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Drivers beware: It’s motorcycle season

I love my motorcycles: my BMW 1200RT is called Alice (the missile), and Hugo is a Kawasaki KLR 650 (you name your vehicles too, right?). I love riding off road and touring on the highway and have been as far north as Whitehorse and south to Arizona.

In 1975, I won a trophy for being the first junior in Canada in the national Observed Trials competition (I ask myself sometimes: That was almost 40 years ago, should I still be bragging about it?).

But old or not, this month of May, I will be heading off to the Grand Canyon via the Oregon Coast and Las Vegas on Alice, the missile.

I, and thousands of other riders, begin to appear on the highways this time of year. Too many will not see the end of the riding season. Some will crash their bikes due to over-exuberant riding or overconfidence, which is unfortunate; but many more will lose in a collision with another vehicle.

We riders say that motorcycles are the safest vehicles on the road because they accelerate out of danger, stop quicker and are more maneuverable than pretty much any other vehicle. We like to think that we can ride out of most dangerous situations.

The problem is that, too often, we are just simply not seen and the other driver does something to cause a collision that we can’t avoid. A motorcycle is the safest vehicle on the road, right up until the point of impact.

We are vulnerable road users and when we tangle with a car, the car generally wins.

When a motorcycle and another vehicle collide, it’s most often the other driver’s fault. The situation that is most common is the other driver turning left in front of the motorcyclist. The car driver typically doesn’t see the motorcycle or actually sees the rider but misjudges the approach speed and thinks there is time to turn, because a motorcycle is small when viewed from the front, and this makes speed estimation problematic.

Motorcycles are tough to see and, if you are not looking for them, very easy to miss. They handle much differently than other vehicles and have some special characteristics. If you don’t really understand them, they can be difficult to share the road with.

Some easy guidelines for you to apply as you see motorcycle riders this spring and summer will help keep everyone safer.

•    When you are waiting at intersections to turn left, remember that you may have more than just cars and trucks approaching and look for motorcycles. If you see a rider approaching, make sure that they are coming at a speed that allows you to turn safely in front of them before starting your turn.

•    Remember that a motorcycle can stop in a fraction of the distance that your car or SUV can so leave a good following distance. If the rider brakes suddenly for some reason and you are too close, you will not be able to slow quickly enough to avoid her. Normally, under ideal conditions we suggest a following distance of at least three seconds behind a motorcycle. Add more distance if conditions deteriorate.

•    When you change lanes, check your mirror and shoulder check to make sure there is no motorcycle in your blind spot. Most of us riders work hard to stay out of blind spots, but if you don’t shoulder check before changing lanes, you will never be sure the lane change is safe.

•    When you are stopped behind a motorcycle, leave a good space. It feels very intimidating to have a large vehicle stopped really close behind you.

This spring, take a moment to think about and practise these tips to help you stay out of conflict with us riders and share the road.

Spencer McDonald

Spencer McDonald is the president and founder of Thinking Driver, a driver training and development company in Surrey, B.C. Spencer’s formal education is in psychology and motivation, and has brought these fields together with road safety and education to develop attitude-based driver safety programs. Visit www.thinkingdriver.com for more information.
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