As motorcycle riders, we know we’re vulnerable on the road. No steel or aluminium surrounding us, no seat-belts, no airbags. Just a thin layer of leather and our wits to protect us, so knowledge is key and knowing where on the road we’re most likely to be involved in an accident is one way to stay safe. The most dangerous situation for a rider isn’t carving through a twisty mountain road, but the common intersection.
By far and away the most dangerous location for a motorcycle rider is at an intersection, whether it be in the city or the country. One European study found that over half of all motorcycle accidents occurred at an intersection. The same study found that although motorcycle riders certainly aren’t always the innocent party, car drivers were the responsible party 62.9 per cent of the time.
And the reason for this? Human error or as some others might like to call it, Sorry Mate I Didn’t See You (SMIDSY). In another recent study by the Florida Department of Transportation, it was found that during a 10 year period, 60 percent of the time motorists in cars were at fault when they collide with motorcycles. “There’s a bias by people driving. They don’t expect to see motorcycles.” said Chanyoung Lee, a senior researcher at the University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research.
Further elaborating, Lee goes on to say that “People perceive the speed of something relative to the size of the object. A car or truck barreling down a road at 45 mph may be more intimidating than a motorcycle going at the same speed. So drivers may yield for them and not the motorcycle. Drivers may also think the motorcycle is farther away.”
Unfortunately for motorcycle riders, the faster you’re travelling on a bike, the more likely you are to be involved in a crash at an intersection and that’s whether you’re travelling at the legal limit or not. A model developed by the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics showed that as the approach speed goes up by 10 kilometers per hour at an intersection, 30% more motorcycle crashes can be expected.
Adding to all of this is driver attention. It is estimated that a driver on average only looks at approaching vehicles at an intersection for 0.6 seconds – hardly enough time to correctly judge the speed of a motorcycle. A driver only looking for just over half a second is judging the distance between themselves and the motorcycle, not the speed at which it is approaching. Pulling out in front of the approaching bike is the single biggest cause of rider fatalities just about everywhere in the world.
None of this is new information. The following finding was published in the Hurt Report all the way back in 1981:
The most common motorcycle accident involves another vehicle causing the collision by violating the right-of-way of the motorcycle at an intersection, usually by turning left in front of the oncoming motorcycle because the car driver did not see the motorcycle.
So as a motorcycle rider, what can you do to avoid becoming a statistic at intersections? Here’s a few tips from a variety of sources:
1. Slow Down.
Is it fair that you have to slow down from the legally posted speed limit at an intersection because of poor drivers? No it isn’t, but out of being right or being alive, the latter is definitely preferable. At a minimum, it’s recommended you come off the throttle and coast through an intersection to wipe off some speed. We recommend going a step further and priming the brakes – have your fingers and toes slightly activating both brakes – not only will that wipe a little bit more speed off, your bikes suspension will be more settled and ready for an emergency braking situation.
2. Move Across Your Lane
A driver is far more likely to see you if you’re moving in a fashion that they don’t expect. That is, don’t ride dead straight – weave inside the limits of your lane. We don’t mean an aggressive side to side motion like you’re trying to warm your tires up at the track, but enough so that a driver’s attention is captured by the lateral movement across a lane.
3. Be Visible
We don’t advocate running your high beams all the time like some do, but we do think it’s appropriate to flash them when approaching an intersection. A change in light intensity is one of the easiest ways to capture someone’s attention. And seeing as it’s the universal sign for ‘police’ being around, it is usually enough to get others to slow down and hopefully better see your approach.
Like you so often hear, assume the worst when you’re out riding but especially so at intersections. Always take the view that others won’t see you and be prepared to take action, whether that’s swerving or braking – but do your best before then to prevent that even being necessary by slowing down on approach and being visible as possible.