NEWS - May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month

MotorcycleSorry Mate, I Didn't See You! This is probably the biggest concern among motorcycle riders everywhere and with good reason. Last year in B.C., 1,600 motorcyclists were injured in 2,600 crashes. In addition, on average, 34 riders die in crashes each year on our roads. This is what a snapshot looks like today.

ICBC has the following tips for drivers:

  • Give extra space when passing a motorcycle: Allow at least three seconds following distance when you're behind a motorcycle.
  • Scan intersections: As with other vulnerable road users, the majority of car crashes involving motorcycles happen in intersections. Drivers need to look out for motorcycles – especially when turning left – they can be harder to see and it can be tough to judge how fast they're travelling.
  • Leave your phone alone: Stay focused and avoid distractions that take your mind off driving and your eyes off the road.
  • Share the road with motorcycles: If in doubt about who has the right-of-way, yield to the motorcycle.

ICBC has the following tips for riders:

  • Wear all the gear, all the time: This includes a helmet that meets DOT, Snell or ECE safety standards and safety gear designed for riding. In all weather conditions, wearing proper motorcycle safety gear is key to reducing the severity of injuries in the event of a crash.
  • Be bright and visible: Protect yourself and your passengers from serious injury by choosing gear that has bright colours and reflective materials.
  • Manoeuvre intersections safely: Especially where oncoming traffic is waiting to turn left, adjust your lane position and reduce your speed so you'll have an escape path or time to stop if you need it.
  • Share the road with vehicles: Never assume a driver has seen you. They may not accurately judge your distance or speed of approach. As best you can, stay out of drivers' blind spots.

Sadly, this is a fact.  The car driver may not, in fact, have seen you.

It's been a quandary to me why statistics worldwide put about 70% to 75% of car/motorcycle crashes as the result of cars turning left in front of an oncoming motorcycle. The consistency seems to transcend differences in culture and any other social factors.

Perhaps 14 or 15 years ago, I read an article the thrust of which was that we are nothing more than animals on the face of the earth. As such, we respond to basic insticts such as self preservation and one of those is the size of a threat. An example given was that you're drving along a road and come upon a 300 ton Earth Mover. Even if it is not moving, it puts a knot in your stomach to realise that it could roll right over you and not even notice.

Proceeding from that premiss, we note that not too many cars turn left in front of an oncoming semi.  But as the oncoming vehicle gets smaller, such as a large car, small car, motorcycle, bycycle and even a pedestrian, so our subsonscious increasingly fails to recognise the threat. An example given was James Dean who, driving a small silver Porsche was killed by an older man driving a large Ford station wagon who turned left in front of him because, "He never saw him." The article went on, but you get the drift.

Now this sounded quite logical and yes, it probably has some merit but, in order to use it, I needed to find it again and investigate the author and his/her credentials.  However, I've not since been able to find it 

Then about 10 years ago, an RCMP friend said, "Motion Induced Blindness. Google it." This is a phenomenon that was little understood until perhaps 20 years ago. But it first manifested itself in the early days of flying where WWI pilots were crashing into each other. Like, how many airplanes were up there anyway? Flight instructors constantly warned their students to NEVER fixate their gaze. Constantly shift you eyes left, right, up, down ... whatever ... but never stare for more than 1 or 2 seconds. Even now, many pilots that I know have said the same thing and it was drilled into them in Flight School.

Modern research has shown this to be a real failure of our phyche and we don't, in fact, see things that are really there. A google search will lead you to some very good information on the subject and even to levels that you would need a PhD to understand.

But no matter. It is a common failure of the human mind. We can't do anything about that except to recognise that it does exist and realise that we don't always see things that are, in fact, there.

So yes, to every motorcyclist, that oncoming car driver may not, in fact, see you .... and the results can be deadly.

Hawk, that was a great contribution to the subject.

Remarkably, all too often, drivers don't see motorcyclists.

So yes, to every motorcyclist, that oncoming car driver may not, in fact, see you .... and the results can be deadly.

I think that any driver is potentially most vulnerable, when they're turning left. Whether they're conscious of it or not, they need to have figured out - or be figuring out, in some cases - where they need to end up at the end of the turn, whether there are pedestrian conflicts, and of course whether they're about to get clobbered by an oncoming vehicle.

Oh and also they're trying to keep track of the traffic light and pedestrian walk signal, often enough.

It becomes a matter of 'Task Load'. And if overloaded (distractions can be a factor also of course), the mind can be overwhelmed.

I can tell you that there's a huge difference between a driver who dispassionately clicks through all of these items in his brain, and one who is more likely to notice a large oncoming emergency vehicle racing to a call than a black-leather-clad motorcyclist who just blitzed up the oncoming block towards the driver.

Vulnerable, is what you are when you're on a bike. And how you have to think.

Finally got the machine on the road - thanks to our sad spring weather this is the latest riding start I can remember.  Aside from having a thoroughly serviced bike to get out on the road, it takes me a solo ride or two around Vancouver before I recall the many details of making it through the city intesections. No question that scanning sidewalk to sidewalk and the mirror check to keep track of all other road users is key.

Here are some other points that have kept me out of the statistics for decades. Riding an adventure touring machine I use tires designed to handle off pavement as well as asphalt. They take 10 to15 min of use to warm up for best performance -  like in a hard stop at an intersection where someone cuts in front of me. I always make sure the engine is in the right gear for acceleration performance while approaching an intersection.  Where there is any possiblity of an oncoming motor vehicle not seeing me I switch to the outside of my lane & decide whether to use the bright headlight flick switch to increase my visibility. Reaching the go/no go point to ride through has me make that decision, then cover my front brake with two fingers which gives me an option to either roll on some power or squeeze the brake quickly to come to a full stop. That kind of stop on my non ABS equipped motorcycle requires gear being carried to be tied down & well secured. As my wife & I ride two up a good riding position gripping the tank with my knees and bracing for her weight is essential. Threshold braking doesn't automatically carry on from season to season so I do 1 or 2 hard stops in those first rides by self, then 1 or 2 with the good lady on board. For me, the time to enjoy the ride is away from the city but first I have to safely get out onto some great rural road. There is no time to relax in urban traffic

I dislike being brushed with the same paint as these dudes, but they are totally embarrassing sometimes as even I've been a victim of their atrocious riding shenanigans and I'm a motorcyclist too!  I tell others that these bad riders are cage drivers too and they probably drive the same way they ride, so I rest my case.  Two wheels or four, you're a bad driver no matter how many wheels under your butt.  I am especially weary of those cagers who dislike us motorcyclists for no good cause except jealous or a bad mind set, I have been in their sight lines a few times and they are just plain scary.  I ride with absolutely no distraction, no music or fancy computer stuff as riding a motorcycle requires ALL of your senses, ALL of the time.  For the cagers who dislike motorcyclists, please try to think of me as someone's mother, sister, daughter and know that most of us are not out there to make your drive miserable - we simply want to ride.