RIDING TIP: 5 Ways To Reduce Crash Risks at Intersections

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Five (5) Ways to Reduce Crash Risks at Intersections

motorcycle-crash-at-intersection_revClimbing on board your bike is a move towards freedom and the joy of an open road. With upwards of 100,000 motorcycle-related accidents occurring each year, it’s crucial to keep in mind the risks you’ll encounter on the open road whenever you climb aboard, Intersection accidents make up around 33 percent of all motorcycle-related accidents making them some of the most dangerous places for bikers to ride, regardless of weather, time, or lighting. Taking some specific precautions taught by professional rider training organizations from around the world can help you stay safe at these crucial junctions and avoid motorcycle crashes altogether.

It is a bogeyman in the motorcycling world; the crash at an intersection.  Unlike the mythical creatures that frightened us as children, crashes at intersections do exist and are rightfully our worst nightmares.  Funny enough, the imaginary beings created to teach children lessons are the very same that can help us as adult motorcycle riders.  Let’s explore the Five (5) Ways to Reduce Crash Risk at Intersections.

Proactive Riding Strategy – Namahage

In Japan, children are taught about Namahage in an attempt to warn them of laziness.  Our warning to you is to be proactive and avoid being lazy before entering the intersection.  We’ve written in the past about riding in front of the motorcycle and using a riding strategy that prevents the need for using hazard avoidance techniques.    An intersection is managed well BEFORE a rider arrives at the intersection.

This Japanese legend is applied to the world of motorcycles by encouraging riders to think and prepare before entering an intersection in order to avoid encountering a hazardous situation with other riders in the first place. This means engaging in thorough preparation, including selecting the right gear and placing yourself in the correct lane before ever entering the upcoming intersection. A little foresight goes a long way when it comes to preventing accidents.

Avoid Hiding – Babau

motorcycle seeing everything at intersectionIn Italy, Babau is a boogeyman who hides.  Hiding is the exact opposite of what we want to do when approaching an intersection.  In the Basic RiderCourse we talk extensively about seeing and being seen.  We introduce a concept called “Presentation”.  It is defined as lane positioning yourself where other cars have a better probability of seeing you.  As we’re approaching an intersection, we should ask ourselves:

  • Can I see all cars at the intersection, especially the ones who may want to turn left in front of me?
  • If I place myself in other drivers vehicles, from their perspective, can they see me?

It is our responsibility to make sure drivers have the best chance to see us.  Lane positioning is a dynamic activity; it requires us to be constantly vigilant so that we can maximize the time and space we have to react.

Anytime you’re on your bike, visibility is the key to safety. This fact is imperative when it comes to avoiding a motorcycle intersection crash. In the end, though, it’s your responsibility to ensure your own safety. Make sure you are completely visible to other riders at the intersection by paying attention to your current position and the positions of others at all times to reduce motorcycle crash risk. Don’t hide yourself away – don’t be a Babau.

(What do you think about this rider’s intersection management?)

Brightly Colored Gear and Well Lit Motorcycle – El Cucuy

In Mexico, children are on alert if they see the bright red glowing eyes of El Cucuy.  We want motorists around us to easily see us.  We can accomplish that goal if we make sure our lights are working properly.  Using your headlight, including brights, during the daytime is critical.  Riders may want to consider adding retro-reflective material to your motorcycle for night time riding.  Up-fitting your motorcycle with additional lighting may be a valuable tool to increase your chance of being seen.

In order to further your cause of easy visibility, consider the Mexican legend of the brightly-colored Cucuy. Not only should all of your lights – both stock and aftermarket additions – be working and bright even in broad daylight, but the gear you wear should also reflect these same values. If you don’t prefer bright riding gear and like how the traditional leather look suits you, consider at least adding some reflective riding tape to your helmet, jacket, pants, and boots. This further increases your chances of being seen in an intersection setting, especially at night.

