Share the Road: Driving Safely Around Motorcycles

Last Updated: March 16, 2021 |
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Motorcycles and other two-wheeled vehicles are easy to miss on the road, and accidents on two wheels are far more dangerous than those between cars. There are simply more hazards for motorcycle riders as they are not protected by a vehicle’s exterior and they lack safety devices like seat belts and airbags.

Even a small collision between a car and motorcycle can be deadly. When motorcycles and cars collide, it’s typically the two-wheeled riders that suffer.

In 2017, 5,172 people died in motorcycle crashes. Motorcyclists are nearly 26 times more likely than passenger car occupants to die in a crash per vehicle mile traveled and five times more likely to be injured.

With so much at stake for motorcycle riders every time they hit the road, it’s essential that drivers practice safe driving habits with two-wheeled vehicles in mind. Follow these tips to make the road safer for everyone, including motorcycle riders.

  1. Remember that motorcycles are vehicles: Motorcycles may be smaller than cars, but they are considered vehicles under the law. They are required to follow laws in order to use roads, and drivers must follow motorcycle safety laws as well.
  2. Have a positive attitude about sharing the road: In a car, it’s easy to be a bully. After all, you’re much more protected than a motorcycle rider. And though a motorcycle may be traveling slower than you — and getting in your way — they have just as much right to be on the roadway as you do.
  3. Give them plenty of room: A motorcycle may only take up a sliver of a driving lane, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s entirely safe to pass them up in the same lane. When passing a motorcycle, be sure to give them at least three, ideally four or more, feet of clearance. Keep in mind that motorcycle riders may also need room to maneuver around potholes and debris on the road.
  4. Wait until it’s safe to pass: If you’re behind a motorcycle that’s moving slow, you’re probably antsy to get around them as soon as you possibly can. But for your safety and theirs, be sure to wait until road and traffic conditions are safe enough for you to pass. You should also pass slowly to be careful.
  5. Never pass and then turn right: Motorcycles can be faster than you might think. If you need to turn right soon, avoid passing a motorcycle and then immediately turning right. This can cause a serious accident. It’s safer to simply follow behind the motorcycle and turn right at the appropriate time.
  6. Practice communication and awareness: Make eye contact, use your turn signals, and check your mirrors to make sure you’re communicating well with motorcycles and other car drivers.
  7. Be very aware of your surroundings: Motorcycles are much smaller than cars and other vehicles, and it’s easy to miss them. They can be easily overlooked, particularly if they’re in a blind spot. Always remember to signal and look over your shoulder before you turn or change lanes. You’re probably used to watching out for cars, but remember you’ll need to look out for smaller vehicles as well.
  8. Never text and drive: Watching for motorcycles takes attention and concentration. You can’t give driving your full attention if you’re too distracted by texting or talking on the phone.
  9. Increase your following distance: It’s smart to leave plenty of room between you and the driver in front of you, and that’s especially true when you’re behind a motorcycle. Leave at least four seconds between yourself and the rider in front of you. This will give you plenty of time to stop if there’s an emergency up ahead.
  10. Always look before you turn: Often, accidents between cars and motorcycles are at turns. If you see a motorcycle in an intersection and you’re turning, be absolutely sure to make eye contact and communicate your intention to turn before you actually do so.
  11. Use your horn sparingly: Horns can be loud from the inside of your car, so imagine how loud and jarring they are for motorcycle riders who are not inside a protective bubble. The sound of a horn can surprise a rider and make them lose their focus, creating a dangerous situation. Avoid using your horn around motorcycles if possible.
  12. Don’t rely on brake lights: On cars, brake lights are a reliable indicator that the driver is stopping or slowing down the car. But motorcyclists often downshift instead of applying the brakes to activate the rear brake light. Watch the motorcycle’s speed to gauge whether or not you need to slow down to keep your distance.
  13. Watch out for riders not following the rules: Just as there are many imperfect drivers, there are plenty of motorcycle riders that don’t follow transportation laws perfectly, either. Some riders may blow through lights, ignore walk signs, or even split lanes. Motorcyclists may perform stunts or use excessive speed. Though riders should be following the law, drivers should also watch out for these behaviors to avoid an accident.7