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What All Drivers Should Know About Motorcycles

This is a guest post by Nicole Eret, Assistant Coordinator of the Harper College Motorcycle Safety Program.

1. Motorcycles are narrow.

This means a few things. First, a motorcycle is easily hidden by a vehicle’s blind spots, objects on/near the roadway, or items hanging from a rearview mirror. Even something the width of a ballpoint pen could prevent you from seeing a motorcycle until it’s too late. Check out this video:

Second, the width of a motorcycle doesn’t take up a whole lane. But before you crowd them, consider this: they may need to use different positions within a lane to avoid hazards that aren’t problematic for cars or trucks (potholes, wind currents created by oncoming traffic, etc.) Always allow motorcycles the use of the full lane. And finally, because of a motorcycle’s small size, it may be more difficult to judge its distance and speed. When in doubt, allow extra time and space in your judgement for motorcycles.

2. Over half of all fatal motorcycle crashes involve another vehicle.

Most of the time the car or truck driver, not the motorcyclist, is at fault. This may happen because of something called inattentional blindness – not seeing what is plainly visible. It happens with other vehicles (and obstacles), but perhaps more often with motorcycles because there are fewer of them on the road, and so we’re not conditioned to look for them regularly. Want to help change that? Come up with entertaining ways to teach your kids to spot motorcycles instead of playing “slug bug” with VW Beetles.

3. Motorcycles are less stable than cars and trucks.

Imagine you’re driving in your car or truck and one wheel hits a slippery patch of water, oil, or gravel on the road. You’re not likely to notice much, especially with today’s traction control systems. Now imagine you only have two wheels to keep you upright and one hits a slippery patch. This would obviously have a much bigger impact. When surface conditions are compromised, be sure to give motorcycles extra space. This is especially true if braking is necessary, because motorcycles can’t stop as quickly in situations where traction is lowered.

4. Motorcycle turn signals often don’t self-cancel.

Many cars and trucks nowadays have turn signals that not only cancel after a turn, but cancel automatically after a lane change as well. This is not true of most motorcycles, and occasionally a rider may forget to turn off the signal after a turn or lane change. Be prepared for a rider to follow the turn signal or not. Again, providing extra time and space to see which way things will go is key.

5. Many motorcyclists enjoy group riding.

You might think of motorcyclists like you do deer: where there’s one, there are likely to be more. While groups try to stay together the best they can, sometimes there are small gaps among the group. Always assume there’s another rider coming until you take plenty of time to verify that there isn’t.


Want to learn about the nuances of riding a motorcycle on the street? Consider signing up for a motorcycle safety class. Harper offers everything from Basic RiderCourses for beginners to Advanced RiderCourses, and even courses that are specific for 3-Wheel motorcycles. Classes are available throughout northern Illinois. Visit www.harpercollege.edu/motorcycle for more info and to register.

Sources: Motorcycle Safety Foundation: https://www.msf-usa.org/downloads/Motorist_Awareness_tips.pdf

Nicole Eret is an Assistant Coordinator for Harper Motorcycle Safety Program. She has been a Motorcycle Safety Foundation certified Rider Coach (instructor) since 2015. She holds an A.S. in computer science, a B.A. in general studies, and has a background in accounting, human resources, and technology training. In her free time she enjoys yoga, hiking, motorcycling, and is a board game enthusiast.


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