See and Be Seen: Motorcycle Safety Tips

woman by yellow motorcycle

According to a number of studies, nearly two-thirds of motorcycle accidents are caused by drivers of other vehicles violating the motorcycle’s right-of-way. In fact, the failure of motorists to detect and recognize motorcycles is the predominant cause of motorcycle accidents.

It’s difficult to spot motorcyclists

As vigilant as drivers try to be, there’s an actual scientific reason they may not see a motorcycle. Human vision is limited, in that it can’t detect small objects moving at high speeds in the same way a hawk can. This means a motorcycle approaching from a distance takes up a very small portion of the car driver’s vision. If it’s moving fast, the driver may not register the bike before it seems to suddenly pop up.

“The obvious answer is that we as motorcyclists are smaller,” says Jay Jackson, Director of Motorcycle Safety for the Motorcycle Riders Foundation in Washington D.C. “It’s easier for us to be hidden by things, and it makes it harder for drivers to judge speeds. We’ve got less surface area and are less reflective.”

So what can motorcyclists do to increase their visibility on the road? These motorcycle safety tips can help you stay visible and avoid crashes.

Wear bright colors

“As a motorcyclist you have to be cognizant of the traffic around you,” says Jackson. “You want to be conspicuous and stand out, as by wearing bright clothing.” Being noticeable is the reason motorcycles made in the U.S. have been required to have always-on headlights since 1980, according to Jackson.

While bright colors may lower the chance of an accident, they won’t protect you if the worst happens. It’s important to be prepared with a fitted helmet, secure jacket, and other safety essentials.

Be aware of your surroundings

At the same time, increasing your visibility by wearing white helmets and reflective clothing is just step one in a safe riding regimen. “One of the problems I see is that riders get into the mindset of a false sense of security that they’ll be seen,” says Dominic Schreiber, an expert motorcycle rider instructor with Shiny Side Up in Southern California. As a rider, “you have to be aware of your surroundings, be aware of traffic, and constantly reposition yourself for your own escape routes and time to react to situations,” Schreiber says.

Where you should be on the road

Motorcyclists have a lot of room to maneuver on the road. But by viewing the lane as three separate sections, the most visible and safest for a rider is the leftmost side near the dotted line. It’s where you’re less likely to be hidden in a driver’s blind spot. “I see riders in areas of the roadway or in areas of traffic where not only can they not be seen very well but they can’t see into side streets, all because they’re riding too close to the side of the road,” says Schreiber. “Proper positioning allows a rider to better see hazards and react to them,” he adds.

Drive slower

For some riders, the thrill of riding often means an open throttle. But speed is a major factor in not being seen. Many car drivers have been startled by the zoom of a motorcycle rushing past without ever seeing it approach. “I’m just going to assume that [drivers] won’t see me,” says Jackson. “Reduce your speed and make sure you’re in the best position to see and be seen. Have your fingers touching the brake in case you have to respond quickly.”

Signal your intentions

It may seem obvious, but signaling your intentions can increase your visibility to drivers. Whether that means signaling a lane change on a multi-lane freeway or turning down a side street in a residential neighborhood, a blinking indicator can make you more noticeable and it can alert drivers to your intentions.

No car driver wants to be involved in a motorcycle accident. So the best advice for drivers is to always remain aware of the road around them and check twice for fast-moving and hard-to-see motorcycles. Still, Jackson and Schreiber agree, the responsibility for motorcycle safety is on the rider.

“A car driver has lots of distractions with the stereo [or] passengers that just make it harder,” says Schreiber. “When someone’s driving a car they’re comfortable with what’s going on around them, and you need to ride accordingly. The fact of the matter is the motorcycle has the most to lose in those situations.”

Watch the weather

Wet road conditions are dangerous. Tires have less contact with the road, your vision could be impaired and potholes can disappear beneath water, making it more likely for a driver to dump the bike. If a storm hits while you’re on the road, pull over at the nearest gas station and wait it out.

Plan escape routes

An experienced rider is always scanning the situation for an escape route. Examine the roadways and the traffic patterns so you have a plan in place if you need one. It’s a habit drivers must constantly remind themselves to do.

Even if you do everything right as a rider, accidents can happen. Learn how Nationwide Motorcycle Insurance can help keep you protected.