Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month isn’t until May, however, with warm weather approaching, I wanted to take a moment to discuss the topic. One of the great recreational opportunities we have in the Four Corners area is world-class motorcycle riding. As the weather gets warmer, you will notice more and more motorcycle enthusiasts enjoying this pastime. As a fellow motorcycle enthusiast, I ride as much as I can when I’m off duty. Of course I get to ride on duty too, which is one of the best perks of my job. Throughout the years, I’ve witnessed a variety of near collisions involving motorcyclists and other vehicles. I’ve also been the victim of other drivers not paying attention and had some close calls.
There are two common ways “cage” drivers (individuals driving automobiles) cause collisions between motorcycles and themselves. The first is turning left into the path of the motorcycle. This is happens for several reasons:
- The “cage” driver misinterprets the closing speed of the motorcycle. Commonly, the “cage” driver says the motorcyclist was going very fast. This is caused by the size of motorcycles; the smaller an object is, the faster it appears to be moving.
- The motorcycle’s small size makes it more difficult for the human eye to register its motion. Therefore, when the collision occurs, the “cage” driver’s brain interprets the speed as excessive, as it has not been observed for a long period of time.
The second is when a “cage” driver does not look for or does not see a motorcycle when they are changing lanes. This can be caused by the blind spots in the “cage” vehicle. This is not always the fault of the “cage” driver; the motorcyclist should be aware of the blind spots and not ride there. My rule of thumb on this is, if I can’t see the driver in the rear-view mirrors, they can’t see me. This causes me to ride with great caution.
In short, motorcyclists must be aware of their small profile and realize they can’t always be seen – a concept known as conspicuity. Conspicuity is simply the ability to be seen by others. Think of those ever present orange barrels in construction areas and how visible they are. Enjoy your ride, but ride defensively. Just because you may have the right of way, doesn’t mean you’re safe; mass always wins in a collision. Keep your riding skills sharp and practice emergency braking and crash avoidance drills every time you ride. I’ll discuss those in detail in coming articles.
“Cage” drivers should be aware of their vehicle’s blind spots. Look not only in the mirrors but turn your head and use your peripheral vision. Signal before making a lane change; this will let other motorists know your intentions. I encourage you to look twice and save a life.
Martin Snowbarger has been a law enforcement officer for 18 years. He’s worked for the Farmington Police Department for 15 years and in Raton, NM for three years. Officer Snowbarger has been with FPD’s Traffic Division since 2003 and has been a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician and Traffic Collision Reconstructionist for 11 years.