If you're looking to avoid an accident on the road, keep reading. These defensive riding techniques can help you in tricky situations and keep you shiny side up.
Oncoming, Left Turning Vehicle
This is probably the most common cause of motorcycle accidents. The driver of an oncoming vehicle doesn’t see a motorcyclist and makes a quick left turn directly in the rider’s path, leaving little or no time to avoid hitting the car.
Avoidance Strategy: First, it’s always helpful for riders and their mounts to be as conspicuous as possible, which is helped by auxiliary lights and high visibility riding gear. Second, look for indications that the oncoming driver may not see you: no eye contact, hands turning the steering wheel, or movement of left front wheel. Third, ride at a safe speed in traffic congested areas, because higher speed equals longer stopping distances. Some riders, however, slow to a crawl when they see a left turning vehicle, but this is an invitation for that driver to turn in front of you!
Animals on the Road
I’ve personally experienced just about everything from ground hogs to buffalo in the road. And it doesn’t necessarily take a large critter to take a two-wheeler down. I know this, unfortunately, from personal experience.
Avoidance Strategy: Constantly scan the road and surrounding terrain ahead for animals, particularly when undergrowth and trees are close to the pavement. Also, those “deer warning signs” are usually present for a reason. Be especially alert when riding in the early morning or evening, when animals are the most active. Adjust your speed and cover clutch and brake levers in high-risk areas so emergency stopping distances are appropriate for those conditions. And, of course, it never hurts to periodically practice emergency stops and swerves in a parking lot.
Gravel on Blind Corners
Riding through gravel with the bike leaned over at speed is almost certain to result in a crash. The situation worsens if the sliding motorcycle and rider cross the yellow line into the path of an oncoming vehicle—crunch!
Avoidance Strategy: Gravel on roadways is more likely after heavy rains, near construction sites, and at gravel driveways in rural areas. If riders assume there will be gravel around a blind curve, they are more likely to adjust their entry speed accordingly. It’s also possible to use some light braking in a curve, even with the bike leaned over, especially if the motorcycle has antilock brakes. But the best technique is usually to avoid the gravel, stand the bike up, and apply maximum braking. Maximizing sight lines is also an important strategy for avoiding all types of hazards on blind curves.
Cars Changing Lanes
At onramps or while riding on crowded multi-lane urban roads, an adjacent motorist may suddenly pull directly into your path, leaving little or no time for evasive action.
Avoidance Strategy: Rule number one is to stay out of the blind spots of other drivers. It’s also important to maximize the space cushion between the rider and other vehicles. Rush hour traffic on multi-lane highways presents the highest risk for other vehicles changing lanes into a rider. If riding at this time can’t be avoided, I’ve found the best strategy is riding in the far left lane so traffic on only the right side must be monitored.
Excessive Speed in Curves
A rider suddenly realizes mid-curve that the turn is tighter than expected (e.g., a decreasing radius curve) and panics. Instead of increasing the bike’s lean angle, the rider stops looking through the curve, stiffens his or her arms, and goes straight off the roadway. This often results in the motorcyclist crashing into a stationary object (guardrail, tree, building, etc.) or flying off of a precipice.
Avoidance Strategy: Pay attention to that little voice in your head when it says, “I’m riding above my skill level.” Of course, the easiest way to avoid crashing on a curve is to do what’s taught in the basic MSF course: slow the bike before entering a curve and accelerate out of it. Even a highly skilled rider always should keep some of his bike’s lean angle in reserve in case it’s needed.
Safe riding practices help motorcyclists avoid accidents and bodily injury, and they also build rider confidence and enjoyment.