A common attitude to riding on the road is to believe that "everyone is out to kill you" or "ride like you are invisible". I believe that it's time to challenge this statement. Let's change those well worn adages with a new one "everyone drives like I do." By doing so we will be a better rider, and enjoy our riding more. We take responsibility for our own safety. We see a possible hazardous situation for what it is. When we put ourselves in the position of the driver we are approaching, we know what we would do in their place, and then we act accordingly. We anticipate with knowledge rather than with paranoia. As a driver we have at times seen mistakes made by other drivers; speeding, rolling through stop signs, overtaking illegally and ignoring lights at intersections. Now we need to ask ourselves have we done the same? Whether it be wittingly or unwittingly, we have put ourselves or others at risk.
Understanding who we are as a rider, and where we fit into the larger scheme of things on the road is an integral part of our safety. We need to understand that we are on a motorcycle, we are no longer in a car. A motorcycle has its strengths such as acceleration and its small size . There are weaknesses as well; we don't stop as quickly as a modern car at speed and we are less protected. When I look at riders on the road there is a clear distinction between motorcyclists on motorcycles, and car drivers on motorcycles. This is not a veiled insult, I certainly am not trying to create an "us and them" attitude in fact quite the opposite. Most of us have a car licence, and therefore our habits on road or our Roadcraft comes from our experience in a car Thus it wouldn't be unfair to say that we would then carry those habits in to our time spent on a motorcycle . We can see a motorcyclist on a motorcycle because they follow at a safe braking distance (three seconds in good conditions), they are positioning themselves from other vehicles around them to limit the risk, and maximise vision. The car driver on a motorcycle is following at a distance that is too close for safe braking. They sit in blind spots without understanding the situation. They ride through traffic like it's a maze as opposed to a series of vehicles with drivers in them.
So who are you? Where do you fit in the big picture? I would say that as a motorcyclist we tend to swing from one camp to the other. This could be due to fatigue or complacency. So what can we do about it?
As a practical experiment for you to try on your next ride, approach your ride with one of these questions (you can concentrate on one or more each ride):
- For built up areas "Am I riding to the speed limit or the environment?" - We may be riding in a school zone or shopping precinct so our level of hazards are markedly increased.
- For intersections (give way signs) am I thinking "I want to go but I might be forced to stop. Or, I am going to stop, but I may be able to go"- We can brake whilst turning a car with little difficulty whereas a motorcycle leaning and braking can affect our stability.
- For intersections (controlled) am I thinking "I have to get through before the light goes red"- or "Its wet, I better back of in case it goes red" Intersections are the highest risk of collision between two vehicles, if we accelerate towards an intersection, the chance of an incident occurring is high.
- For corners am I thinking "see how fast I can go" - or "I'll slow down so I can react better to anything around the corner" Corners are the highest risk of single rider incidents on motorcycles; put simply, at times we don't need other road users to create the incident, we do so ourselves.
- For touring am I thinking "I need to get there at this time" - or "I'm feeling tired I'll take a break" We cannot put a fixed time to travel plans. Fatigue on a motorcycle is higher due to concentration levels. Always have a plan "B", and enjoy your trip.
So in summary, every one of those "bloody car drivers!" is us. We no longer see them as the enemy, we understand that they (as we do) make errors in our daily commute. With that in mind we approach our ride with fresh eyes, and most importantly knowledge and technique.
Keep safe and we hope to see you soon for some training at HART.