September 2002 Safety Thoughts

Visibility Strategies & Truck Hazards

by Dave Hansen, Safety Officer

While my Safety Thoughts generally focus on group riding activities, not all our riding is done in groups.  This month I'd like to review some basic defensive riding strategies that help keep you out of the blind spots of other vehicles and make you more visible. 

Visibility Strategies - 

Mirrors - One of the group riding strategies I advocate is to make sure you can see the rider in front of you in their mirror(s).  If you can't see them in the mirrors, then they can't see you either.  This strategy is also true of you and other vehicles.   You should at least position yourself so you can see the driver in their mirrors.  Better yet, be positioned so you can be seen directly, without use of mirrors or side glances.

Headlights - Headlights are important to daytime visibility too.  Running just your low beam during the day is not an effective way to be seen.  Run your high beam or if you have auxiliary spots, turn them on.  I prefer to run my high beam during the day, even though I have the option of running low beam with spots.  Using high beam during the day means if I burn out a lamp, it'll be high beam and I won't be stuck with a choice of high beam or no beam at night (a situation that can blind oncoming vehicles & cause a collision).

Lane Placement - Where you position yourself within your lane is critical to being visible to other vehicles.  I wish I could say there is a set position within your lane that works best & should always be used.  That would simplify this discussion.  Unfortunately, this isn't the case, so individual rider judgment is required to determine the most visible lane position for each particular circumstance.  That said, I would offer the following as rough guidelines for making these choices:

Two lane road, behind another vehicle - left side of the lane
    - the vehicle in front should see you in at least their left side mirror
    - oncoming traffic will see you sooner
Two lane road, no vehicle in front - center of the lane:
    - gives maximum lane movement options
    - leaves room (safety margin) in case oncoming traffic drifts into your lane
Four lane undivided road - right side of the left lane:
    - leaves room (safety margin) in case oncoming traffic drifts into your lane
    - should place you in the interior & right side mirrors of the vehicle directly in front of you
    - should place you in the left side mirror of the vehicle ahead of you in the right lane 

Remember, actual lane placement involves a much more complex set of variables and influencing factors than the limited scope presented in this discussion.  These factors include items such as weather, lighting conditions, road surface condition, traffic volume, traffic speed, traffic vehicle mix, time of day and other thing not listed.

Travel Speed - Your speed, relative to the other traffic, can also influence your visibility.  

Color & Clothing Choices - Generally, as Harley riders, we tend to make poor choices for clothing colors that promote visibility in traffic, selecting black leather & black helmets.  I think the proper riding and lighting strategies can do much to overcome poor clothing color choices to a degree.  However, adverse weather and night riding conditions can negate all riding and lighting strategies.  Here's where we need to be aware that color choices can & do make a difference.  Rain suits should be selected for both rain protection & visibility enhancement.  Bright colors and reflective materials make rain suits much more effective as visibility enhancers.  Especially if you get caught in the rain after dark.

I started this month's thoughts with a single focus of visibility strategies.  When reviewing the aspects of visibility with regard to trucks, it became apparent that additional strategies (beyond just visibility) were required for motorcycle/truck interfacing on the road.

Truck Hazards -

Trucks have huge blind spots.  You can't be seen by the truck driver if you're behind, beside or sometimes even in front of a truck. Stay away from trucks!  

Trucks make wide turns and can encroach on your lane if you are beside them when they turn.  Stay away from trucks!

Trucks at highway speeds create wind blast that can move your bike across a full lane of traffic.  When passing a truck on the highway, move to the far side of the lane to minimize wind blast and maximize separation distance.  

Truck tires are generally recycled by having new tread applied to the tire carcass.  This technique creates a tire that can experience a tread separation that can occur suddenly, sometimes without warning.  These tread separations throw big chunks of rubber in an unpredictable fashion at the traffic behind, beside, or even in front of the exploding tire. Stay away from trucks!

Trucks take up very large amounts of real estate compared to motorcycles, making it easy for the motorcycle to be hidden from other traffic.  This can lead to vehicles veering or turning into your intended path of travel because they simply can't see you because of the truck.  Stay away from trucks!

Trucks generally can't stop as fast a normal traffic.  If you're in traffic, in front of a truck and the traffic stops quickly & unexpectedly, it just won't matter whether you can get stopped or not because the truck behind you can't.  Stay away from trucks!

I generally avoid anecdotes in my safety thoughts, but there are plenty of lessons to be learned from the experiences of other riders regarding how dangerous trucks are for motorcycles.  Pay heed to these stories from both buddy & new acquaintances.  And remember, Stay away from trucks!


Words of Safety