TOTW: Pretend you’re invisible

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’ve taken rider training you’ve discussed the reasons it is not easy for car drivers to see you.

Size. Your bike is smaller than other vehicles. Especially when you are driving directly toward a car, you are a small target to see. Your small size will also cause drivers to estimate your distance incorrectly — they will think you are further away than you really are.

Unmoving. When you are driving directly toward someone, you are not moving much from their point of view. Motion attracts attention; stillness does not. This same lack of cross-motion makes it difficult for an oncoming driver to judge your speed. If you happen to be moving faster than an average vehicle (no one we know does this, but it is possible in theory) the oncoming driver may misjudge how much time they have to move across your path.

Inconspicuous Colours. Unfortunately, many riders feel it is important to wear black clothing: black jacket, black pants, black helmet. There are even matt black helmets, so not even a stray reflection calls a driver’s attention to your presence.

Lights. Since a motorcycle has only one headlight (even on bikes with two, they appear as one from any distance) and one tail light, the lights aren’t as easy to see; and the single light doesn’t give oncoming drivers much information about how far away you are. (Whereas the two headlights on a car convey a distance message through their apparent separation.) Worse, an oncoming driver may interpret your headlight as the lights of a car that is very far away, and completely misjudge the distance separating you.

A mental exercise

Here is a useful mental exercise. Don’t just remember that it’s hard for cars to see you; Assume they cannot see you. Really. Assume you are actually invisible.

This can become a mental game that will help you be ready for driver errors, choose safer lane positions, and avoid surprises.

“That car waiting to turn left cannot see me, so he’s going to turn right in front of me. I’ll move around in my lane to increase my apparent motion from his point of view; maybe he’ll notice me. And I’ll be ready to move over so he misses me.”

“That car approaching from the side cannot see me, so he will think it is safe to run that amber light. I’ll slow down a bit before entering the intersection.”

Note that, in our examples, we took action to adjust for a possible driver error, even though the collision we avoided would not have been our fault. This is an important theme in your riding. If you are in a collision, it won’t matter much if it was your fault. Take positive action to improve your safety, regardless of who’s “right.”


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