Stupid Hurts

George_Tranos_Outside_EdgeDumb Moves
By George Tranos

Stupid hurts. Regardless of who is at fault – the motorcyclist or more likely the car driver – mistakes on the road can cause a crash. If you’re like me and have been driving for a while, you probably see the results of dumb moves every day. The key to surviving in an environment of imprudent and unaware motorists is to do everything you can to identify and avoid them.

What sort of things do car drivers do that affect motorcycle riders? What don’t they do! Primarily, they don’t see motorcycles. Most drivers are not attuned to smaller vehicles. They don’t see bicyclists or pedestrians either. A large percentage of motorists are not enthusiasts – they simply use their vehicles as basic transportation to go back and forth. Anything out of the ordinary or different from their normal routine can go unseen. As the frontal area of a motorcycle is very small, a driver may not notice you until it is too late. “I never saw the motorcycle,” is the standard refrain heard many times at an accident scene. For the rider, it is critical to be aware of this problem.

What can we do to help drivers see us better? There are a variety of options here but they mostly come down to things that make us more visible and having a defensive driving strategy. For visibility, consider adding additional lights to the front of your motorcycle. If you add driving lights below your headlight, you create a “lighting triangle” that adds width and can make your motorcycle appear larger to an oncoming car. Adding a headlight modulator can also help others see you. A headlight modulator varies the intensity of your light at approximately 240 cycles per minute. It gives an on-off effect to your light. The modulator must include a light sensor that disables modulation when ambient light falls below a threshold (such as at night). Headlight modulators are legal in all fifty states (see Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 108). Many motorcyclists feel that the modulator helps their vehicle stand out from others that also have daytime running lights, something that’s becoming more common on most automobiles.

Besides lighting, wearing bright clothing with retro reflective material and a bright helmet can help as well. This was borne out by the Hurt Report (a comprehensive motorcycle safety study published in 1981). One important finding was “Conspicuity of the motorcycle is a critical factor in the multiple vehicle accidents, and accident involvement is significantly reduced by the use of motorcycle headlamps-on in daylight and the wearing of high visibility yellow, orange or bright red jackets.”

Having a defensive driving strategy can help you prevent crashes from happening. Look far ahead, get the big picture, be aware of all around you and leave yourself an out – these are the basics of defensive driving. By looking 12 or more seconds down the road, you can anticipate what will happen and prepare for it in advance. Search far ahead, identify hazards and predict what other drivers will do. When it happens, decide what to do and execute your plan. Practice hazard avoidance maneuvers frequently to be sharp and have them in your ride “toolbox” so they are available when needed.

There will always be bad drivers out there waiting to trip you up. Even with all the supposed safety measures being instituted in cars nowadays, the biggest variable is still the driver. If you equip your motorcycle to help others see you, wear bright clothing and a helmet, use common sense and a defensive driving strategy, you are well on your way to avoid becoming a statistic. Doing nothing and relying on pure luck pushes your odds into the negative. After all, while stupid hurts the other guy, you don’t want to be there when it happens.

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