Drivesmart column: It’s motorcycle season

Drivesmart column: It’s motorcycle season

My experience investigating collisions reinforced that a rider must drive defensively at all times

By Tim Schewe

Braap, braaaap, braaaaaaaaaap, chug, chug, chug, chug. Yes, it’s motorcycle season again. Time for all of us “cagers” to start complaining about the noise and riders to complain about nearly being driven over by drivers who failed to see them.

Having to put up with the unnecessary noise is a valid annoyance, but having to put up with riding like you have a target pinned to yourself is something that prevented me from becoming a rider. My experience investigating collisions reinforced that a rider must drive defensively at all times and even then this may not be safe enough.

Learn to Drive Smart, our provincial driving manual, devotes about one page to sharing the road with motorcyclists, currently starting at page 88. The section begins with the advice that more than half of motorcycle collisions result in injury or death. That’s one way of saying that the rider is a vulnerable road user that has nothing to protect themselves with in a collision other than a helmet and protective clothing.

Why don’t we see motorcycles in traffic? One explanation may be inattentional blindness. Simply put, we don’t devote sufficient attention to motorcycles when they are there to be seen.

Fully half of the advice in Learn to Drive Smart teaches the driver to actively look for motorcycles, especially at intersections. The specific caution involves left turns being made by the driver or the rider.

I would add lane changes to this. Motorcycles are more difficult to see because of their size. A careful check of your blind spot is mandatory before you change lanes.

Sorry mate, I didn’t see you is not a justification for collisions. As many as eight out of 10 motorcycle crashes may be caused by drivers who do not see motorcycles according to this tongue-in-cheek video from the Norwegian Motorcycle Union.

Most of the remainder of the information explains safety margins, something that many drivers and riders give little thought to. Appropriate side margins, following distances and passing space all provide time for everyone involved to recognize and react to traffic events. Too little space means too little time.

While we’re on the topic of space, drivers may not realize that motorcyles can stop more quickly than four wheelers. Increase your following distance when you find yourself behind a motorcycle in traffic.

Finally, we’re left with the topic of communication. Drivers must realize that riders do not pick the centre of the lane and stay there. According to Learn to Ride Smart, another of our provincial driving manuals, a typical driving lane is divided into thirds, left, centre and right. Riders choose the position that results in maximum space, visibility and traction, depending on the ever changing circumstances.

Unlike a four wheeled vehicle, a rider moving to the left or right side of the lane may not be an indication of the rider’s intention to turn. Watch for signals and make eye contact to insure that you recognize the rider’s intent.

Like some drivers, some riders are happy to do what is convenient instead of what they are supposed to. Currently, lane splitting and riding a motorcycle on the shoulder is illegal here in B.C. That doesn’t mean it isn’t done and careful scanning strategies will help any driver to avoid trouble.

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement. To comment or learn more, please visit