Learning to Increase Visibility
Control when riding a motorcycle starts with visibility, which means seeing, evaluating and acting. This is an important lesson for motorcycle riders, since they are the most exposed motorist on the roadway. Motorcyclists according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2006 or 35 times are more likely to be killed than the driver of a passenger vehicle per miles traveled. This number has not decrease in recent years, with the registration of more motorcycles annually, than there were in 2006.
In studies that have been conducted, shows that the smaller size of the motorcycle on the roadway may not be seen by other motorists, which places motorcycle riders at a greater risk of harm. Another part of this, is traffic congestion and motorists who do see the motorcycle rider, but choose not to give them the same respect they would another motorists. Whether this is a conscious or unconscious action on their part it puts the biker at a higher risk of being hurt or killed.
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) has designed a system for dealing with the risks motorcycle riders face on a daily basis. The idea of the system is that the motorcyclist ultimately is the one person most responsible for their own safety. What this means is that as a motorcyclist has the duty to take care of him or her self and not to place any more responsibility or trust on another motorists, than is absolutely necessary.
The system designed by the MSF uses the acronym SEE, which stands for search, evaluate and execute. This is a learning process involving these three elements that can help to keep the motorcyclists safer for every mile traveled can help reduce the number of crashes.
The Search Element
Search is a function that in a system motorcyclist should use on the highways, suburban streets or country road to recognize visually any obstacle that may affect the control and safety of the rider. Using this method is not just what is directly in front of the motorcyclist on the roadway, but also what is 12 seconds ahead and 360 degrees around the bike.
In learning search is a method of protection, is done by looking ahead, a continuous scan of the mirrors and looking side to side when changing lanes or blind spots. The one thing that should be recognized is the type of mirrors the bypass, since some are convex which will not accurately portray distances. The best thing the rider can do is to look directly where they are going and what is coming their way.
Some of the things the rider should focus on in the search element are:
- Other motorists on the roadway.
- Surface conditions and roadway characteristics.
- Traffic markings and signal devices.
The Element of Evaluating
Visual information is crucial, and then there is the need to evaluate it, by effectively processing the information that is continuously taken in. Using the SEE method recommended by the MSF, is to predict the worst possible outcome in evaluating the information. They are not promoting paranoia to motorcyclists, but rather anticipating and being ready for any situation.
The best example of this is the four-way intersection, where the largest numbers of motorcycle accidents happen. The possibility of a motorist running the stop sign or turning in front of the motorcyclist is a very real possibility. This is a situation that the rider needs to be prepared for, since it does happen quite frequently. Then assume that there is another vehicle traveling extremely close in the rear of the bike, this poses a situation where it is a real possibility to be struck in the rear of the bike if you have to hit the brakes.
Another situation where the motorcyclists will want to anticipate the worst is taking blind curves, since it is not uncommon to find excess gravel in these locations that can cause the bike to go down. There are other scenarios and with the SEE method in can help to avoid problems or be prepared. The three main elements of search are:
- Other Motorists: Riding a motorcycle means it is essential to become street smart, which is anticipating any situation and being ready for any motorist error in judgment.
- Traffic Signals and Markings: Motorcyclist need to use extra caution at intersections and be aware of other traffic control devices and markings on the roadway, since not everyone will obey them or yield to the right away. Along with any other potential hazards that may occur at these locations.
- Roadway Surface Conditions and Characteristics: Every road is different; highways are congested and usually have very few blind curves, while two lane streets often have blind curves, driveways and the possibility of wildlife like deer. Learning to read the pavement is a skill to know whether the pavement is smooth or has gravel, patched, tar covered or has potholes and are there sign posts, guardrails or are there grooves in the road. Then there is the matter of distinguishing if the road is asphalt or concrete and the difference it will make with the grip of the bike’s tires.
Along with learning the skills of detecting road conditions there is the skill of anticipating and being ready to take action to avoid other motorists potential errors that could put the biker in danger.
Evaluation is a part of the SEE method and one that is learning to make snap judgments and acting on them. Included in this is the rider’s ability to handle the bike, while knowing their capabilities and limitations on the roadway in any type of traffic conditions. The most important thing to do is to create enough physical distance to have time to react to a situation.
Implementing Learned Skills
One of the skills the rider will need to be ready for is to take action and this means being proactive before a situation happens. This involves using the search and evaluating risk elements, whether it is a driver of a passenger vehicle talking on a cell phone or a vehicle that turns left in front of the bike at an intersection. The rider needs to already be prepared and taking action, this is being proactive to avoid harm, since in many situations there are only seconds to take action.
There are three ways that a motorcyclist can take action in a situation to avoid being involved in circumstances that could lead to being hurt.
- The first is communicating with other motorists by honking the bikes horn, waving, or even flicking the headlamp on the bike. This is to be seen in hopes that the driver will alter their course or actions. It is also the most passive option of the three things the biker can do.
- The second thing is to change position, it may be possible to maneuver the bike around the situation, such as a car that is turning in front of the bike while keeping up the same or a little lower speed.
- The third thing the biker can do is evaluate if they can stop in time safely to avoid a situation. Only the rider facing these circumstances will know if they should speed up to beat the turning car for example, or if they can stop in time and without being struck by another vehicle from the rear.
Learning the SEE elements, skills and understanding how and when to use them can be done at training courses or riding schools. One of the things that will be discussed is how studies have shown that intersections are the most likely place for a collision to occur and especially if a passenger vehicle is turning left in front of the motorcycle. Usually in this type of impact the driver of the vehicle is at fault for not yielding to the right of way of the motorcyclist.
Another thing that some research has found is drivers of passenger vehicles often drive without being fully alert, almost like the vehicle is on autopilot making it from one destination to another. Riding a motorcycle is the complete opposite. What may be common for vehicle drivers is not recommended for motorcyclists. The rider must be alert and aware of every element around them to be safe and enjoy riding.
The SEE method is learned in steps when attending training classes and used on the road, by focusing on all of the elements one at a time and then integrating them into your riding habits. The rider will also need to remember not to over or under estimate their riding skills in situations that could result in an impact.
Taking one of these courses is recommended for riders and if the motorcyclist is experienced, then refresher or advanced courses can be extremely helpful after the cold weather break. It can help to eliminate any bad habits that have been picked up and add to the skills the rider has to have more control on the roadway.