Motorcycle awareness

Motorcycle crossing the Bixby Bridge in California

May is “Motorcycle Awareness Month”. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) bemoans the fact the messages like “Share the road” and ‘Share the road with motorcycles” have not been effective. Why? Between 2011 and 2014 there were 150,142 motorcyclists killed in crashes that involved another vehicle. Most of the crashes occurred in urban areas from May to October.

More than 85% of motorcyclists’ fatalities involved crashes with passenger vehicles on non-interstate roadways. The motorcycle was recorded as striking the vehicle in 78% of front to side crashes, 55% of head-on two vehicle crashes, and 68% of rear-end crashes. These percentages should not be construed as determining fault. When driver-related factors were analyzed, 35% of the crashes were the result of the driver of the passenger vehicle failing to yield the right-of-way compared to 4% of motorcycle operators who failed to do so. In 98% of the crashes, weather was not a factor.

Detect motorcycles and prevent potential accidents

Motorcycles move as rapidly as automobiles, are tougher to spot, less stable and provide less protection. We don’t see motorcycles because we don’t look for them. In addition to being harder to spot, it’s also tough to judge a motorcycle’s speed. Some motorcyclists downshift to slow. So, there will be no brake light illumination to signal the decrease in speed. Turn signals on motorcycles are not self-canceling and may be confusing. Of necessity, motorcyclist may swerve to avoid deep potholes, gravel patches, fallen branches, road construction, steel grate bridge decks, and railroad crossings that an auto would traverse in an unaltered trajectory. Increase the four second rule following distance when behind a motorcyclists.

We should enhance our awareness of blind spots when changing lanes, merging at on-off ramps, and near construction zones. Of course, we never back-up without a spotter. Even with their headlights on, motorcycles may disappear in our mirrors. Cyclists riding alongside in an adjacent lane may be out of view and at risk when as unsuspecting motorist changes lanes. Even without contact, if we abruptly pull in front of a motorcycle, the cyclist may over-brake, slide and fall. It is not surprising that over 40% of motorcycle crashes occur at intersections.

Youthful or inexperienced motorcyclists are at increased risk. An experienced cyclist may handle a wind gust much better than a novice. Wind can move a cyclist across an entire lane. We should provide plenty of room when passing a motorcycle. Remember that a large vehicle behind you might block the sight of a motorcycle. In general, we should always be on the lookout for motorcycles, anticipate motorcyclists’ maneuvers, signal your intentions, respect a motorcycle and allow plenty of room when following one.

NHTSA is developing five programs to increase awareness of motorcycle crash risk factors. Blind spots are of particular concern. A-pillars have continued to get larger to accommodate stricter roof crush standards. This can be particularly hazardous with a motorcycle approaching from the right with a left turning vehicle. The plane of the hidden view consumes a larger portion of the continuous plane of travel for the motorcycle. Intersections are often the sites of “Looked but failed to see” errors. These may be the result of change blindness, motion camouflage, cognitive biases and perception/expectation errors. Mirror position management is important since 40% of a vehicle’s perimeter may be hidden by blind spots. Environmental awareness is necessary for other motorists to anticipate motorcyclists’ behaviors. Distraction management is used to enhance one’s capacity to pay attention to relevant tasks requisite for safe driving.

Motorcyclists are a vulnerable population. This is just another example of 24/7 safety.


  •   Accessed April 1, 2019
  • Hurt, HH, Ouelett, JV & Thom, DR (1981). Motorcycle accident cause factors and identification countermeasures Volume I: Technical Report. Traffic Safety Center, University of Southern California Contract No. DOT-HS-5-01160.
  • NHTSA, “Recent Trends in Fatal Motorcycle Crashes” (HS 810837), 2007

Motorcycle crossing the Bixby Bridge in California
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