With the weather finally turning warm after what was a brutally cold winter and a largely chilly spring, motorcycle season is in full swing. Dozens of motorcycles appeared on highways, back roads, and city streets this past weekend. Even more motorcyclists will be out and about as summer nears.
While we’re sure to see more motorcycles on the road in the coming weeks, the question of how many drivers will actually see them – that is, notice them and share the road with them as the law requires – is an important one. In about two-thirds of all crashes between motorcycles and other vehicles, car drivers “didn’t see” the motorcyclists, according to the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety.
In honor of Motorcycle Safety Month, let’s talk about the top five things we drivers can do to make the roads safer for bikers all year long.
Bikers have the same road privileges as drivers, and they deserve a safe environment for riding. Photo Credit: Traffic Safety Marketing (TSM), public information.
1. Share the road
Because they’re smaller than cars, it can be difficult to spot a motorcycle right away on a busy road – but it’s still your responsibility as a driver to see and avoid them. Photo Credit: TSM, public information.
In the majority of crashes involving motorcycles and another vehicle, the car or truck driver claimed he or she “didn’t see” the motorcyclist. Bikers have just as much right to use the road as operators of passenger cars and commercial trucks. Sharing the road with them isn’t just courteous, it’s the law. There’s a reason for the saying “look twice – save a life.” When you know it’s the kind of weather that brings bikers out in droves, use extra caution and make sure that if there’s a motorcycle in your path, you see it – and react to it – before a collision occurs.
2. Never drive distracted
This is a good rule of thumb to follow even without motorcycles in the equation. Every year, distracted driving contributes to thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of injuries across the country. Driver distraction is a main reason that drivers don’t see motorcyclists. You can’t share the road with someone you don’t know is on it, and you can’t know who’s around you if you won’t tear your gaze away from the cell phone, newspaper, take-out meal, or sun visor mirror. Remember, when you’re behind the wheel, your primary focus shouldn’t be texting, making a phone call, eating, grooming, reading, or adjusting the radio – it should be on driving safely to your destination, without putting yourself or anyone else in harm’s way.
3. No, you can’t cut in
When I say “share the road,” I mean that figuratively – never try to literally occupy the same road space as a motorcycle. Yes, bikes are smaller than cars, but not small enough that you can ride side-by-side with one in a single-width lane. Always give a motorcyclist the full width of the lane they’re riding in, and leave plenty of space – at least three to four extra seconds more than you would leave a car – when following a bike.
4. Check your blind spot
If you do see a motorcycle in your mirror, keep in mind that its small size can make it hard for you to gauge speed and proximity – and, yes, that bikers are more vulnerable in crashes than you are. Photo Credit: TSM, public information.
If your blind spot is big enough that it’s hard to see a full-sized car in your mirrors, you can be sure that it’s big enough to hide a much smaller motorcycle. Always physically turn and check your blind spot before you attempt to change lanes. This is one instance in which looking twice really can save a life.
5. Pay attention to turn signals – but not too much attention
Turn signals show others on the roadway what your intentions are. Without them, other drivers could easily misinterpret your plans and cut you off, rear end your car, or otherwise find themselves on a collision course with you. Always use your turn signals when you’re turning, merging, or changing lanes – particularly when the weather is nice and motorcyclists, who might be hard to spot, are sharing the roads with you. However, be careful relying on other people’s turn signals, especially motorcyclists’. Unlike many cars, motorcycles often don’t have self-canceling turn signals, so they might not turn off instantly when they are no longer necessary. Don’t take hasty actions based on a motorcycle’s turn signal – wait until you are sure that the turn signal is intentional and the biker actually is turning or changing lanes.
Even for those of us traveling on four (or more) wheels, motorcycle safety matters. Some of us ride motorcycles in our spare time or have loved ones who ride. All of us benefit from safer roadways and fewer collisions. Despite things like traffic congestion, the roads really are big enough for all of us to share – we just have to learn the simple tips that allow us to do so safely.