Sharing the road with other road users
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Sharing the Road with Motorcycles: Safety Rules, Right of Way & Lane Splitting

Updated June 27, 2019

Motorcyclists using public roadways have the same rights and responsibilities as car drivers. As a car driver, you must be on the lookout for motorcyclists. Despite being subject to the same traffic laws, motorcycle riders are at far greater risk of injury while using a roadway than a person operating a car. Using the information set out in this article and your state driver’s handbook, you can learn how to share the road safely with motorcyclists.

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    Always check for motorcycles before changing lanes or entering a major thoroughfare, using your mirrors and turning to look wherever possible. Be aware that motorcycles are small enough to fit into the blind spots of most other vehicles.

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    Do not follow motorcyclists too closely. Many state guidelines recommend a four-second following distance. Should the motorcyclist stop or fall unexpectedly, this distance should allow you enough time to stop.

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    Always check for motorcyclists before making a turn. Keep in mind that it is difficult to gauge the speed at which a motorcycle is travelling, as their small size interferes with depth-perception. Do not take any chances if you are not sure whether you have time to turn or pull out.

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    Never attempt to share a lane with a motorcycle. Unlike bicyclists, motorcyclists are entitled to use an entire lane.

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    Do not pass a motorcyclist with only a few feet of space between your vehicle and theirs. The air movement caused by your vehicle passing can cause the rider to lose control.

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    Maintain your position in the lane when a motorcyclist is attempting to pass you. Do not swerve or increase your speed.

Drivers of cars, trucks, vans and SUVs must take precautions to increase the safety of motorcyclists they encounter on the road. Most motorcycle accidents that involve other vehicles occur because drivers did not see a motorcyclist approaching them at an intersection or travelling in their vehicle’s blind spot.

Reduced visibility

Motorcyclists are often involved in traffic collisions with other drivers, as they are particularly difficult to spot.

NHTSA Stats. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), nearly 5,000 motorcyclists were killed in road traffic accidents in 2015.

Several factors contribute to motorcycles being less-visible. Understanding these issues will help you to stay safe when sharing the road.

  • Motorcycles are less visible because they are small. When viewed from the front or back, motorcycles take up much less space than other vehicles. Even when viewed from the side they are substantially less-imposing than an average-sized car. As such, they are easily missed by a car driver who is not paying attention.
  • Unlike most cars, motorcycles are not fitted with lights on or around eye-level. In general, motorcycle tail-brake lights are harder to see as they are smaller than those of most other vehicles.
  • Motorcyclists may move around within a lane to avoid obstacles or get a better view of the road ahead. Drivers who are seeking to overtake another car may not notice that a motorcycle is occupying the space they wish to enter, until they have pulled into the passing lane or begun to merge back to the left.

Quite often, car drivers fail to spot motorcyclists as they simply are not looking for them. Motorcycles are less common than cars and trucks – particularly during colder months of the year – which leads drivers to “forget” that they may be present. Train yourself to be vigilant and look out for motorcyclists and other less conspicuous road users.

Steering differences

Understanding the steering and control differences between motorcycles and cars can help you to share the road safely. Unlike car drivers, motorcyclists must often “counter-steer” by turning their handlebars briefly in the opposite direction before making a turn. This can be misleading for other road users who are trying to determine where a motorcycle is heading. Paying attention to where the motorcyclist places their weight is a far surer way to gauge their intentions, as they will often lean into a turn.

Do not assume that a motorcyclist will be able to make a sudden turn to avoid a collision in an emergency, as motorcycles do not have the same manoeuvring ability as cars. If a motorcycle and a car are caught in a situation where one must swerve to avoid a collision, the car driver should always take action.

Poor driving conditions

Road and weather conditions that pose a minor inconvenience to car drivers can cause serious problems for motorcyclists. You should allow a greater buffer zone behind motorcyclists, decrease speed and be particularly vigilant where inclement weather, wet or icy roads, strong winds, gravel roads, potholes, pavement seams and railway crossings may endanger motorcyclists or cause them to stop suddenly.

Careless motorcyclists

Motorcyclists may not always take care to protect themselves on the road. As a driver, you must always watch out for careless riders. If a collision takes place because a motorcyclist does not exercise caution, it is unlikely to be your fault. Nevertheless, road traffic accidents are unpleasant, costly and could result in both parties being injured - even though motorcycles are smaller and less powerful vehicles.

Always be courteous, watch out for danger and remember that your “fender-bender” could be a motorcyclist’s life-threatening or fatal accident.

Lane splitting

The term “lane splitting” describes a situation in which one vehicle drives alongside another vehicle, or passes a vehicle in the same lane, by travelling along the white lines which separate two rows of traffic. Motorcyclists and bicyclists are frequently guilty of lane splitting. Only in California has lane splitting been legalized. Lane splitting is illegal is some states but in most, it simply is not mentioned in state law.

Be aware that motorcyclists may lane split. Check for motorcyclists sharing the road with you, before switching lanes or changing your position.

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