SAFE DRIVING: Sharing the Road with Motorcycles Safely

 May marks Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month. It’s that time of year when riders want to dust off their motorcycles and hit the open road.  As we begin the summer and many of us will be traveling on the road, we all need to realize the differences between motorcycles and cars.   No one wants to be involved in a collision. Thinking about safety while driving can help us avoid an accident.

If you are not a motorcycle driver, then you should start by understanding the challenges faced by a motorcyclist.  Motorcycles have the right to the full use of the lane, and often riders need the lane’s full width to respond to and handle hazards such as potholes, shifting traffic, strong winds or blasts of air from passing vehicles.  Never try to share a lane with a motorcycle. You should respect its space and position in traffic.  Here are a few steps to follow when sharing the road with motorcycles.

1.         Pass as you would pass a car, and do not pass too close or too fast, as the blast of air and then vacuum as you pass can knock a motorcycle out of control.

2.  Signal your intention to turn while watching for oncoming motorcycles.  If a rider is dealing with a gust of wind or a wobbly passenger on back, the rider may not be able to stop as quickly as you think, so allow plenty of time or wait until the motorcyclist passes you before beginning your turn.

3.  Allow a lengthy following distance so the cyclist has enough time to maneuver or stop in an emergency.  Both cyclists and drivers are more likely to make bad decisions if there is not enough stopping distance or time to see and react to conditions.  Also, remember that a motorcyclist may be able to stop faster than a car, so you need to allow extra following distance to allow yourself time to stop.[1]

4.  Check your blind spots when changing lanes. Cyclists riding alongside a line of cars are often out of the view of a driver in the line. An unsuspecting driver may change lanes and clip or hit a motorcycle. The No. 1 reason bikes crash is because motorists don’t see them.

5.   Anticipate motorcyclists’ maneuvers. A cyclist will change lane position to prepare for upcoming traffic and road conditions.

6.   Expect and allow room for the rider to adjust to road hazards that you cannot see.

7.   Compensate for difficult driving conditions: rain, wet roads, ice and heavy winds.  The motorcycle’s braking and handling abilities are impaired.

8.    Pay extra attention at night. You can easily misjudge distance because the single headlight and single tail light of a motorcycle can blend into the lights of other vehicles.

9.   At intersections, where most collisions and injuries occur, wait until the rider’s intensions are absolutely clear (turning or going straight) before you move into the path of travel.

10. Don’t be fooled by a flashing signal from a motorcycle.  Often their signals do not always cancel out or click off after making a turn, and the rider may have to stabilize after the turn before turning it off manually.  Sometimes the motorcyclist may not realize their signal is still on, so make sure the motorcycle is actually going to turn before you proceed.

Please be careful and cautious this summer.  Watch out for those motorcycles. The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) estimates that 4,762 motorcyclists died in accidents in 2009.  And that was the first time in 12 years that the number of motorcycle fatalities decreased.  Hopefully that can become a trend.  Think safety while driving!

[1] Because a car has 4 tires and a motorcycle only 2, some people think that a car should be able to stop more quickly.  But the opposite is true, mostly because motorcycles have squishier tires that grip the road better. For instance, LAPD studies found that the motorcycles they tested could decelerate in an emergency stop from 60 mph to 0 in a range between 126 and 156 feet. See…est/2011.pdf.  But the Va Code recognizes that a car would take about 303 feet to make the same stop. See Va Code §46.2-880 at So, at 60 mph, you need to allow an extra 150 feet or so – that’s about 10 carlengths! ?