"I never saw him. He came out of nowhere!" probably the most common statement heard at a collision between an automobile and a motorcyclist. It’s the statement made by the driver of the auto because the motorcyclist is unconscious (or worse).
How can they not see the motorcyclist? Are they not looking? Are riders, somehow, invisible?
A lack of attention on the part of the driver does explain some of the car/bike collisions; the distracted driver, cell 'phones, unruly children, inattentional blindness, etc. All these can contribute BUT some responsibility may belong to the motorcyclist as well.
Before you go to get the rope to hang me for heresy, let me explain:
- Motorcycles make up about 3% of the "normal" traffic flow.
- People "see" what they expect to see; things like cars and trucks (97% of the traffic). For another example on this, check this website.
- Motorcycles ARE much harder to see than cars/trucks because of their smaller size. A motorcycle can easily be "lost" in the background even with the headlight on. This is especially true now with so many autos having Daytime Running Lights (DRLs).
- Many motorcycles are colors that lend themselves to blending into the environment.
- Many motorcyclists wear dark colored clothing.
- Riders often do not position themselves where they would be more easily seen.
- Due to their size, it’s harder for a driver to determine the speed of an oncoming motorcycle even if they do see and recognize it.
Colorado's Department of Transportation encourages drivers to be more aware of motorcyclist on the road with PSAs like this.
Photo Courtesy: Colorado Department of Transportation
Okay, that’s bad enough but in about 13% of the car/bike crashes, the rider made NO attempt to avoid the crash; didn’t brake, didn’t swerve, just rode right into it. Why? Well there are a couple of possible reasons:
- Complacency – He wasn’t mentally prepared for the possibility.
- Lack of skill – When faced with the impending crash, the rider didn’t know what to do. There’re a lot of riders out there that have never had any kind of formal rider training.
When you combine the items about visibility and perceptions I listed above with the fact that most motorcyclists are not skilled in emergency maneuvers (emergency stopping, swerving), you can see why the collisions occur.
So how can you NOT be the Invisible Biker?
- Stay alert! Keep your head in the game and pay attention.
- Position yourself so you can be seen and identified in the traffic stream.
- Wear bright colors; retro-reflective gear is helpful after dark.
- Consider getting a brightly colored bike or add items like additional lights to make it more conspicuous.
- Watch your speed, particularly in congested areas.
- PRACTICE your emergency maneuvers frequently.
Remember, even if you are doing everything “right.” many times they truly don’t see you. Perhaps you should consider the advice I got once from a very experienced rider. He told me, “Don’t ride like you’re invisible; ride like they do see you and they are planning how to take you out.”