Motorcycles & Visibility: What You Can Do To Prevent Accidents

Motorcyclist driving down an open road

If you’re a motorcyclist, you know all too well that you are much less visible to other motorists because of your narrow profile on the road.  

You have likely experienced several close calls and heard many similar tales from fellow riders.  

Similarly, those driving cars and trucks have often had more than one heart-pounding moment changing lanes when they thought their blind-spot was clear, only to discover a motorcyclist was there.  

And all too often, after a crash with a motorcycle, drivers will say that they “just didn’t see them.”

To make matters worse, distracted driving continues to be a problem.  

According to the CDC, “anything that takes your attention away from driving can be a distraction. Sending a text message, talking on a cell phone, using a navigation system, and eating while driving” are all examples of distracted driving.[1]

In 2018 alone, distracted driving caused 2,841 deaths and injured an estimated 400,000 people.[2]

Fortunately, both motorcyclists and motorists can take steps and precautions to significantly reduce the number of accidents on our roads.

For Motorists, Here Are Some Tips For Safely Sharing The Road With Motorcycles:

When Making Left Turns, Look For Traffic And Then Look Again For Motorcyclists  

A large number of accidents between cars and motorcycles happen at intersections where a driver turns left into an oncoming biker. This happens because motorcycles are less visible than other motor vehicles, which can in turn make it difficult to gauge their oncoming speed.  

Take an extra moment at every type of intersection to make sure the way is clear of traffic, especially motorcycles.

Leave Motorcyclists As Much Space As Possible

In a car or truck, potholes, bumps, and road debris are often easily avoided, or, if not, are unlikely to cause more than a brief jarring. For motorcyclists, avoiding these hazards is often a matter of life and death. This is why motorcyclists often swerve within their lane more frequently, as some roads resemble an obstacle course from their perspective.  

As a driver, give motorcyclists the space to both swerve and brake to avoid obstacles in the road. If you are going to pass a motorcycle, don’t crowd them, and move past them as quickly as conditions permit.

Stay Well Behind Motorcyclists

Motorcycles have much shorter stopping distances than cars and trucks. In other words, you cannot stop as fast as the motorcycle in front of you.  

If you rear-end another car, the driver has all the protection of the car around them. A motorcycle rider has no protection in a rear-end collision.  

Therefore, it is best to practice good defensive driving and double the distance you would give to a car in front of you. A good rule of thumb is leave at least four seconds worth of distance when following a motorcycle.

Check Your Mirrors And Blind SpotsCartoon of car driver merging into a left lane where there's a motorcyclist.

It’s a good defensive driving tip in and of itself, but you can help save a life by keeping an eye on your mirrors and blinds spots, especially when changing lanes. 

If possible, a quick glance into your blind spot is often enough.  

But there’s another time when it’s very important to check your mirrors for motorcycles: Before you open your car door when parked on a busy street.

Always Signal Your Intentions When Turning, Changing Lanes Or Merging With Traffic  

Letting a motorcyclist know what you’re planning to do is more than just a courtesy; it’s the law and it can save someone’s life.

Make A Mental Note

Just as you would make a note to look out for children in a school zone or residential neighborhood, and thus drive accordingly, make a conscious note during motorcycle season to remember that bikers are out there.  

Some are driving large touring bikes and three-wheelers, while others are riding very small street-legal bikes.  

If you remind yourself every time you get in the car that you may encounter the smallest of motorcycles, you’ll be much more aware of all motorcycles and a safer driver all around.

And, Of Course, NEVER Drive Distracted Or While Intoxicated

For motorcyclists, while you may not be able to increase the size of your motorcycle, there are still many ways to make yourself more visible to other drivers.  

Here Are A Few Motorcyclist Tips To Stay Visible:

Ride a Brightly Colored Motorcycle  

Bright signal lights on the back of a motorcycleAs discussed above, motorcycles are already at a disadvantage because of their narrow profile on the road. Driving a dark-colored motorcycle makes you even harder to see. But a motorcycle painted in bright colors can really increase your chances of being seen by other motorists.  

