown at them! This blind sight shows that even when cortically blind, the moving center can still “see” and act. Likewise people who cant say words due to brain damage in the cortex can still swear and sing! So the emotional brain can use speech. Each center has its own input and output nerves, so even when the cortex is damaged they carry on.
According to psychology, the brain divides its work up into cognitive, affective and motor domains – in common parlance head, heart and hands. Just as a community might have a university area, a leisure area and a production area, so the brain has different areas for different specialties. When riding a motorcycle, you get to decide what each part does:
Do your thinking before, not during, events
Intellect. The intellect is too slow for real-time motorcycle riding but it can predict accident risks. It needs time to work, so do your thinking before, not during, events.
Emotions. The emotions can kick in at any time with fear or anger but you dont want that. When riding keep the emotions passive, because getting emotional doesn’t help.
Moving. The moving center is the master of space-time movement. It is the only part of your brain that can ride effectively.
The brain is three feedback loops in one, so any center can affect things at any time. It works best when each part, physical, emotional and intellectual, does what it is good at. When riding a motorcycle, the primary control is in the moving center (in black in the diagram). The emotions (red) and intellect (blue) play supporting roles and must not interfere with the moving center controlling the bike. The brain works best when the three parts work together.
The lion of life. A lion used to prowl about a field in which three oxen lived. Many a time he tried to attack, but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so any way he approached was met by the horns of one of them. One day they quarreled among themselves and each went off to pasture alone in a separate part of the field. Then the lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end to all. (From Aesop’s Fables).
The next section describes the movement center that rides a motorcycle.
Your risk of accident goes up whenever traffic flows cross
The flow of traffic is like the flow of water. Just as when two or more streams meet there is turbulence, so the risk of accidents goes up when traffic intersects. The more streams cross the more the risk, so a side turn merge with one traffic stream is less risky than an intersection where many streams meet. The following diagrams were created with accidentsketch.com. If you drive on LEFT look at the LEFT diagram, and if you drive on the RIGHT look at the RIGHT diagram! The terms used to describe the cross-flow cases are:
Merge:Merging with a traffic stream.
Cross: Crossing a traffic stream.
Side:Side entry to a traffic stream.
In the diagram. The red motorcycle M wants to turn across the flow of traffic as per the dotted line. A green car A is coming the other way. There is a yellow truck T behind and a yellow car AA also waiting to cross.
Note.The dots in the center of the intersection indicate gravel that often builds up where no cars ever go. Avoid it!
Move to the center line, avoiding the gravel build up in the center. This lets the truck behind continue safely.
Wait at point O for the oncoming car(s) to pass. This position also allows the yellow AA car to cross around behind you if they want.
Move across to complete the turn when clear. At no point are you blocking any traffic flow.
Car pulls out of side-road
In this surprisingly common accident situation, a car pulls out of a side road into your path. You can hit the side of the car, possibly going over the bonnet.
In the diagram. The red motorcycle has right of way. A green car doesn’t see the motorcycle and pulls out in front of it.
Slow Down and Get Ready because it is an intersection.
Move to the center of the road to give more space.
Confirm the car sees you and is fully stationary. If it moves in any way, flash your beam and prepare to stop with horn.
Notes. Some say one can do nothing if a car randomly pulls out but this is not true. Car drivers can be distracted, careless and in a hurry, but they are not random. A car stationary at a Yield sign will not pull out if it sees you. Moving to the center and flashing increases visibility and the closer you get the more likely they will see you. In good weather you can see them looking at you. On the other hand, if they are still moving be prepared to stop.
Car pulls out of blind spot
In this case the side road has two lanes, and the car pulls out of a blind spot behind a van in front of the motorcycle.
In the diagram. The red motorcycle has right of way. A green car that doesn’t see the motorcycle and pulls out in front of it from the blind spot, indicated by the black square, where it is hidden behind the yellow van.
Slow Down and Get Ready because it is an intersection.
Recognize the blind spot behind the stopped van, and direct sight it as you pass the van. Only when you see its clear do you go.
Notes. Again some might say “What can you do?” if a car does that. The answer is to not go where you can’t see the flows directly. When you direct sight, you don’t have to assume there is nothing there. If you think this is unlikely, check out this video of a car doing just this.
Driver lets another car out of a side road
In this case, a motorcycle overtaking a stream of stationary cars is unaware that one of the cars has left a gap and waved another car out from a side street.
