Motorcycles: Like Cars Used to Be?
With the warm-weather season back, motorcycles have once again returned to the roads and highways - and that means it’s time to watch out.

Motorcycle acceptance reached a peak in the 1970s, and since then the number of accidents involving motorcycles has not decreased as rapidly as the number of bikes on the road has, suggesting either that motorcyclists are more careless or that motorists are not being as careful around motorcycles. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data suggests the latter. According to the agency, more than two-thirds of crashes involving cars and motorcycles are caused by the car driver not minding the motorcyclist’s right of way.

It’s everyone’s responsibility - biker and driver - to keep things safe on the road. Here are some tips to keep in mind whenever you might be sharing the road with motorcycles:

Be aware of the blind spot. Motorcycles can often fit completely in the driver’s "blind spot," the area of vision behind the rear pillar of most cars. Make sure you signal before changing lanes, and check again before making the maneuver. If you drive an SUV or other tall vehicle, consider that your blind spot will be significantly larger.

Wet roads and adverse weather have a greater impact on motorcyclists. Always keep plenty of distance (at least four seconds at higher speeds) if you’re following a motorcycle, more in bad weather.

No risky passes! It can prove especially difficult to gauge the speed of a motorcycle, because they take up less of your field of vision, making depth perception more difficult. Remember this, especially at night and when either approaching a motorcycle from the rear or passing another vehicle with a biker in the oncoming lane.

Look for road hazards. Ordinary road hazards can be deadly to motorcyclists: A significant portion of motorcycle accidents involves swerving suddenly to avoid hazards. If you see a large pothole, a rough train-track crossing, or an area with water puddles, anticipate that the rider will take evasive action. Leave the option open to allow the biker to use your lane if necessary to avoid the hazard. Some road surfaces, like metal gratings on bridges and overpasses, can be considered a hazard for bikers.

Always give motorcyclists a full lane for travel. They need the extra space for safety. Never pass bikers with only a few feet of space: the force of the buffeted wind can cause the rider to lose control. Motorcyclists might also choose to ride near one side of a lane to maximize the view of the lane ahead.

Look out for lane splitters. Lane splitting (when bikers can use the area between lanes to continue to travel through congested areas with stopped traffic) is only allowed in a few areas in the country, with California the most notable. Even though it’s illegal, when you change lanes in congested areas, watch for bikers that might pass closely beside you.


© 2007 The Car Connection

Bengt Halvorson

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