Street Strategies

It might seem that most motorcycle accidents occur on the highway or twisty mountain roads, but that isn’t always the case. The vast majority of motorcycle accidents occur on city streets and most are collisions with other vehicles, mostly cars. So, avoiding accidents is primarily a matter of knowing how to avoid collisions with cars. Let’s analyse several typical urban accidents and see how we can avoid them.

The Creeper

Riding down a suburban street, you come up behind a slow moving car. You would like to pass, but the driver keeps speeding up and slowing down, and you delay getting past. After several blocks you are frustrated by the slow pace, and decide to accelerate past. Just as you pull out to pass the creeper, the driver makes a sudden right turn into a driveway. There’s no room to stop or swerve! The driver’s erratic pace should have warned you that he was looking for something, possibly a street address, and was not concentrating on the traffic.

You should have predicted that the driver might turn or stop suddenly, and you should have decided to separate yourself from this hazard. You could have dropped back at least two seconds. You should never pass at an intersection or any other location where the car could make a turn in front of you. When you do pass a slower vehicle, beep your horn to warn him of your action.

Off-Ramp Dodger

You are riding on the freeway, in the far-left lane. Just as you are about to pass an off-ramp, a car in the lane to the right darts across your path and brakes hard to make the exit. You have no room to brake and a crash may be imminent.

You could have observed the off-ramp approaching, and should have predicted that cars around you would try to exit. Since you are riding in the exit lane, drivers may assume you are also going to exit. Knowing that drivers try this tactic all too often you should have decided to move away from the exit lane. It is never a good idea to allow yourself to ride in the blind spots of cars around you.

The Lane Changer

You are riding in the left-hand lane of a three-lane arterial. You decide to pass a slower moving car ahead by changing lanes to the right. Just as you change lanes, a car in the far right lane also decides to pass.

Whenever changing lanes, position yourself so that you will still have road space after the change. You should have observed the car two lanes over, and predicted that the driver might also wish to change lanes to pass slower traffic. You could have decided to wait a moment before moving, or you could have dropped back one car length to avoid a possible collision. It is also a wise tactic to signal at least three seconds before the move, and to turn your head to observe surrounding traffic.

The Rear-Ender

Riding down a suburban street on a Saturday night, you stop for a red light. Suddenly you hear the screech of tyres behind you, and then a hard impact knocks you out into the intersection. You have been struck by a car that didn’t see you waiting for the light. The driver is drunk.

Motorcycles are difficult to see, especially at night. You should have predicted that a following driver might not see you, and scanned the rear view mirrors for approaching traffic. Had you observed the fast moving car approaching from behind, you could have quickly moved to one side to avoid a possible collision. It is not a wise practice to sit on a motorcycle in neutral in traffic. Always use your mirrors when slowing or stopping and while you are stationary. This is especially hazardous at night.

The Sleepy Commuter

On your way to work in the early morning, you ride by a series of houses with cars parked in their driveways. Suddenly, one of the cars begins to move; and it backs right out into your path. You can’t stop in time.

You should have predicted that people would be leaving home for work at this time of day, and that many cars would be backing out of driveways. You might have observed a driver getting into the car ahead, or noticed some condensation coming from the exhaust when the car was started. You should have slowed and been prepared to stop quickly by covering the front brake lever. If there wasn't room or time to stop, you might have tried swerving first to avoid the collision. The swerve could have been to the right around the back of the car if there was no oncoming traffic, or into the driveway the car was vacating.

The Shark

You are riding down a wide arterial street, and observe a car moving up close behind you. The car tailgates you for several blocks, and you decide to move out of the way. Just as you swing into the other lane, the tailgater also changes lanes. What can you do to avoid a crash?

When you observed the tailgater, you should have taken steps to move out of the way sooner. You could have signalled and pulled off to the left, or made a very obvious and gradual lane change to the right. When moving away from such “sharks”, signal early and make definite moves so that the driver is fully aware of what you are doing.

Considering that the majority of motorcycle accidents are collisions with passenger cars at urban intersections, we should know all we can about how and where such accidents occur. Let’s examine some typical urban collisions.

The Basic Right Turner

You are approaching a four-way intersection along a busy arterial street. You are aware that crossing traffic might not stop for the lights, and that pedestrians might step out against the signal. There are cars waiting to turn. Just as you arrive at the intersection, the car in the opposing right turn lane runs the light and swerves across your path. You can’t stop in such a short distance.

Although there are many potential hazards at the intersection, the right turning car is your major concern. One of the most frequent of all motorcycle/car accidents are collisions with right turning vehicles. You should have predicted that the car ahead might turn right in front of you, and reduce speed by braking gently and gearing down. Slowing by just 15kph reduces your stopping distance almost in half, and covering the front brake leaver reduces your reaction time. Once you've slowed, keep an eye on the car in case you have to change position or stop quickly.

The Hidden Right Turner

You are riding in heavy traffic, following a bus. The bus enters an intersection. Suddenly a car appears, making a quick turn to pass behind the bus. There is no time to stop, and no room to accelerate.

This accident scenario is just like the one above, except the bus was blocking your view, and also blocking the right turning driver’s view of you. You should have predicted that a driver would try to slip through behind the bus. It is not wise to follow closely behind a large vehicle; you should have decided to move back where you could see and be seen.

Cars Waiting to Pull Out

You are riding along a wide arterial street, with a good view of traffic ahead. You observe a car waiting to pull out of a shopping centre, but you have eye contact with the driver, and the car is not moving. Just as you are about to pass the shopping centre exit, the driver accelerates out into your path, and then jams on the brakes. You can’t stop in the remaining few metres.

Although you may realise that the majority of collisions occur at intersection, you may not know that most of them occur at urban streets between intersections. Drivers waiting to pull out onto the street may not perceive a moving motorcycle, even if they appear to be looking directly at you. And even if they do see you, they may not accurately judge your approaching speed. You should be prepared to take evasive action to avoid any vehicle that could pull out into your path. You can also help drivers by wearing bright clothing and by flashing your high beam to attract attention. As you approach, watch the top of the front tyre, which will provide the first indication that the car is starting to move.

Survival in traffic requires that you observe carefully what is happening, predict accurately what is about to happen, decide correctly how to deal with the hazards, and know how to control your motorcycle with the skill to make the right manoeuvre.