In the diagram. The motorcycle in red is overtaking stationary cars. The car in green is trying to pull out when a car in the stream kindly leaves a gap for them to do that. They pull out quickly, checking it is all clear for traffic coming the other way and dont see the motorcycle until they hit it. This is another variation of the Blind Spot case above, so the plan is the same. If you see any side street, that’s an intersection so slow down. Seeing the gap in the stream of stopped cars you recognize a blind spot and direct sight before proceeding, and so avoid a crash.
Being kind? In a sad case in New Zealand, a kindly driver decided to stop at a pedestrian crossing to wave a kid across. She assumed it was safe and ran across, into another car in the other lane that didnt see them. The driver that hit saw a car stopped at an empty pedestrian crossing and just carried on. So at a two lane pedestrian crossing, don’t wave a kid into danger. And if you see a car stopped in one lane of a pedestrian crossing, dont just drive on through.
Overtaking at an intersection
This happens when new riders see a car stopped in the middle of the road apparently doing nothing and overtake it, then as they pass it the driver turns into them.
In the diagram. The motorcycle in red sees a stationary car in green not indicating and overtakes it. Maybe the car driver accidentally put their indicator on the wrong way and even checked their mirror. When asked later, they invariably say they didnt see the motorcycle. A car turning unexpectedly is not unusual car behavior, so you have to expect it. Remember, car drivers are never “doing nothing”, even when stationary. Second, never overtake at an intersection. Intersections are not about overtaking, they are about crashes. So just stay behind the car until it is obvious what it is going to do.
A U-turn driver. Recently had a case just like this. I was in a lanes waiting at the lights to turn. When the lights turned green I was ready to take off, but after the turn the car in front of me slowed down in the lane for no apparent reason. I was really tempted to whoosh past him but what was he doing? Turns out, he was planning a quick no indicating U-turn, which he immediately did. My quick overtake would have gone right into the side of him! My risk sense saved me.
A lane kiss is when two vehicles decide to pull into a middle lane at the same time. Both check the lane is clear, and it is. Then both move into it at the same time to a near miss or collision.
In the diagram. The red motorcycle and the green car are both blocked in their lane. They both see that the lane between them is clear and both move into it at the same time. This doesnt happen often, but I assure you it does happen. I have had several cases over the years and seen others do it. You can predict the situation if you see another car stuck behind a slow car two lanes across, and so you wait and let them go. Otherwise you rely on a head turn and all-round scan and to see the car coming. If the scan feedback loop is always on, you see the other driver in your side vision as you turn into the lane. As motorcycles dont fully take up a lane, you can usually avoid a lane kiss. Cars are not so lucky.
Two lane roundabouts
Two lane roundabouts occur when the roads leading into them have two lanes.The outside lane is supposed to be for a turning off the roundabout, and the inside lane is supposed to be for carrying on around the roundabout. But if you want to go round a bit and then turn off it gets tricky, and that’s when accidents occur. Two situations arise, as below.
You are in the outside lane and a car on the inside lane suddenly decides to turn off the roundabout.
2. You are on the inside lane and the car outside you that should turn off decides to carry on around (see diagram).
In both cases, under no circumstances travel alongside another vehicle going around a roundabout. Position yourself either in front or behind them and assume they cant see you. The diagram describes the case below.
I hate two-lane roundabouts. I was going to Auckland airport and as you approach there is a two lane roundabout with first a side road off, then two lanes leading on to the airport. Most cars going round the roundabout carry on the airport. I took the inner lane of the roundabout because I wasnt turning off the side road and indicated to turn off when the car beside and behind me seemed in a bit of a hurry. So I slowed down and sure enough, with no indication, he turned right in front of me to carry on around while in the outside lane. Some cars on roundabouts do whatever they want, and on a motorcycle it is best to let them.
This section covers general risk situations that arise on the road. The next section covers intersections, merges and side-entry cases like driveways where traffic flows cross. In the situations below, first think what would I do? Then read what I suggest and make your own choice.
If someone follows you too close behind, they are almost certainly a risky driver
Tailgating is the act of driving so close to the vehicle in front that in a sudden stop the tailgater will crash into them. Being tailgated is especially bad for motorcycles because if the car behind can’t stop it runs right over you. When vehicles get up close behind me on a motorcycle I don’t like it at all. For a large truck, a motorcycle would be no more than a bump on the road. If someone follows you too close behind, they are almost certainly a risky driver. On a motorcycle, there are several things you can do:
Don’t react to the “pressure” the tailgater is trying to apply
Move to another lane to let them pass. This is the preferred option. If you are in a fast lane, the tailgater may want you to “Move over”. Indicate and then gradually, without hurry, move into the slower lane. Don’t make sudden moves because the tailgater might suddenly change lanes to go round you, and you could turn into their path. If you are in a single lane on a country road don’t move over, as risky drivers will then try to pass too close, which is even worse.
