As the warm, dry days of summer roll out, motorcycles become more and more common on the roads. They zip in and out of traffic, roar by in packs, and pop up in blind spots when you would swear there was not a vehicle anywhere near your truck. But as small, speedy, and maneuverable as they are, when they get in accidents, the results can be devastating. A 2017 study conducted in Ontario found that motorcyclists are five times more likely to die in a crash than drivers in other vehicles. In a collision between a large commercial truck tipping the scales at around 15,500 kg unloaded and a motorcycle weighing 400 kg or less, there is no question who is going to come out the worst.
While motorcyclists need to ride defensively and take responsibility for their own safety, other drivers, especially professionals who spend all day on the road, can do a great deal to help them stay safe.
1. Learn to look. Probably the most important thing every car and truck driver can do is change their mindset to be “motorcycle aware.” Given that cars and trucks outnumber motorcycles, drivers are usually not thinking of the smaller vehicles when they glance in the mirrors or scan an intersection ahead. The image in their mind is of another truck or a car, so they literally don’t “recognize” a motorcycle. Add to this the much smaller size of a motorcycle, and likely the most common thing a driver will say after a crash is “I just didn’t see it,” even when the motorcycle was in plain sight.
Because of this, all drivers should get in the habit of specifically checking for motorcycles. Some professionals even recommend always looking twice: once for cars and trucks, and once for motorcycles.
2. Size matters. Not only are motorists less likely to recognize a motorcycle in clear view, but the smaller vehicles are also more easily hidden by blind spots. A motorcycle can be directly in front of a large truck and the driver may not be able to see it because of the truck’s nose. In addition, the size of a motorcycle means that it can be hard to judge its speed and distance. It’s safer to assume that a motorcycle is closer to you than you think and allow more space. You should also allow extra space when passing and be aware that the air flowing around your truck can seem like a sudden hurricane to a motorcyclist, pushing or pulling them off balance.
3. Watch those lights. Many motorcycles’ signals don’t automatically turn off after a corner and the driver may forget, so a blinking indicator may not mean what you think. On the other hand, unlit brake lights don’t necessarily mean the motorcycle isn’t stopping, since motorcyclists often slow by downshifting rather than braking.
4. Understand the differences. Motorcycles may seem like equals—or even rivals—on the road, but they are very different from other vehicles. Motorcyclists drive differently because the conditions that affect them are not the same as for other drivers. Puddles of water or oil that a truck driver wouldn’t even notice could spell disaster for a motorcyclist if he or she drives through them. Debris in the road, potholes, grooved pavements—these can all cause motorcyclists to swerve, change lanes, or move around within their lanes, even though you don’t see any cause for alarm. Be courteous and tolerant rather than reactive and judgmental.
5. Personalize that motorcycle rider. With helmets and visors on, motorcyclists may seem a bit, well, inhuman, more like part of their machines than fellow drivers. It’s important to consciously reject this prejudice and see each motorcyclist as an individual. His or her face and hair may be hidden, but that motorcyclist could be your best friend, your brother, or your daughter, so treat them accordingly.
Although motorcycle fatalities tend to peak in June, July, and August, both motorcyclists and truck drivers can take steps to avoid accidents. By working together toward a common goal—reducing collisions and the terrible consequences for all parties—everyone on the road can get where they’re going safely this summer.
The U.S. Motorcycle Safety Foundation provides a list of tips for drivers to share the road safely with motorcycles.