DAVID L. HOUGH
Three motorcyclists were killed in a crash in Alaska when a pickup truck stopped to turn left across the highway. Just as the motorcyclists approached, the truck was rear-ended by a van and pushed across the centerline. All four riders crashed into the truck. The motorcyclists, riding in formation, apparently did not comprehend the danger of the situation. And, since they were riding two abreast, they didn’t have much room for evasive action. The following six tips will help you avoid left-turners.
1. Maintain your awareness of the situation ahead.
You should be scrutinizing the scene ahead over the next 10-12 seconds, predicting what is going to happen in time to do something about it. A vehicle stopped for a left turn is a potential hazard, even if the driver appears to be waiting for traffic to pass. You should be suspicious of any driver who stops on a highway waiting to make a turn because that indicates poor judgment. They might misjudge your approach speed or fail to notice a group of riders close together. And they might be distracted enough to not observe traffic behind them. It might not be politically correct, but you might also be wary of young drivers in sporty cars, who tend to do things suddenly and unpredictably.
2. Keep your guard up when riding in a group.
When riding in a group, it’s easy to let the ride leader do all the observing and planning and simply follow along. However, fatalities involving group rides are on the rise. A group ride doesn’t mean safety in numbers. It’s impossible for a ride leader to plan for everything that might happen, and group dynamics increase the possibilities that something will go wrong. It’s important to maintain your own awareness of what’s happening, and be prepared to take evasive action without causing secondary collisions with the other riders. If you feel the ride tactics of any group are unsafe, or if you observe anyone consuming alcoholic beverages during a group ride, you should inform the ride leader and drop out.
3. Watch other vehicles for clues.
Don’t let your guard down just because a driver appears to be looking at you. Collisions due to distracted driving are now a greater risk than drunk driving. About half of other drivers on the road will not comprehend the presence of an approaching motorcycle, even when you are in plain view. It’s up to you to comprehend what’s happening and get out of the way. If the hood of an oncoming vehicle suddenly dips, that’s a clue the driver is braking, with the strong possibility they are about to make a turn. If the front wheels of a stopped vehicle are pointed in your direction, it could quickly move into your path. For the quickest clue about vehicle movement, monitor the top of the front tire, which moves twice as fast as the bumper.
4. Learn the common turn crash scenarios.
Although the most common left-turning crash scenario is an oncoming vehicle turning across your path at an intersection, there are other predictable crash patterns. A driver might turn left from a side street on your right, turn left from a street on your left or turn left across your path while you are attempting to pass. Be especially aware of the possibility of turning vehicles when your view of the situation is blocked — for instance, when passing a large truck waiting to turn or when following a bus through an intersection. If you can’t see what’s happening ahead, other drivers can’t see you. Drop back or change lane position to open up the view and reduce speed to give you more time to react.
5. Brake early.
When you predict a possible collision, ease on a bit of front brake to prepare for a quick stop. Being on the brake reduces your reaction time if you do have to make a quick stop, and slowing just 10 mph cuts your stopping distance almost in half. If the other vehicle doesn’t interfere, it’s easy enough to get back up to speed after you clear the situation. If you wait to brake until you realize a collision is happening, it’s unlikely there will be enough time to react.
6. Practice aggressive braking.
To help develop the habits to brake aggressively when needed, it’s important to use the brakes consistently during every ride. At least once each season, take the machine to an off-street area where you can practice aggressive braking without being distracted. Preferably, take a training course that includes coaching in braking techniques. With or without ABS, it’s important to develop the muscle memory to transition to the brakes quickly, smoothly and progressively without skidding either tire. If your bike has ABS, you should be able to brake aggressively without activating the anti-lock. When carrying a passenger, or when riding in the rain, you must learn to use more rear braking.
Left-turning vehicles continue to be a significant hazard to motorcyclists. Surviving the ride requires we understand how left-turner crashes occur and how to avoid them. Ride safe!