Slow down to make more space in front of you. If I cant move over to let them pass, I slow down to increase the space in front of me. The tailgater wants to “pressure” you to go faster. Ignore, hold your ground and stay in the middle of the lane. I double my normal following distance to the car in front. If they reduce my back space, I increase my front space to compensate. So if there is a sudden stop ahead, I can brake twice as slow to stop the tailgater crashing into me from behind. I have had to do this on several occasions.
Disengage if possible. After you make more space in front, accelerate forward then change to another lane to disengage the tailgater. Note: make space first then accelerate. Don’t immediately plan to “run away”, as if you run from a tailgater they just follow which can make things worse.
Signal them to back off? The tailgater is saying “Go faster” but if you do, they just catch up and tailgate again. Sometimes this is as fast as you want to go. In rainy weather with a big truck on your tail, it is not safe to go faster, nor is lane changing a good idea. It doesn’t hurt to tap your brakes, to make the back brake light up. Most tailgaters ignore this, but it is worth a try. You can also slow down a bit to “push” the tailgater back, then accelerate to create more back space, to signal not to follow so close. In my experience, trying to “signal” tailgaters is a waste of time, as they don’t listen.
When being tailgated, first create space, then try to disengage
In every case above, the goal is to disengage, e.g. by letting them go past. If is really bad, like on a one-lane road, find a place and pull over to the side. Some people with no risk sense just naturally tailgate. Since the goal is to disengage from the tailgater, once they overtake don’t follow and tailgate them with your lights on high-beam! Dont mess with tailgaters. They are an accident going somewhere to happen, and you dont want to be there when it does.
A big black tailgater. When young I was riding along under the speed limit when a big black car came right up close behind me. My mirrors were not set right, so all I saw was the radiator and bonnet. I took offense to being tail-gated like that and so accelerated away (to leave them in my dust). Next thing I heard was a police siren. The black car was a cop car. As they wrote me a ticket for speeding, I explained that I only sped-up because they were tailgating me, but they knew that. I think they enjoyed writing that ticket. Since then, I know others who being followed by a police car slowed down and also got a ticket, this time for obstructing traffic. Bottom line, the lion doesnt need a reason to eat the lamb. When police come up fast behind you, just indicate and meekly move over.
Often the best thing to do is just drive straight with acceleration and horn on
Dogs can come out of properties to defend them and run on the road. Usually it is just to bark, but some like to chase vehicles. You don’t want to collide with a dog, as it hurts the dog and may hurt you. If the dog is up ahead, sometimes you can slow down until close and then accelerate straight so your paths dont meet. Horn can distract momentarily. Whatever you do, don’t try to kick the dog away while riding, because it unbalances the bike and can bring you down. Being on a bike is way better than lying on the ground with a dog around. Most dogs are not stupid enough to get too close to a moving motorcycle. Often the best thing to do is just drive straight with acceleration and horn on.
Animal on the road
Given a choice between my life and the rabbit’s, I choose mine
What if a small animal, like a rabbit, suddenly runs out into the road? You try avoid it if you can, but what if it is last minute? Do you swerve and save its life? The simple answer is no. I avoid it if I can, but plan B is to ride straight and steady and hope it survives. If I swerve suddenly, the rabbit could live but I could crash and die. Given a choice between my life and the rabbit’s, I choose mine. You could say I ran over it, but you could also say it ran under me.
Don’t assume what cow will do if you try to ride around it
What if a big animal like a cow is just standing in the road? Cows are are female vegetarians, but that doesnt make them harmless. They are big, strong, powerful animals with horns. So I just stop and look. Maybe they walk off. Don’t assume what cow will do if you try to ride around it. Hopefully a car will come along and I’ll follow hiding behind it. If the cow starts coming towards me I’m already backing up the bike to turn it around and ride off the other way. Remember, there is no reverse gear on a motorcycle, although some Harley’s and the Honda Goldwing have one.
The system of fining drivers who exceed an arbitrary speed is essentially just a road tax
Over the years, safety “experts” have branded speed as the main “cause” of road accidents. In my view, speed makes accidents worse but the biggest cause of accidents is inattention. Research finds that speed is NOT even a factor in over 80% of motorcycle accidents. They say speed kills, but if that were true, an airplane trip would be a suicide venture. European autobahns with no speed limits are not scenes of carnage. The airlines made air travel safe by improving practices not flying planes slower. The myth that speed, and speed alone, causes accidents is kept going by the profit it generates, not its safety value. When fining drivers who exceed an arbitrary speed becomes a million dollar industry, it’s essentially just a road tax. When police set traps to achieve per month ticket targets, its time to live elsewhere. Speed has become about profit not safety.
