Heads up Cager
Directorate of Assessments and Prevention
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center
Fort Rucker, Alabama
According to Urban Dictionary, “cager” is a term coined by motorcyclists for drivers of four-wheeled vehicles. It’s often used in a derogatory way because a cager isn’t willing to share the road with motorcyclists. However, as a motorcycle operator, sharing goes both ways. Bikers don’t own the road, cagers don’t own the road and truckers don’t own the road. It belongs to all of us, so we must learn to respect one another and get along for the safety of everyone on the road.
Stats from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicate the percentage of fatal crashes involving collisions with fixed objects is higher for motorcycles than for other vehicles. In 2017, 23% of the motorcycles involved in fatal crashes collided with fixed objects, compared to 16% for passenger cars, 13% for light trucks and 4% for large trucks. Single-vehicle motorcycle crashes could be indicative of rider error and thus may be more preventable than other crash types.
Based on the Hurt Report, in single-vehicle crashes, motorcycle rider error was present as the precipitating factor in about two-thirds of the mishaps, with the typical mistake being a slide-out and fall due to overbraking or running wide on a curve due to excess speed or undercornering. While many states may show a majority of single-vehicle fatal crashes, most show an even split between single- and multi-vehicle fatal mishaps. When combined with at-fault for multi-vehicle crashes, however, rider error may account for roughly two-thirds of all fatal motorcycle accidents. As you can see, it’s often a 50/50 split for who’s at fault for the crash.
As the temperatures warm up and we inch ever closer to summer, riders all over the country are dusting off their motorcycles and getting ready to hit the open road (if they haven’t already!). May is designated as Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, a time when drivers and riders typically begin sharing the road during motorcycling season. Together, drivers and riders can make our roads safer for everyone by abiding by these motorcycle safety tips for car drivers and riders alike. When we share the road, we also share the responsibility to keep each other safe. After all, motorcycle awareness is important not only for riders, but also for drivers. Safety tips for vehicle drivers
What can drivers do to share the road more safely? They can start by reading the following safety tips:
Safety tips for riders
- Beware of your blind spots. Motorcycles are smaller than cars so they can be doubly as difficult to see when turning or switching lanes. Be sure to make a visual check as well as use your mirrors when turning or merging. Author’s note: I have a confession: During my initial driving test, I had a close call with a motorcycle. I was about to leave the DMV parking lot, making the first left turn into what has been an accident-free driving career (except for hitting that deer — knock on wood). A motorcyclist pulled parallel with the row of traffic and into my blind spot. I was so hyper-focused on keeping the licensing examiner from flunking me that I failed to notice the rider. Luckily for me, I wasn’t driving alone and the examiner did me a favor and refocused my attention on the rider. Since the rider didn’t indicate his move, the examiner took pity on me and didn’t fail me right out of the gate. It was a good lesson learned. Blind spots can truly be blind.
- Slow down when behind motorcycles. Motorcycles don’t handle the road the same way as cars and can be much more sensitive to changes to the driving surface. Motorcycles can also maneuver much faster than cars, so slow your roll to make sure you have time to react.
- Don’t tailgate. Leaving room between you and a motorcycle in front of you is essential to helping prevent accidents. Giving yourself room will give you time and space to react if the motorcyclist makes a quick, unexpected turn.
- Use your turn signals. Regardless of whether motorcycles are on the road, you should use your turn signals to help others anticipate your next move.
- Dim your headlights. High beams are more blinding for motorcyclists, so it is especially important to dim them when you pass riders on the roads at night.
- Be careful taking left turns. With any turn, be aware of motorcycles on the road and how fast they are traveling. Left turns can be particularly dangerous due to your blind spots.
- Don’t drink and drive. Drinking and driving, as well as distracted driving, make sharing the road more dangerous for everyone.
- Wear a helmet! Hopefully, you already have this one covered … no pun intended! A helmet is essential for safe riding and is your best defense against a serious brain injury should you get in a motorcycle accident. Not all states require that you wear a helmet, but you should. Make sure it fits securely and is up to the highest safety standards.
- Get comfortable with your motorcycle. Each motorcycle is unique, so if you’ve upgraded or gotten a new one, you should take some time to try it out and get familiar with its quirks in a controlled environment. Spend some time getting to know how your motorcycle handles turns and your weight. Also familiarize yourself with where all its bells and whistles are located so you won’t be fishing around during a ride!
- Check your bike before every ride. A quick check to ensure everything is in working order will save you from starting a doomed trip. Check your tires (their pressure and depth), turn signals, hand and foot brakes, and the bike’s fluid levels before departing from home. After that, take a quick look to ensure nothing is leaking. Now you’re ready to ride.
- Ride defensively. Do not assume you can be seen by drivers on the road. Motorcycles are smaller than cars and you can easily slip into a driver’s blind spot. Keep your lights on while riding and try to wear bright or reflective clothing. When riding, do so defensively. This means giving yourself plenty of room to make turns and change lanes, driving within the speed limit, and assuming drivers won’t be able to see what you’re doing. Recklessly cutting in front of cars could land you in the hospital or worse.
- Obey the rules of the road. The best way to stay safe is to ride as safely as possible! Follow all lane markings, posted signs and speed limits. Yield to those who have the right of way and avoid speeding and cutting off others. You never know when road conditions could change.
- Be aware of the weather. Changes in weather can be dangerous for motorcycles, as slippery roads can cause riders to lose control. Be aware of conditions for the day before you set out and have a plan for what to do if the weather worsens.
- Don’t drink and drive. Motorcyclists are more likely than drivers to die in a drunk driving crash. Don’t become a sad statistic. Be sure to avoid riding under the influence, when drowsy and while distracted.
Over the nearly 50 years I’ve spent driving, I’ve seen a lot on our highways. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned there’s no need to be in a hurry if you aren’t going to arrive at your destination safely. Keep your eyes open for motorcyclists and those folks that seem to have their cellphone sewn to their hand or ear and give them plenty of leeway. It’s dangerous out there, so drive and ride safe for everyone’s sake.
Author’s note: Safety tips courtesy of NHTSA and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.