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5 Ways Drivers Fail to Share the Road Safely with Motorcyclists

  • In 2017, 4,990 motorcyclists were killed on the nation’s highways, according to a recent report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). While this fatality number is 5.6% percent lower than in 2016 when 5,286 motorcyclists died, motorcycle riders are far over-represented when it comes to traffic accidents and fatalities in comparison to other motor vehicles. Deaths among motorcycle riders occur 28 times more often per mile traveled compared to fatalities among occupants of other vehicles.


    Sometimes motorcyclists are in single-vehicle accidents or cause accidents between vehicles themselves because of their own dangerous driving behaviors. For example, the GHSA report shows that in 2016, 25% of motorcyclists involved in fatal crashes had a blood alcohol content over the legal limit, and this was the highest percentage for any vehicle type. However, drivers of four-wheeled vehicles who drink and drive, use drugs and drive, drive distracted, or simply don’t know how to share the road safely with motorcyclists are also to blame. Motorcyclists have no safety protections except perhaps for helmets, and so are much more vulnerable on the road than occupants of cars, SUVs, trucks, vans, and buses.


    It is up to all drivers to share the road safely. Here are five ways that drivers fail to share the road safely with motorcycles:


    Not checking blind spots. Drivers who don’t adequately check blind spots can easily cause crashes and injuries or worse to motorcyclists. With their much smaller size, motorcycles are often hard to see in rearview and side-view mirrors. It is important that drivers of larger vehicles take their time changing lanes and merging into traffic, and then check and double-check all around their vehicles.


    Not realizing that motorcycles are often traveling faster than they appear to be. Because motorcycles are small, they may appear to be farther away than they actually are and may not appear to be moving as fast as they are…until they are suddenly upon you. Motorcycles accelerate quickly and maneuver quickly, so other drivers should remember that bikes may not be as far away as they appear and plan lane changes, traffic merges, and turns accordingly.


    Following too closely. Motorcycles need plenty of space. Motorcycles react and stop more quickly than other vehicles, and drivers who follow too closely risk rear-ending them. And what might be a mere fender-bender to another vehicle can mean disaster when a motorcycle is involved. Rear-ending a motorcycle with a much bulkier and heavier vehicle can often cause death or serious injury to motorcyclists. Follow the four-second rule (or more) by keeping a cushion of at least four seconds between your vehicle and the motorcycle in front of you.


    Not giving motorcyclists their own lane. Motorcycles are legally entitled to their own traffic lane. Trying to drive in the same lane next to a motorcycle is illegal and dangerous, even if it looks like there is plenty of room. There are some motorcyclists who engage in lane-sharing or lane-splitting to pass through traffic, but this practice is not currently legal in any state except California, and it doesn’t provide a license for drivers of other motor vehicles to try and share lanes.


    Not using turn signals. Drivers should always signal when turning, and this is especially important when turning in front of a motorcycle. Give motorcycles plenty of warning when turning to avoid pile-ups. Also, watch out for turning motorcycles. Older motorcycles may not have self-canceling turn signals so if a turn signal on a motorcycle keeps blinking, give that bike plenty of space in case the rider is planning to turn and hasn't simply forgotten to turn off the signal.


    By sharing the road more safely, all drivers can do their part to help reduce the number of tragic motorcycle fatalities and injuries.