Speeding tickets. Next time you have a bunch of friends around, ask how many got a speeding ticket in the last five years? Nearly everyone will put up their hand. Now ask how many people HAVEN’T been convicted for anything else in that time? The same people put up their hands again, so all these “speedsters” are law abiding citizens! My wife who never drives dangerously has been fined hundreds for “speeding”. Speeding tickets are ignored by crazy speedsters, so the way to stop them is to ban them from the roads until they learn, not impose fines on everyone else. The way to reduce accidents is positive training, not a punitive tax.
We need a new road control system based on safety not the centuries-old fines system
Technology is now challenging the cash cow of speeding tickets. All modern cars have computer control, so a few lines of code could stop any car speeding – ever. And GPS satellite monitoring could vary that limit for any speed zone. We have the technology to instantly issue an electronic fine the moment any car in a city speeds, so if speed kills why not implement it? Making every car drive to rule would cripple commerce in the city, as every delivery would take twice as long. We need a road control system based on safety, not centuries-old fines. Why not extend the demerit system to include merits? Use technology to record competence, the positive cause of safety, not speed the fake cause of accidents. Give each driver a personal speed limit based on their safety record, with new drivers lower until they prove themselves. If being in an accident reduced your speed limit for a while, drivers would be motivated to attend courses to be safer.When every car needs a thumbprint to start, a banished driver could not start any car.
Stupid safety. Based on the myth that speed kills, police in Auckland instituted a zero-tolerance speed blitz to reduce the road toll for the 2014 Xmas period. What actually happened was that accidents doubled during that period, as fearful drivers watched their speedometers not the road. The unintended affect was that inattention caused more accidents. Instead of recognizing that making drivers fearful does not increase safety, the authorities called it a “blip” and carried on handing out money-gathering tickets in the name of “safety”!
Going too slow is dangerous
Driving slowly down the side of the road like a council sweeper is very unsafe for a motorcycle
That slower is better suggests that that a motorcycle going slowly down the side of a lane is safer, but it isnt. Driving slowly down the side of the road like a council sweeper is very unsafe for a motorcycle. Going too slow puts you in danger, because it frustrates other drivers and tempts them to push past you unsafely. I generally I travel a few mph faster than surrounding cars, because it is safer for me to overtake than be overtaken. This is not aggressive riding but assertive riding, and assertive riding is safer.
Slower isn’t always better. I learned that slower isn’t always better when coming back from Pennsylvania in atrocious conditions. Riding along in the pelting rain with terrible visibility and cars all around, part of me wanted to slow down. Then I realized that slowing down 10mph not only made me an obstacle to other vehicles but would extend the trip by 20 minutes, and I was already struggling to keep focus. I was like a battery running down that only had a certain amount of time left. The best bet was to keep up with the other cars. The road conditions meant that if anything happened I had few options, but slowing down didnt change that.
When I see riders sliding between cars moving at speed and missing them by inches, my hair stands on end!
Lane sliding is when a motorcycle slips in-between slow or stationary cars in their lanes. Some western countries see it as risky but in Asian countries when traffic stops at a red light, motorcycles routinely slip to the front. When the light turns green, they take off ahead of the slower cars. It is not illegal and it helps traffic flow, as motorcycles dont take up a car space. Competitive western drivers think motorcyclists filtering past are “pushing in”, but they aren’t actually as motorcycles use the gaps that cars can’t. Yet when I see riders sliding between cars moving at speed and missing them by inches, my hair stands on end! Anything unexpected and they are down. On the other hand, if the cars are stopped or crawling, it can be done quite safely.
After an accident
After an accident, get yourself out of the traffic flow and stay there
If you come off the bike in an accident, the first thing to do, and I cant stress this enough, is get yourself out of the traffic flow! Dont confront the other driver. Dont worry about your motorcycle. In a few seconds, someone else may come barreling along and hit your bike, the other car, or both. On a highway, this will almost certainly happen. On a country road, it may look clear but any moment a car may appear out of nowhere. So get yourself out of the traffic flow and stay there. Better to walk up up the road to flag oncoming traffic to slow down. Only when the traffic flow is under control should you help say someone stuck in a car. When power lines come down, rescuers turn off the power first before helping people, so they dont become victims too.
