You need to develop a set of street riding strategies that allows you to gather critical information to make good decisions and avoid problems.
Accept the responsibilities associated with operating a motorcycle:
- You must have a motorcycle endorsement or instruction permit.
- You must follow the laws and rules of the road.
- You must share the road with other users (i.e. people walking or biking, large vehicles, etc.)
- Always ride alcohol- and drug-free.
- Always wear protective gear.
Motorcycles are not as visible as other vehicles because of their size. This puts you at risk!
Riding a motorcycle involves some risks not encountered when driving other types of vehicles. Some of these risks include:
Vulnerability – Motorcycles provide less protection in a crash and do not have the stability of cars. This is why you should always wear protective gear.
Visibility – Motorcycles are not as visible as other types of vehicles because of their size. Other motorists may not be looking for motorcycles in traffic. This places you at risk.
To manage risk you must be aware of the potential risks and then have a plan to reduce the risks.
Good experienced riders remain aware of what is going on around them. They improve their riding strategy by using SIPDE, a 5-step process used to make appropriate judgments, and apply it correctly in different traffic situations:
Let’s examine each of these steps.
Search aggressively ahead, to the sides and behind to avoid potential hazards even before they arise. How aggressively you search, and how much time and space you allow, can eliminate or reduce harm. Focus on finding potential escape routes.
An aggressive scan allows you to identify potential hazards and conflicts before you reach them.
- Vehicles and other motorcycles—may move into your path and increase the likelihood of a crash.
- People walking or rolling and animals—are unpredictable, and may make short, quick moves.
- Stationary objects—potholes, guardrails, bridges, roadway signs, hedges or trees may influence your riding strategy.
After identifying a potential hazard or conflict, you will need to quickly predict what it will do. Before making your move, ask yourself: How critical is the situation? What are my choices? What are the consequences? Do I need to take action? This stage of SIPDE will develop as you gain experience and skill.
Determine what you need to do based on your prediction. You must decide when, where and how to take action. You must constantly make decisions to deal with constantly changing road and/or traffic conditions.
Carry out your decision.
- Communicate your presence with lights and/or horn.
- Adjust your speed by accelerating, stopping or slowing.
- Adjust your position and/or direction.
When you encounter multiple hazards, adjust your speed to permit them to separate. Then deal with them one at a time as single hazards. Decision making becomes more complex with three or more hazards.
In potentially high-risk areas, such as intersections, shopping areas and school or construction zones, cover the clutch and both brakes to reduce the amount of time it takes you to react.
The greatest potential for multi-vehicle crashes is at intersections. At intersections, drivers entering your right of way is the most common cause of motorcycle and vehicle crashes. Cars that turn left in front of you, including cars turning left from the lane to your right, and cars on side streets that pull into your lane, are the biggest dangers. Your use of SIPDE at intersections is critical. In 2021, there were 3,052 two-vehicle fatal crashes involving a motorcycle and another type of vehicle.3 In 43% of these crashes, the other vehicles were turning left while the motorcycles were going straight, passing, or overtaking other vehicles.
3 - National Center for Statistics and Analysis (2021, April). Motorcycles: 2019 data (Traffic Safety Facts. Report No. DOT HS 813 112). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Increase your chances of being seen at intersections by riding with your headlight on. Ride in a lane position that provides the best view of oncoming traffic. For example, if a car is stopped to your right, slow down and move to the left. Provide a space cushion around the motorcycle that permits you to take evasive action.
When approaching an intersection where a vehicle is preparing to cross your path:
- Slow down.
- Select a lane position to increase your visibility to that driver.
- Cover both brakes to reduce the time you need to react.
- Cover the clutch lever to prevent stalling. As you enter the intersection, move away from the vehicle.
- Do not make radical movements, as drivers might think you are preparing to turn.
- Be prepared to take action.
If you approach a blind intersection, move to the portion of the lane that will bring you into another driver’s field of vision at the earliest possible moment. In this picture, the rider has moved to the left portion of the lane – away from the parked car – so the driver on the cross street can see them as soon as possible.
The key is to see as much as possible and remain visible to others while protecting your space.
If you have a stop sign or stop line, stop there first. Then edge forward and stop again, just short of where the cross-traffic lane meets your lane. From that position, lean your body forward and look around buildings, parked cars, or bushes to see if anything is coming. Just make sure your front wheel stays out of the cross lane of travel while you’re looking.
Many traffic signals are triggered by inductive loops or wires buried under the pavement. When a vehicle goes over them, the metal disrupts the current, which sends a signal to the traffic signal control box. A computer directs the signal to change at the appropriate time.
Most motorcycles contain enough metal to trigger the light, but you should know where the most sensitive spots are. Look for the cut in the pavement, filled with tar. Depending on the shape, the most sensitive spots are:
Diamonds – just inside one of the points.
Rectangles – up front, in the middle.
Circles – about ¼ of the way in.
