Welcome to Part Four of my ongoing quest to create awareness and understanding between motorcyclists and drivers. I’ve written many thousands of words on the subject — in Part One, Part Two, Part Three of this series as well as talking about ambassadorship and managing risk on the road.
If you’re not inclined to read those or any further in this post, at least have a peek at these 10 basic things from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation “For Car Drivers” program that you should know. I hope that will inspire you to come back here and read more about the completely avoidable risks and challenges we face in sharing the road with drivers.
Stay in the lines
For Pete’s sake, stay in your lane! You’d think this would go without saying. Of course you need to maintain your lane discipline to avoid hitting another vehicle, right? But you’d be amazed how many times a day I encounter drivers drifting over the center line. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. But even with just a little, I’m already planning how to avoid you if I can because I don’t know if you’re going to correct in time or not.
Lack of lane discipline stems from two sources: distraction or laziness. Both are easily preventable. So stop the distracted driving that is causing the problem. What you consider a little “oopsie” has dire consequences for the people around you, especially those of us not surrounded by a steel cage. Even if you don’t hit us, you’re causing us to take evasive action. That can be equally problematic for us if we are forced into a scenario that’s nearly as dangerous as you barreling into us.
Maintaining your lane also goes for not cutting into the shoulder in curves. Did you know you drag all sorts of debris and rocks into the roadway when you do that? That sucks for motorcyclists and bicyclists. It also forces us into narrower travel paths, reducing our options for choosing a safe line. Not to mention, it erodes shoulders and road edges, creating ongoing hazards for everyone—and more tax dollars to repair. Quite unnecessarily.
Standing and weaving
We riders are often subject to knee-jerk criticism with regard to our actions. But what non-riding drivers often perceive as show-boating or recklessness is anything but. Let me be perfectly clear. If I suddenly stand up on the pegs, change lanes quickly, or move my position within my lane, I’m either avoiding a hazard or I’m trying to help you see me.
Those lateral and vertical movements get your attention because they’re incongruous to the motion of a vehicle simply moving straight towards you. Hopefully along with my lighting and hi-viz gear, you get the message.
Behind the load
You may see us staying way back from trucks carrying loads—gravel trucks, pickup trucks with cargo, livestock trailers, and the like. You may be annoyed how far back I’m staying but trust me when I say I want to pass as soon as I’m safely able.
Anything that comes off of those types of vehicles is bad news for us riders. We can’t stay behind them without great risk so the best thing we can do is to allow extra space until we can get around them.
Don’t worry, though, once I do pass, I will do it decisively. You won’t be held up one bit since I can get past way that vehicle more quickly than you can.
The situation with tractor trailers is similar. The wind buffeting we take off of them can be hellish. So again, I’ll stay way back until I can pass. Being next to a semi is tremendously dangerous for any vehicle but infinitely more so for a motorcycle. Truck drivers don’t want any of us hanging out next to them, either.
So I’ll pass in a quick burst once there is no vehicle blocking my ability to completely pass a semi. I’m not going to hang out and lackadaisically pass a massive truck, waiting for the car in front of me to get serious about passing.
Semis are also at high risk for tire blowouts. I don’t know about you, but I’m not interested in being on the receiving end of one of those. They also can’t maneuver quickly to compensate for wind or hazards.
Those big rigs may not be nimble. But I am. So I’ll use that to my advantage when sharing the road with them. They need space. I’m happy to give it to them.
It’s becoming illegal in more and more places to blow your wet grass clippings into a roadway. For good reason. It’s a storm water pollutant, for one. And that debris is slicker than owl shit. For those of us on two wheels, it compromises our traction greatly. Don’t do it.
We’re all in this together
I’ve written a lot on the whole sharing-the-road topic. And without fail, someone points out that riders can be shitty, too. Yep. Without a doubt.
Riders are not infallible. We are not saints. And we do not all share the same mindset and values. Just like any other group, there are those few that set a negative tone for all of us. Trust me, it’s frustrating. Just remember to calibrate for negativity bias before relieving yourself of the responsibility to understand all road users and be a decent driver.
And yes, we riders make mistakes and misjudgments in traffic situations. But you have to remember, by the nature of our vehicles, we have way more motivation to be at the top of our game. Because we are all too aware of the consequences of a lapse in judgment while on the bike.
Many drivers don’t have that awareness, though, for themselves or those around them. For drivers, there’s a disconnect because you’re in a steel box. For riders, we are out there in it every moment, completely exposed.
Remember your humanity
I hope my words help bring a little bit of humanity back to the roads.
There’s a common wisdom in the motorcycling community —
Motorcycling, is not, in and of itself inherently dangerous. It is, however, extremely unforgiving of inattention, ignorance, incompetence, or stupidity.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t only apply to we riders. It also applies to drivers we share the road with. Our own mistakes will cause us harm, yes. And that’s on us to manage. But we’re more likely to face that lack of forgiveness at the hands of drivers. We are always the ones who lose in car-versus-motorcycle encounters. As I’ve said before , don’t be the person who ruins someone else’s life.
Adventure on, friends.