If seeing is the best defense on a motorcycle , being seen is the next best
In over two-thirds of bike-car accidents, the driver didn’t see the motorcycle coming. Not being seen is a major cause of bike accidents. Seeing and being seen are essentially two sides of the same coin. Seeing uses your eyes to be safe, while being seen uses the eyes of others. Both can avoid accidents. If seeing is the best defense on a motorcycle, being seen is the next best. A bike is harder to see than a car because it is smaller and moves faster, so it is in your interests to be as visible as possible. Some ways to do this include:
Headlights. Ride with headlights on at all times.
Visible Gear. Wear light or bright helmet and clothing, with reflective strips for night-time.
Position. Position yourself in front of cars so they see you, not on the side of the lane where they can also push past you.
What gets attention is change, so use flashing, indicating, moving in lane, or your horn to get attention
How to be seen? Some people walk into huge, slow-moving trains, so how will they see me on a little bike? People walk in front of trains when they are background noise, i.e. when the train isn’t doing anything to attract attention, like tooting its horn. On a motorcycle you want attention, and what gets attention is change. Changes that say “Hey, I’m here!” on a motorcycle include flashing, indicating, moving in-lane and using your horn.
High beam flashing
If a driver looks like pulling out in front of you, flash your high beam to get attention
Flashers are people who want attention. They are saying “Look at me!” You can say the same by flashing your high beam. If you see a car ahead coming out of a side-street or driveway and aren’t sure it has seen you, flick on your high beam. This only takes a moment and in daylight is no big deal. They won’t be blinded by your beam but will see a change, which will get their attention. Note that driving with your high beam on all the time doesn’t have the same effect – it is the change that gets attention. Once you get the habit, it becomes easy.
The riding safely rule is to always indicate, even when there is no-one around
Indicators tell others what you are going to do. In surveys of what annoys other drivers most, not indicating is always up at the top. The riding safely rule is to always indicate, even when there is no-one around. This makes it a safety habit, an automatic thing you always do when you change lanes. Make no exceptions. Why indicate when no-one is around? It is precisely when you think there is no-one around that indicating can save your life. Make it a habit to always indicate turns and one day you will be glad you did. You don’t want to be the invisible man on the road. Give others a chance not to hit you – always indicate when you turn.
Question: When I indicate to change lanes, other drivers speed up so I cant get into the lane. So isn’t it better just to change quickly without indicating, before anyone can stop you? Answer: No it isn’t.
Dont let cars overtake and cut back in front of you
On a motorcycle, it is dangerous when cars overtake you. Many car drivers don’t realize where the back of their car is, so when they overtake and cut back in, the back of the car can hit you. Just a touch from a car can bring a motorcycle down. The car may go on without even noticing. So don’t let cars overtake and cut back in front of you. Keep your speed at the flow of the traffic, and “fill the lane” so they cant use it as well. This can include moving from side to side a bit to “occupy” it, which also makes you more visible. This is not for beginners, but cars are more cautious around bikes that “waggle” a bit.
Use your horn
If your horn is just a “peep”, get a better one
A horn blast is another great way to get noticed. In “polite” countries like New Zealand people rarely use their horn as it seems rude, like yelling at someone. But really its just letting the other person know you are there. If the car next to you starts to slide into your lane, press your horn! Maybe they are dozing off or adjusting their stereo. A good loud horn will alert them to your presence. If you ride a motorcycle and never use your horn, think about adding it to your repertoire. If your horn is just a “peep”, get a better one.
Avoid blind spots
Don’t be invisible means never riding constantly in the blind spot of a car or truck
A sure way to not be seen is to ride in the blind spot of another vehicle. The blind spot for a car is outside their mirror view but not yet in direct sight of the driver. Its in front of a line about 45 degrees back from the driver. If you ride in a car’s blind spot you become invisible to them, so they may suddenly pull into your lane as they think it is empty. Don’t be invisible means never riding constantly in the blind spot of a car or truck.
You dont ever want to be alongside an articulated truck when it changes lanes
When riding alongside a car, be either back where they see you in their mirror or front where they see you through their windscreen. Treat moving from side-back to side-front of a nearby car like an overtake – don’t linger in their blind spot where they might not see you. This especially applies to large trucks and buses. You dont ever want to be alongside an articulated truck when it changes lanes. Bike vs. truck or bus is not a conflict you will win, as this video shows.
Undertaking is aptly named because it is a good way to end up in a box
Undertaking is passing another vehicle on the inside using the road shoulder. When I was young, I did it a few times but now I dont, because cars dont expect a vehicle there. They assume they can pull off the road onto the shoulder without checking, so undertaking is aptly named because it is a good way to end up in a box. Indeed using the road shoulder as a lane is illegal in most places. In contrast, passing on the inside is legal for a stationary car, so this is not undertaking. Some see undertaking as a form of motorcycle “cheating” and may actively obstruct you, as in this video.