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July 01, 2020 5 min read
We all know that as motorcyclists we are much more vulnerable on the roads than those on four wheels. However maximising your visibility is a key way of boosting your safety. Here our special correspondent takes a look at how to be seen and not hurt.
When a new Associate asks a Full Member how to avoid becoming an accident statistic the answer is usually something like “ Ride as if you’re invisible”. It’s good advice because although it should be impossible not to notice an adult-sized human on a 230Kg motorcycle, with a headlight on, the most common statement given to the Police at car-bike crash scenes by drivers is “I didn’t see him”.
The trouble is, if you’re riding around on a black ‘bike in black leathers on an overcast day you really are hard to see.
So here’s how to increase your visibility so you never have to hear those four little words.
First, forget what the loud pipes crowd says. With sound-sytems, Bluetooth hands-free ‘phones and screaming kids vying for the drivers’ attention arguably the best strategies for making your presence known are visual. Start with hi-viz riding gear that stands out even in low-light situations.
Okay okay I know that opinions are divided about whether that stuff really works. It does. A study conducted in New Zealand between 1993 and 1996 strongly suggested riders in hi-viz gear and white helmets were significantly less likely to be involved in injury accidents. If you don’t want to give up your “bad-boy” black gear consider a reflective safety vest for commuting and urban and city riding where the risk of unintended ‘bike-to-car contact is greatest.
Taking things a stage further, make your ‘bike stand out with a headlight modulator that pulses the main beam during daytime, and add a few strips of reflective tape for night riding.
Another tactic is to install auxiliary driving lights to give your headlights some context so it isn’t mistaken for a car with one bulb out; the big light in the middle with two smaller ones on either side doesn’t look like any other vehicle but a ‘bike.
However, riding with high beam on during the day is a controversial subject. Some riders swear by it – even as most other road users swear at it. Yes agreed, you might have a better chance of being seen, but running on beam deprives other drivers of the ability to identify what kind of vehicle you are, especially at a distance and it makes it harder to judge distances and closure rates.
Riding with high beam on during the day is a problematic way to increase visibility. Other drivers will have a hard time seeing past the harsh glare to the motorcycle beyond and just look away – not really the effect you’re after.
It goes without saying that you should check all your lights before every ride, especially the tail and brake light.
Motorcycles are faster and more manoeuvrable than cars and darting in and out of traffic makes it hard for someone with a mobile phone to keep track of you, That puts the onus on you to change lanes smoothly and signal every move. When you drive your own car take note of the blind spots and stay out of those areas when you ride. If you can’t see a driver’s face in the mirrors of the car, the driver won’t see you.
Filtering leaves you vulnerable to drivers who aren’t paying attention. And the blind spot danger is always a lingering, constant danger when accomplishing this manoeuvre.
The same goes for following articulated lorries and other trucks and vans on the roads. Given the length of an articulated lorry and the resulting turning radius, you’ll be squashed like a bug if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time and the driver can’t see you. Hang well back from lorries, or ride near the right side of the road near the white lines when safe so you show up in their mirrors.
In urban areas when you brake for a red light or a turn, tap your brakes a couple of times to flash your brake light. When you are making a right turn or an oncoming car is about to turn right across your lane, move slightly side to side in your lane to get the attention of your potential accident partner in the four wheeler. But don’t wave or hit the high beam in case the driver misinterprets your message and thinks you’re giving the go-ahead to violate your right of way. It’s never a bad idea to assume that’ll happen anyway, so cover your brakes as you approach the junction.
What you can’t see can hurt you a lot more than what you can. If the car to your right slows down, it could be because an oncoming car is turning right across your lane. If you’re positioned so the right-turner can’t see you and you can’t see him, expect the cop to nod in agreement with the “I didn’t see him” defence.
Finally get in the habit of watching the faces of drivers around you to see if they’re paying attention to traffic.
But there again your brain only sees what it wants to see, as these optical illusions demonstrate.
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