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.
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:
- 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Going too slow is dangerous
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.
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
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.