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Watch out for Motorcycles, Scooters and Mopeds

According to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation:

There are over 4 million motorcycles registered in the United States. The popularity of this mode of transportation is attributed to the low initial cost of a motorcycle, its use as a pleasure vehicle and for some models, the good fuel efficiency. Motorcycle fatalities represent approximately five percent of all highway fatalities each year, yet motorcycles represent just two percent of all registered vehicles in the United States. One of the main reasons motorcyclists are killed in mishaps is because the motorcycle itself provides virtually no protection in a mishap. For example, approximately 80 percent of reported motorcycle mishaps result in injury or death; a comparable figure for automobiles is about 20 percent.

An automobile has more weight and bulk than a motorcycle. It has door beams and a roof to provide some measure of protection from impact or rollover. It has cushioning and airbags to soften impact and safety belts to hold passengers in their seats. It has windshield washers and wipers to assist visibility in the rain and snow. An automobile has more stability because it's on four wheels and because of its size, it is easier to see. A motorcycle suffers in comparison when considering vehicle characteristics that directly contribute to occupant safety. What a motorcycle sacrifices in weight, bulk, and other characteristics is somewhat offset by its agility, maneuverability, ability to stop quickly and ability to swerve quickly when necessary.
 
An article in the Barriere Star Journal dated 14 February 2011 states that, "In a collision, motorcyclists are seven times more likely to be killed than other road users. Young drivers tend to be involved in more motorcycle-related mishaps. However, there is an emerging trend that riders in their 40's and 50's are increasingly becoming the fatal victims of this type of mishap."

Following are some safety tips for both motorcycle riders and vehicle drivers:

Safety tips for riders:

Make yourself visible
  • Never assume other drivers see you
  • Wear bright and reflective protective gear
  • Make sure all your lights are working before every trip
Wear an approved helmet and protective gear
  • Choose a bright colored helmet that meets the recognized safety standards, such as DOT or Snell Memorial Foundation
  • Wear protective gear such as a motorcycle jacket, pants, gloves and boots. These provides better protection than street clothes
Improve your traction
  • Keep your tires properly inflated and in good working condition
  • Scan the road ahead for potential hazards
  • Avoid riding in the center of the lane where oil and other fluids can gather
Communicate
  • Whenever possible, let the motorcycle operator see you. They may not see you, or they may misjudge your distance and speed
  • Watch for other vehicle's front wheel movements and signal lights
  • Stay out of other driver's blind spots
Intersection and signaling

  • One of the most common types of intersection mishaps occurs when oncoming vehicles turn left in front of motorcyclists. When you see oncoming traffic signaling to turn left, reduce your speed and adjust your lane position to avoid a potential collision.
  • Signal well in advance when you change lanes or turn. Check your mirrors and make sure you have plenty of space behind so the vehicle behind can slow down for you safely
  • Slow down on curves
  • Many motorcycle mishaps occur in curves and often involve the motorcyclist going off the road or across the center line. To avoid this, plan your trajectory prior to reaching the curve and adjust your lane position and speed. Always look where you want to go
Training
  • If you are a new rider or have not been riding for a long time, get professional riding training to learn/refresh the skills of handling a motorcycle, emergency braking, collision avoidance, lane position, etc.
Safety tips for drivers:

Always watch out for motorcyclists
  • Scan the road carefully for motorcycles when you are about to enter an intersection
  • Watch for oncoming motorcycles that may be turning left
  • Watch the rider for clues as motorcycles signals are hard to see
  • Don't share a lane. Never drive beside a motorcycle in the same lane
Communicate

  • Whenever possible, let the motorcyclist know that you have seen them
  • Read the vehicle language. Don't assume the motorcycle is turning left because it is in the left part of the lane
Following a motorcycle safely
  • Leave at least three seconds between you and the motorcycle in front of you, and longer when the weather/road conditions are less than ideal
  • Allow plenty of space when passing a motorcycle. Your vehicle may throw dirt or water in the rider's face and pose a serious hazard to the rider
"Inattentional blindness" studies shed light on car-motorcycle accidents.

Your headlights are on and you're wearing a brightly colored helmet and clothing. The driver of the oncoming car looks right in your direction, and then he turns left into your path anyway. Later, he tells the police officer: "I never saw the motorcycle." How could that be? Just ask all the people who didn't see the woman in the gorilla suit.

Allow me to explain.

Recent scientific studies focusing on a phenomenon known as "inattentional blindness" may help us understand why car drivers often end up causing accidents with motorcycles they "didn't see."

Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris at Harvard University conducted one particularly interesting study. In it, subjects watched a video comprised of two teams, with three people each. One team was in white shirts and the other was in black passing an ordinary basketball among themselves.

Some subjects were told to count the number of passes by either the team wearing white or the team wearing black (the "easy task"). Others were told to keep separate mental counts of bounce passes and aerial passes (the "hard task").

During the video, a woman carrying an umbrella walks through the scene. In another version, a woman in a full gorilla suit walks through. In a third video, the woman wearing the gorilla suit stops in the middle of the scene, thumps her chest, and walks off.

Here's where the scary part starts: Forty-six percent of the subjects did not see the umbrella woman or the gorilla in the first two versions. In the third version, 50 percent didn't notice the gorilla at all.

Basically, people concentrating on one task do not see something unrelated because they aren't expecting it, says Simons, an associate professor of psychology at Harvard.

"The intuition people have is that something different like that will jump out at them and they will notice it," adds Simons. "But their intuition is wrong." Simons believes it is not a stretch to apply the same thinking to car drivers encountering motorcycles on the street. In a sea of cars, a motorcycle could be that "something different" the driver does not expect, and therefore does not see.

The key, he says, is attention. In the Harvard study called, "Gorillas in our Midst," the subjects engaged in the "hard task" were less likely to notice the umbrella woman or the gorilla than were subjects performing the "easy task." The more their attention was focused elsewhere, the less likely they were to notice unexpected occurrences.

Simons notes that some of the subjects in the study did not believe a gorilla actually walked through the scene until they were shown the tape again. They were astounded they missed something that was so obvious on second viewing.

Simons notes that some of the subjects in the study did not believe a gorilla actually walked through the scene until they were shown the tape again. They were astounded they missed something that was so obvious on second viewing.

On the surface, the study seems to be bad news for safety-minded motorcyclists. It suggests that no matter what we do, some inattentive drivers will still miss us. And it has obvious implications for those concerned with the whole subject of driver distractions, including cell phone use.

Meanwhile, a study by researchers at Sussex University in England found that experienced drivers were actually less likely than inexperienced drivers to look for potential hazards in unexpected locations. The study, which analyzed eye movements of drivers watching video clips of traffic situations, appears to indicate that years of driving train someone to look for the expected, not what is actually there.

But there are useful lessons for all of us that can be gleaned from these "inattentional blindness" studies.

For instance, although being conspicuous is no guarantee you'll be seen, Simons reports that it may improve your odds on the road. He cites other studies in which subjects were watching black-and-white objects on a screen and an unexpected red object appeared. Even with the color contrast, about 30 percent did not see the red object. But at least the other 70 percent did.

Simons plans to join the faculty at the University of Illinois next year and hopes to do further research more directly related to traffic safety by using the university's driving simulator.

But on the basis of the results so far, Simons suggests that while nothing can guarantee you'll be seen by car drivers, such attention-getting equipment as modulating headlights (legal in most states), along with brightly colored clothing and helmets, may help. "The goal," he says, "would be to make things more distinctive."