RoadRUNNER Zen Motorcyclist

Sorry Mate, I Didn’t See You

May 19, 2013 View Comments by

SMIDSYOver a dozen years of all-season commuting has taught me many ways to handle a wide variety of situations. One of the most dangerous for riders is the left turning driver coming towards them. The 2009 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Highway Loss Data Institute report found that more than half of motorcycle-related deaths involved at least one other vehicle and 42 percent of two-vehicle fatal motorcycle crashes involved a vehicle turning left while the motorcycle was going straight, passing, or overtaking the vehicle.

I’ve never quite gotten used to the feeling that the driver waiting to turn left doesn’t see me and, having witnessed a serious crash a while back, I have firsthand knowledge of just how horrific it can be when they don’t. That incident is still burned into my brain. However, I happened across a the video bellow that explains some of the reasons for what they call the “SMIDSY” (an acronym for Sorry Mate, I Didn’t See You).

The fact that motorcycles present such a narrow and small profile can make it difficult for drivers to differentiate them from the background and to detect movement. While we can blame the driver to a large degree, there are physiological reasons that may account for their failing to see a motorcyclist. Imagine trying to tell if a person walking some distance ahead of you on foot is moving towards you, away from you, or merely standing still. They can easily blend into the background to the point where you don’t see them unless they move side to side, raise their arms, or do something else to distinguish themselves. For me that reinforces the idea that I have to assume I am not seen, and why I say that you simply can’t ride a motorcycle with the same mindset you use when driving a car, especially near intersections.

A technique I’ve been using, which is discussed in the video, is to gently swerve left and right if I’m approaching an intersection where a driver is waiting to turn across my path. The swerve breaks me from my background, which, from the driver’s perspective, is locked and still. The trick is to keep the movement gentle yet noticeable. You don’t want to give the impression that you are turning or playing around. You just want to be visible as a moving object against a static background.

A motorcyclist’s safety arsenal includes a lot of techniques and, at least for me, the swerving technique described in the SIMDSY video seems to work when coupled with high visibility gear, neutral throttle, and keeping two fingers on the brake lever. It’s another way to be proactive and to stay safe out there.

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About the author

I have been motorcycle commuting since 1998. I created Zen Motorcyclist (formerly Commuting Motorcyclist) in 2011 and work as a motojournalist, software developer, CAD designer and IT/CAD manager in the Surveying and Civil Engineering field.