Other detection systems may use cameras, infrared sensors, or microwaves to sense the presence of a vehicle. If a traffic control device, controlled by a vehicle detection device, fails to detect your motorcycle and does not change to green after one complete cycle, Oregon law permits a motorcycle to proceed with caution through an intersection even if the traffic control device still displays red. You must wait for a complete cycle and stop for any people walking or rolling before proceeding.
It is extremely important to maintain an adequate “cushion of space” between vehicles.
Increasing the following distance between vehicles will provide you with:
- Time to react.
- Space to maneuver.
A responsible rider recognizes that space is the best protection against potential hazards.
Oregon law gives you the right to use a full traffic lane when you ride a motorcycle or moped. In some ways, the size of the motorcycle can work to your advantage. Each traffic lane gives a motorcycle at least three paths of travel, as indicated in the illustration.
Your lane position should:
- Increase your ability to see and be seen.
- Avoid others’ blind spots.
- Avoid surface hazards.
- Protect your lane from other drivers.
- Communicate your intentions.
- Avoid windblast from other vehicles.
- Provide an escape route.
In general, there is no single best position for you to be seen and to maintain a space cushion around the motorcycle. No portion of the lane need be avoided – including the center, if weather and roadway conditions permit.
Use the whole width of the lane to help other roadway users see you better.
Position yourself in the portion of the lane where you are most likely to be seen and you can maintain a space cushion around you. Move from one side of the lane to another to increase your distance from other vehicles. A responsible rider changes position as traffic situations change. Ride in path 2 or 3 if vehicles or other potential hazards are on your left. Remain in path 1 or 2 if hazards are on your right. If vehicles are present on both sides of you, the center of the lane, path 2, is usually your best option.
The oily strip in the center portion that collects drippings from cars is usually no more than 2 feet wide. Unless the road is wet, the average center strip permits adequate traction to ride on safely. You can operate to the left or right of the oily strip and still be within the center portion of the traffic lane. Avoid riding on big buildups of oil and grease usually found at busy intersections or tollbooths.
Following Another Vehicle
Motorcycles need as much, or more, distance to stop as cars. It is recommended that motorcycle operators try to maintain a
four-second following distance behind the vehicle ahead. This allows you space to stop, swerve, and to keep a reasonable space cushion.
A larger cushion of space is needed if your motorcycle will take longer than normal to stop. For example if you are riding 40 mph or more, if the pavement is slippery, if you cannot see through the vehicle ahead or if traffic is heavy and someone may squeeze in front of you, open up a five-second or more following distance.
Keep well behind the vehicle ahead even when you are stopped. This will make it easier to get out of the way if someone behind you is not slowing down. It will also give you a cushion of space if the vehicle ahead starts to back up for some reason.
To estimate your four-second following distance:
- Pick out an object, such as a pavement marking, sign, pole or other stationary point on or near the road ahead.
- When the rear bumper of the vehicle ahead passes the object, count off the seconds: “one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three, one- thousand-four.”
- If you reach the object before you reach “four,” you are following too closely.
- Reduce speed and then count again at another stationary point to check the new following interval. Repeat until you are following no closer than four seconds.
Remember that most drivers don’t look at their side view mirrors nearly as often as they check their rear view mirror. If the traffic situation allows, the center portion of the lane is the best place for you to be seen by the drivers ahead and to prevent lane sharing by others.
Speeding up to lose someone following too closely can end up with someone tailgating you at a higher speed.
A better way to handle tailgaters is to get them in front of you. When someone is following too closely, change lanes and let them pass. If you can’t do this, slow down and open up extra space ahead of you to allow room for both you and the tailgater to stop. This will also encourage them to pass. If they don’t pass, you will have given yourself and the tailgater more time and space to react in case an emergency does develop ahead.
Passing and Being Passed
Passing and being passed by another vehicle is not much different from a car. However, visibility is more critical. Be sure other drivers see you, and that you see potential hazards.
Motorcycle and moped riders must follow the same rules in passing as drivers of automobiles. It is against the law for motorcyclists to pass between moving vehicles using an occupied lane on a multi-lane highway or a one-way street. It is also against the law to pass on the right if you must drive off the paved part of the road or use the shoulder to go around another vehicle. Oregon law allows one
motorcycle or moped rider to pass another using the same lane.
- Ride in the left portion of the lane at a safe following distance to increase your line of sight and make you more visible. Signal and check for oncoming traffic. Use your mirrors and turn your head to look for traffic behind.
- When safe, move into the left lane and accelerate. Select a lane position that doesn’t crowd the car you are passing and provides space to avoid hazards in your lane.
- Ride through the vehicle’s blind spot as quickly as possible while maintaining the required speed limit.
- Signal again, and complete mirror and head checks before returning to your original lane and then cancel your signal.
- When passing parked cars, stay towards the left of your lane. The greatest danger is drivers pulling away from the curb without checking for traffic behind. Cars pulling out and making sudden U-turns are also dangerous. They may cut you off entirely, blocking the whole roadway and leaving you with no place to go.
When you are being passed from behind or by an oncoming vehicle, stay in the middle portion of your lane. Riding any closer to them could put you in a hazardous situation.
