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Motorcycle safety at intersections

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Photo source:
Norm Cummings

Back when I was teaching EVOC (Emergency Vehicle Operators Course) to both newbie and seasoned EV drivers, at some point in the class I'd ask this simple question: what is an intersection? At first, I'd get some strange looks, from the "duh, it's obvious" to puzzled. After a few more moments though, I'd get the right answer. Intersections are anywhere a travel path, roadway, driveway, anything intersects with another.

For we motorcyclists, intersections are dangerous places. Wherever there is a preponderance of moving objects approaching our travel path from a variety of directions at the exact same time, this is clearly a high-hazard environment.

Not only do we have to be aware of the possible strike from behind while stopped, as we prepare to engage an intersection, even if it's a driveway ahead of us (especially on the right), factors like foliage, large mailboxes and other places vehicles hide are plentiful. The best defense we have as motorcyclists is planning. We must approach any intersection with the right attitude and constanly plan our movements.

Recall the MSF's Basic Rider Course teachings. Mental processing is 100% of motorcycle safety. It really is. Without mental processing, muscles do not shift weight, initiate an emergency counter-steer move or perform safe, but hard braking maneuvers. So the brain is where it's at. And, of course, our senses. We gather information via all our senses while riding. It's important to remember that.

Search, Evaluate, Execute (SEE). Some might be rolling their eyes right now, but the basics are where it's at. Lose them and you lose the game. Searching includes great suggestions for intersections like, 360 degree awareness, processing the important information first, planning an escape path. Evaluate, simply put, is scenario based. You're thinking of what could happen in the situation or environment ahead. At the intersection, this includes all vehicles about to pull out, traffic signals (if any), road condition, curves or straight roadways to negotiate, evaluating the potential cause and effect of a decision you might make. Executing, simply, is doing what's needed based upon the Search and Evaluate component. This might simply be slowing down, changing lanes to get a better scope or view of that blind driveway and virtually another decision made.

Intersections themselves certainly can be managed by employing the SEE practice, but it's not just at intersections the process is critical. Riders must constantly be SEEing no matter what the landscape ahead. But here's a few things specific to avoiding Grandma's Buick pulling out in in front of your motorcycle:

- Ride in a position to gather as much visual data as possible. Clinging to the right side of the road puts you nearly straight in-line with a potential hazard. And if you can't see them, they probably cannot see you (more on that below). If possible, stick towards the left center of the road. This gives an angle of attack which opens up the visual view considerably. But watch for on-coming wide traffic like trucks and such. No need to eat an F350 towing mirror if one does not need to.

- If a vehicle is sitting waiting to pull out, watch the wheels. Don't transfix upon the wheels, just watch them for movement. If the vehicle even inches forward, you'll pick that up instantly through the rotation of their tires. In contrast, if you're looking at movement of the vehicle in relationship to the visual picture, much greater movement of the entire vehicle needs to occur before motion is truly realized by our eyes. The wheels tell the story much more accurately and quickly.

- Make sure you scan, scan, scan. Get into the habit of scanning. The entire intersection must be covered, even if that's a couple driveways up ahead. Examine the scene for possible hazards. But don't forget to scan your mirrors especially if slowing for a stop signal or stop sign. Scanning does not stop after the bike does. A moving motorcycle is a much harder target to hit than one stopped. When I'm stopped in traffic, I consider this one of the most vulnerable positions to be in. While I'm boots-up on the throttle, I have greater speed, maneuverability, braking and I have choices, because I'm moving. Being stopped is a turkey shoot. The only thing you can do is leave an escape path ahead. And of course, don't take the bike out of gear. Why give the hunters any more advantage?

- Consider learning the SMIDSY Weave. It sounds weird, but it makes great sense. Watch the video. It'll explain the entire concept. I use this procedure constantly. It breaks the longitudinal plane in relationship to a vehicle operator staring at your oncoming motorcycle from an angle not perpendicular, but in-line with your background. In other words, it may be hard to see an object like a motorcycle, way smaller than a car in most cases, from their vantage point because the background doesn't change much in relationship to the motorcycle from that angle. Again, watch the video.

- Keep your bike in tip-top shape, especially brakes and tires. One thing my dear old Dad always professed was brakes and tires. He never cheapened out on them, nor do I.

Intersections are dangerous but as riders, we assume a certain level of risk when we climb aboard and crank the engine to life. Knowing where the risk is greater, practicing good visual skills and planning -- thinking "what if" -- can help protect you at that moment and help train your brain for the future.

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