TOTW: Be on guard near visiting drivers

The riding tips on these pages are my personal opinion about matters related to motorcycle riding. They are not the official position of any organization, and are for your consideration only. They are not hard and fast rules, they should not necessarily be applied in all circumstances, and they should not be applied without thinking. Always use your judgement and take all current safety factors into account while riding. You are responsible for your riding, not anyone else (especially me). These tips were originally published by a motorcycle riding course, called “Tip of the Week” (the reason for the TOTW in the titles).

What’s the problem?

There are two problems to be aware of when riding near a visiting driver: one obvious and somewhat unfair, the other more subtle.

Of course visiting drivers make occasional mistakes and surprise moves. So do locals. (A car driving slowly with a navigator staring at a map should be a sign that a surprise move is imminent.) But it would be an unfair generalisation to say “stay away from visitors — they’re dangerous”.

A more realistic risk occurs when visiting drivers are combined with “local protocols” — local driving habits or quirks that everyone around here takes for granted but aren’t strictly by the book. When one of these local driving quirks happens near a visitor who doesn’t know the local habit, a surprise swerve, brake, or even a collision, may result.

For example, different regions treat amber lights differently. In some areas drivers obediently slow and stop (possibly because they are such good drivers; possibly because they know about the red-light cameras), while in (many) others, amber causes drivers to accelerate, to get through the intersection.

Can you think of other areas where local drivers do something that might surprise a visitor, even one who is a good driver? Road markings, advisory speed limits, turning lanes, habits on entrance & exit ramps, etc., are all sources of such behaviour.

As a real example, in Ottawa, the intersecting entrance and exit ramp lanes on the 417 at Bronson are a place where local drivers know what to expect but visiting drivers are often startled into dangerous behaviour by the converging traffic.


You already know, if you’ve taken rider training, that you should be constantly scanning your surroundings for potential hazards and ensuring you are ready should an avoidance manoeuvre be needed.

Practice picking up signs that a driver near you is from out of town. (License plates; camping equipment on the roof; weather stains not matching the local conditions). Now scan your environment not only for what might endanger you, but for what might surprise the out-of-towner and cause them to become a hazard.

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