May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness month and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wants to remind drivers of all other vehicles and all road users to safely “share the road” with motorcyclists, and to be extra alert to keep motorcyclists safe.
The NHTSA has provided following safety tips:
- A motorcycle has the same rights & privileges as any other vehicle on the roadway.
- Allow the motorcyclist a full lane width. Although it may seem there is enough room in the traffic lane for an automobile & a motorcycle, remember the motorcycle needs the room to maneuver safely. Do not share the lane.
- Motorcycles are small & may be difficult to see. A motorcycle has a much smaller profile than a vehicle, which can make it more difficult to judge the speed & distance of an approaching motorcycle.
- Always signal your intentions before changing lanes or merging with traffic. This allows the motorcyclist to anticipate traffic flow & find a safe lane position.
- Remember that a motorcyclist can be hidden in a vehicle’s blind spot or missed in a quick look due to its smaller size. Always make a visual check for motorcycles by checking mirrors & blind spots before entering or leaving a lane of traffic & at intersections.
- Don’t be fooled by a flashing turn signal on a motorcycle – motorcycle signals may not be self-canceling & riders sometimes forget to turn them off. Wait to be sure the motorcycle is going to turn before you proceed.
- Remember that road conditions that are minor annoyances to motorists can pose major hazards to motorcyclists. Motorcycle riders may change speed or adjust position within a lane suddenly in reaction to road & traffic conditions such as potholes, gravel, wet or slippery surfaces, pavement seams, railroad crossings, & grooved pavement.
- Allow more following distance — three or four seconds — following a motorcycle so the motorcycle rider has enough time to maneuver or stop in an emergency. In dry conditions, motorcycles can stop more quickly than cars.
Below are also some safety tips for motorcyclists to keep in mind when travel on the roadways, provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and Motorcyclist Online.
- Pre-Ride Check: Conduct a pre-ride check to identify any mechanical defects that could jeopardize your safety.
- Use that thumb: Signal your intentions & get into the habit of canceling your turn signals often regardless of the traffic situation. A blinking signal might tell drivers waiting to pull into the road or turning left in front of you that you’re about to turn when you aren’t. So push that switch a few times each minute. Better to wear out the switch than eat a Hummer’s hood, eh?
- Dress for Safely: Wear a D.O.T. approved helmet & eye protection, over the ankle foot protection, long pants, & long-sleeved shirt
- Be noticed: Make sure drivers & pedestrians can see you, even from a distance. Ride with your high beam on during the day (as a courtesy, turn it off when sitting behind someone at a light), & wear brightly colored gear, especially your helmet & jacket. Use reflective strips or decals on your clothing & on your motorcycle.
- Distance: Keep a safe distance from other motorists & give yourself enough time to react to dangerous situations.
- Lane Position: To be seen; ride in the part of a lane where you are most visible.
- Ride Unimpaired: Don’t ride when you are tired or under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
- Be Courteous & Responsible: Respect other drivers, don’t speed; know the local traffic laws & rules of the road.
- Practice: Develop your riding techniques before going into heavy traffic, & know how to handle your bike in conditions such as wet or sandy roads, high winds, & uneven surfaces
- Watch drivers’ heads & mirrors: Watching the head movements of drivers through their windows & mirrors is an excellent way to anticipate sudden moves. Most drivers won’t lunge left or right without first moving their heads one way or another (even if they don’t check their mirrors).
- Trust your mirrors, but not totally: Your bike’s mirrors can be lifesavers, but they don’t always tell the entire story even if they’re adjusted properly. In traffic, always buttress your mirror-generated rear view with a glance over the appropriate shoulder. Do it quickly & you’ll add an extra measure of rear-view & blind-spot knowledge to your info-gathering tasks
- Never get between a vehicle & an off-ramp: This sounds almost too simple, but drivers who decide to exit at the last minute kill plenty of riders each year. The simple rule, then, is to never position yourself between a vehicle & an off-ramp. Passing on the right is generally a no-no, but in this day & age it’s sometimes necessary. So if you do it, do so between exits or cross-streets.
- Cover your brakes: In traffic you must often react extra quickly, which means not fumbling for the brake lever or pedal. To minimize reach time, always keep a finger or two on the brake lever & your right toe close to the rear brake pedal.
- Be ready with the power: In traffic, ride in a gear lower than you normally would so your bike is ready to jump forward instantly if asked. Doing so gives you the option of leaping ahead instead of being limited to just using the brakes when a vehicle suddenly moves over.
- Traffic slowing? Stay left (or right): When traffic slows suddenly, stay to the left or right of the car in front of you. This will give you an escape route if needed. It will also help keep you from becoming a hood ornament if the car behind you fails to stop in time. Once you’ve stopped, be ready–clutch in, your bike in gear & your eyes on the mirrors. You never know.
- Practice the scan: Constantly scanning your entire environment while riding–from instruments to mirrors to the road ahead to blind spots to your left & right rear–keeps you aware & in touch with your situation, & therefore better able to react. Dwelling on one area too long–watching only behind or in front of you, for instance–is just begging for trouble.
- Study the surface: Add asphalt conditions to your scan. Be on the lookout for spilled oil, antifreeze or fuel; it’ll usually show up as shiny pavement. Also keep an eye out for gravel &/or sand, which is usually more difficult to see. Use your sense of smell, too; often you can smell spilled diesel fuel before your tires discover how slippery the stuff is.
- Ride in open zones: Use your bike’s power & maneuverability to ride in open zones in traffic. In any grouping of vehicles there are always some gaps; find these & ride in them. Doing so will separate you from four-wheelers, give you additional room to maneuver & allow you to keep away from dangerous blind spots & vary your speed. Riding along with the flow can make you invisible to other drivers, especially in heavy traffic.
- More than one way out: Don’t just brake hard in a hairball situation. There’s almost always an escape route. Swerving into Mrs. Smith’s front yard could be a lot better than centerpunching the Buick that turned left in front of you. Always have an escape route planned, & update it minute by minute.
Sources: NHTSA, Pennsylvania Department of Pennsylvania, Motorcyclist Online and Utah Department of Public Safety