See and Be Seen
1ST ARMORED DIVISION1ST ARMORED DIVISION
Fort Bliss, Texas
Author’s note: The story you are about to read was written by a Soldier-rider and is true. The events are retold to give insights into the many hazards riders face when they are on the road. The lessons will help us all become more experienced motorcycle riders.
For those of us who have been involved in an accident with or while riding a motorcycle, we’ve all either heard or said, “I never saw him.” This is one of those accidents.
It was a Friday evening when “Derrick Driver” left the Cielo Vista Mall and entered onto Interstate 10. Suddenly, he heard something hit his SUV and saw a man rolling down the highway with his motorcycle sliding next to him. Thankfully, all traffic came to a screeching halt and, other than some severe road rash, the motorcyclist was OK. Driver is still at a loss as to where the motorcycle came from.
That same Friday evening, “Rick Rider” was making his way home from work on Interstate 10. He had just crossed over Hawkins Boulevard and was coming up on his exit to Geronimo Drive. Suddenly, his back wheel contacted the front corner of an SUV and he went down. As Rider rolled across the highway, he worried about the traffic running over him. Luckily, all the traffic came to a stop and, except for a bunch of road rash, he was OK. Rider is still wondering where that SUV came from.
Did Rider shift lanes into Driver or did Driver shift lanes into Rider? It doesn’t matter because Rider lost either way.
As Soldiers in combat, we use strategies and tactics to increase our chances of survival. As riders in traffic, we must use strategies and tactics to increase our chance of survival too. All vehicles (even motorcycles) have blind spots. The strategy I will talk about in this article is blind spot management. There are several tactics we can use.
In the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s Basic RiderCourse, we all learned about lane position. Then we applied that knowledge to cornering and the gold standard of “outside-inside-outside.” We should also use lane position to give ourselves the best sight lines and to stay visible to other motorists. Wisely managing lane position can help reduce the chance of trouble while riding.
Ideally, the driver of the car next to you will take a moment to check his blind spot before changing lanes. Should you trust them to do that? I certainly would not trust my life to them. As a safe motorcycle rider, you must take the initiative to make sure you are positioned so you are visible to motorists around you. By adjusting your position within the lane, you can help to stay out of blind spots and ensure other motorists are aware of you.
If you are not riding next to a car or truck, then they cannot injure you when they change lanes. Along with staying out of blind spots, a motorcyclist can reduce his or her risk by using the maneuverability and agility of the bike to stay out of risky situations. Let’s say traffic is moving along at 70 mph and you approach a car or truck going slightly slower than you. First, you will signal, then check your mirrors, then do a last look over your shoulder and finally shift lanes. Don’t creep by the slower vehicle with a 1-mph speed difference. Roll on the throttle so you are only spending three to five seconds next to the other vehicle. You don’t have to leap to warp speed; 75 mph will do the trick. Just use enough speed to reduce your risk of being next to a vehicle that probably does not comprehend your presence without adding so much speed that you are increasing your risk levels elsewhere.
If we are seen, then the other driver may not turn into us. There is an art and a science to conspicuity. Neon clothing may not be your cup of tea, but red and white are also attention-getting colors. Movement attracts attention too. Use the agility of your bike to move across the driver’s view as much as possible. This alerts the driver of your presence, makes you more visible and basically forces them to take notice and pay attention. Daytime running lights used to increase a motorcyclist’s visibility, but today, every vehicle uses them. Federal law now makes motorcycle headlight modulators legal in all 50 states. These dim and brighten your headlight several times per second, tricking the driver into seeing it as movement. Reflective stickers, gear and clothing can make us more visible by reflecting ambient light and headlights back at the drivers around us. These are all tactics which make you more visible to other motorists.
Our strategy is to manage blind spots. Our tactics are to select lane positions, minimize time next to another vehicle when passing and to use equipment, clothing and methods that draws the driver’s eye to us. See you out there and ride safe!