TOTW: Never drive faster than you can see

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?

If you think about it, at any given speed there is obviously a minimum distance it would take you to stop in reaction to seeing an obstacle in front of you.

For example, suppose you are going 30 Km/h and know, from experience or taking rider training, that you can stop your bike in 7 metres from that speed. Also, let’s say it would take you one second to notice an emergency situation in front of you and react by initiating a braking manoeuvre. At 30 Km/h you will travel about 8 metres in that second. So, if you suddenly saw something that made you stop as quickly as possible, you would travel 8 + 7 = 15 metres before coming to a stop.

Here is that example on a diagram:

Now, let’s assume that you can’t see 15 metres for some reason — dark, fog, a curve, the crest of a hill, etc. Consider the following:

As you can see, there is no possible way to avoid a collision. By the time you see the car you will be too close to stop before you hit it.

Solution

You must develop an intuitive feel for your reaction and stopping distance from any given speed. (You do this by practice, and rider training is a great opportunity for such practice.) You must then train yourself that any time your visibility changes (e.g. entering a curve, or the arrival of darkness) you adjust your speed so you can always see farther ahead than your stopping distance.

It’s important that you develop this feel for visibility and speed under all conditions in which you ride. We all tend to do more riding in fine weather on good pavement, which means we aren’t getting as much practice in rain, poor roads, etc. Remember this and allow for it as you ride.

Finally, consider this. The situation where you are most likely to drive faster than visibility warrants is in good conditions, good road, and bright daylight, in hilly terrain. Most riders instinctively adjust their speed in poor conditions or when riding a blind curve. But on perfectly straight road, it’s easy to forget there may be a hazard over the crest of the next hill. A sharp gully is even worse, because you may be able to see clear road in the distance, but not the hazard at the bottom of the gully.


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