Even if a driver sees you a split-second sooner than they normally would, it could very well be the difference between life and death.

Already own a dark-colored bike that you don’t want to part with? Look into local painting and detailing specialists in your area and work with them to come up with a color scheme you love that really stands out.

Wear High Visibility Safety Gear 

The cheapest and most popular way to wear high visibility clothing is to buy a vest; slip it on when you set out and then take it off and easily pack it away when you arrive.  You can go one step further and purchase a high visibility helmet and jacket.  

Consider that you, as the rider, take up about as much visual space on the road as your motorcycle.  It therefore makes sense to maximize your visibility with what you wear.  From the time we’re children, we’ve learned to associate bright yellow and/or orange with paying attention or exercising caution.  

That’s what other motorists will do when you’re wearing high visibility gear. 

Some riders are reluctant to wear high visibility safety gear, perhaps because it detracts from the traditional biker image.  

The Governors’ Highway Safety Association conducted focus group studies of motorcyclists in 2019 and found that bikers who had been in a crash with a motor vehicle, or knew others who had, cited the crash as the deciding factor in their decision to start wearing high visibility gear.  Focus group members also expressed a desire for products that incorporated high visibility colors and retroreflective material.  

Manufacturers of motorcycle gear are listening to these concerns and are now offering stylish and attractive high visibility gear to suit any taste.  

Plus, there’s more available than just helmets and jackets; high visibility boots, gloves and pants are also available to further enhance your visible presence on the road.  

Most dealers and retail stores carry a wide selection of hi-viz gear, but here are some online vendors to check out as well:

Use Reflective Tape

A great way to increase the visual footprint of your motorcycle is to use reflective tape.  While not as helpful in full sunlight, it can really make your bike stand out in lower light conditions at dawn, dusk, at night and when it rains.  

You are essentially adding more light sources to your bike and actually making it seem larger to other motorists. 

Experts recommend placing reflective tape on the front of the forks, the top of taller windscreens and the edges of panniers. You can also place it around your wheel rims, which will give you excellent visibility from the side while passing through intersections.

Motorcyclist staying in the sideview mirror to alert driver

Avoid Other Vehicles’ Blind Spots

If you’re driving in a position where a motorist can’t see you without specifically moving their head to look for you, your chances of a collision are significantly greater.  

While blind spots can never be completely avoided, try to pass vehicles quickly and stay in a lane position where you can be seen by all cars.

Tap Those Brakes

Tapping your breaks repeatedly alerts drivers behind you that you’re planning to slow down.  This is especially useful if a motorist is following too closely or is distracted. Repeatedly lighting up your brake light in this way is an attention grabber that can save your life.

Use Your High Beams During The Day

Using your high beams in daylight conditions makes you more visible without blinding other drivers. Even if other drivers are slightly annoyed by your high beam use, at least they’ll have noticed you.

Add Auxiliary Lights

While there probably is an upper limit, adding more lights to your bike is almost always a good thing.  They increase your visibility at all hours of the day, and as a bonus allow you to see better at night.  Lights can be added to the front and rear of the bike, can be set to different intensities, and can even create eye-catching flicker effects from the rear when you apply the brakes.

Preventing motorcycle accidents isn’t just the responsibility of motorcyclists themselves or the motorists with whom they share the road.  By following the above tips, motorists and motorcyclists can take simple steps to help prevent accidents, injuries and fatalities on our roads so that we can all get to where we’re going safely.

Have You Or A Loved One Been Injured In A Motorcycle Accident?

At Harding Mazzotti, LLP, we’ve been successfully representing motorcycle accident victims for over 25 years. Our experienced team of legal professionals will investigate your case and fight hard to make sure you receive the compensation you’re entitled to after an accident.  

We’re here for you 24/7 at 1-800-LAW-1010. Contact us today for a free, no obligation evaluation of your case. Helping you is what we do.

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