Do not move into the portion of the lane farthest from the passing vehicle. It might invite the other driver to cut back into your lane too early.
Check your mirrors and your blind spot before changing lanes. Be sure to execute a complete head check. This means turning your head in the direction you intend to go to check your blind spot for traffic approaching to the side and behind you.
Vehicles and motorcycles need a full lane to operate safely. To discourage others from sharing your lane, you may choose to ride in the center portion of your lane. Oregon law allows motorcycles to ride two abreast in a single lane. However, this is not a recommended safety practice. Sharing a lane with a car while passing them is commonly known as “lane splitting” and is not legal in
Oregon. Lane splitting can leave you vulnerable to the unexpected and reduces your space cushion. Do not ride between rows of stopped or moving motor vehicles. This is illegal in Oregon and can be dangerous.
Do not assume that drivers merging on an entrance ramp will see you. Minimize the potential for danger by giving them plenty of room. Change lanes if one is open. If there is no room for a lane change, adjust speed to open up space for the merging driver.
Avoid riding in the blind spot of a vehicle. Responsible riders recognize that vehicles traveling in the adjacent lane may unexpectedly change direction forcing the rider into a potentially dangerous situation. Vehicles in the next lane also block your escape if you come upon a hazard in your own lane. Adjust your speed until a proper and adequate space cushion has been established between vehicles.
An escape route is an alternate path of travel that you can take if a hazard develops in your path. No matter what the conditions, always use SIPDE and plan an escape route. In the illustration below, the first rider has three escape routes open should they need to take an alternate path. The second rider has an escape route open to the left. The third rider does not have a clear escape route and should increase their space cushion. The third rider has nowhere to go if they need to take an alternate path of travel, which leaves them vulnerable to potential hazards.
In crashes with motorcyclists, drivers often say that they never saw the motorcycle. From ahead or behind, a motorcycle’s outline is much smaller than a car’s. Also, it’s hard to see something you are not looking for, and many drivers are not looking for motorcycles. More likely, they are looking through the narrow, two- wheeled silhouette in search of vehicles that may pose a problem to them.
Even if a driver does see you coming, you aren’t necessarily safe. Motorcycles may appear farther away, and may appear to be traveling slower than they actually are. It is common for drivers to pull out in front of motorcyclists, thinking they have plenty of time. Too often, they are wrong. However, you can do many things to make it easier for others to recognize you and your motorcycle.
Being seen is your responsibility! Bright colors and retro-reflective materials are the best choices for keeping you visible to surrounding traffic both day and night.
Most crashes occur in broad daylight. Wear bright colored clothing to increase your chances of being seen. Remember, your body is half of the visible surface area of the rider-motorcycle unit.
Retro-reflective, bright colored clothing is best. Bright orange, red, yellow or green jackets or vests are your best option for being seen. Brightly colored helmets can also help others see you. After dark, retro-reflective material on a vest and on the sides of the helmet will help drivers coming from the side spot you. Retro-reflective material can also be a big help for drivers coming toward you or from behind.
Oregon law requires that you have your headlight on at all times. Keeping your headlights on is the best way to help others see your motorcycle.
Oregon law requires the use of signals, either hand or electrical, before making a turn or changing lanes. Motorcyclists may use hand signals during the day. At night, or in limited visibility conditions, turn signal lights are required for motorcycles.
The signals on a motorcycle communicate to other drivers your intentions. Always use signals when turning or changing lanes. Using your signals will increase visibility. Always turn your head to check your blind spot before changing lanes.
Most motorcycle turn signals are not self-canceling. Be sure to cancel the signal after making your turn. This will allow other drivers to know your intentions and prevent anyone from entering into your path.
You should also be familiar with hand signals, as shown in the figure, and be able to use them if the motorcycle’s turn signals are not working correctly.
Your motorcycle’s brake light is usually not as noticeable as the brake lights on a car. If the situation permits, help others notice you by flashing your brake light before you slow down.
It is especially important to flash your brake light before:
- You slow more quickly than others might expect (for example, turning off a high-speed highway).
- You slow where others may not expect it (for example, in the middle of a block or at an alley).
If you are being followed closely, it’s a good idea to flash your brake light before you slow. The tailgater may be watching you and not see something ahead that will make you slow down. This will hopefully discourage them from tailgating and warn them of hazards ahead they may not see.
Be ready to use your horn to get someone’s attention quickly. Keep in mind that a motorcycle’s horn isn’t as loud as a vehicle’s; therefore, use it, but don’t rely on it.
Test Your Knowledge
1. The biggest danger for a motorcycle in an intersection is:
A. Drivers tailgating you.
B. Drivers turning left in front of you.
C. Improper lane positions.
2. In which portion of the lane should you position yourself?
A. The left portion of the lane.
B. The lane portion where you are most likely to be seen.
C. The right portion of the lane.
3. What is an escape route?
A. An alternate path of travel you can take if a hazard develops.
B. A nearby roadway to take if traffic is heavy.
C. A safe place to stop when weather or roadway conditions are poor.