All The Gear, All The Time – Sack Man

Kids in Brazil are worried about being taken away by “o homem do saco” or Sack Man.  Want to increase your chances of NOT being carried away in a bag in case of an incident?  Wear proper protective gear.  We’ve written about it in the past, and we’ll continue to write about it in the future.  In particular, wear gear that grabs attention so that we can increase our chances of being seen.  Before we consider hopping on our rides, we make sure the following gear is ready to rock:

  • DOT Approved Motorcycle Helmet (at least; Snell and ECE are ratings you may want to include)
  • Eye Protection (may be included with the helmet)
  • Motorcycle Specific Jacket
  • Motorcycle Specific Pants
  • Motorcycle Specific Full-Fingered Gloves
  • Motorcycle Specific Footwear

Investing in a full set of motorcycle-specific gear often takes care of much of the visibility issue for you. Donning a full suit can maximize the number of reflectors you have and make your presence generally larger, allowing other riders to spot you more quickly. Surround yourself with the right gear and avoid the sack altogether.

Cover Your Controls – Bøhmand

In Denmark, the bogeyman is known as Bøhmand.  He specializes in GRABBING children who will not sleep.  When it comes to using our clutch and brake, we’ll want to do anything BUT grab.  We will want to consider covering our clutch, front brake, and rear brake before we enter an intersection so that if we need to use them, we’re already in position.  We get questions about two fingers or four when riding; when it comes to intersections, whatever is most comfortable for you as long as the controls are covered.

Being at the ready is crucial in any situation, but intersections may require you to make sudden stops if all of your preparation doesn’t work. Regardless of how you do it, just grab your brake and clutch and hold on like the Bøhmand itself when things don’t go according to plan

We wanted to have a little fun with this month and lighten up a dark topic in the motorcycling world.  We’re interested to know how you approach intersections.  What works best for you?  Please send an email or leave your comments below.

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Bill Seltzer Yamaha FJ-09Bill Seltzer has been a Motorcycle Safety Foundation RiderCoach since 2003 and a Total Control Advanced Riding Instructor since 2011.  He currently serves as the Marketing Director for TEAM Arizona and is a member of the Arizona Strategic Highway Safety Planning committee.  Have questions or comments about the article?  Email him: Bill@MotorcycleTraining.com


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21 Replies to “RIDING TIP: 5 Ways To Reduce Crash Risks at Intersections”

  1. Nice additions Paul! Slowing our speed gives us more time to react and using our high beams gives us a better chance of being seen. Well played.

  2. I am guilty of swerving within my lane when traffic is slow and specially when approaching and intersection just to make sure other drivers are paying attention. May seem like a jacka** thing to do but at least I get their attention.

  3. I had a headlight modulator on my old bike (continuously flashes high beam during daylight hours). While it generally increased my visibility to others (judging from the wider berth other traffic gave me), it seemed to confuse people at intersections – some people seemed to think I was signaling them to proceed and turn left in front of me, others would pause and flash their lights back at me. After enough confusion – and close calls – I eventually took it off the bike. Now, like Paul, I just ride with the high beams on (not flashing) during the day and slow down at intersections.

    A situation similar to intersections is when the motorcycle is waiting to turn left from a center turn lane where there’s no traffic light/signal. I was once nearly hit by an oncoming driver who came out of side road ahead of me on the right while I was stopped, and used the center lane as a merge lane without really paying attention to what was in front of him. He only heard my by then continuous horn at the last moment and veered to my right (his oncoming lane; luckily there was no traffic on that side) to avoid me. I did NOT like that feeling of being a sitting duck. Heck, an inattentive driver from behind could’ve hit me too – a rising risk these days with people glued to their phones. Now if traffic is too heavy to make a left turn without stopping I’ll just keep going until I can make a U-turn safely, or I’ll plan my route so I can make a right turn into wherever I’m going instead of left.

    Anyway, thanks for the good tips/reminders. I appreciate TEAM Arizona’s efforts to make us better riders and keep us safe, both via training and these articles.

    P.S.: Although the guy in the GIF/video above is the kind of squid who’ll probably take himself out of the gene pool sooner rather than later, he makes all riders look bad to the general public, which makes them tend to oppose legislation that would promote the use of motorcycles and scooters, like lane filtering.

  4. For me, it is scanning, scanning and scanning. Looking for the obvious and not so obvious objects (i.e. people, vehicles…including bicyclists, animals, debris in the road, and anything that will take you down; in doing so, constantly looking for a way out… sidewalks, bike lanes, gaps and spaces that can give you the room to exit a potentially dangerous or deadly situation. Being proactive instead of reactive. Having already imagined a scenario and having an exit strategy instantaneously in place has saved me more than once. I may be up on the sidewalk face to face with pedestrians, but at least I am here to tell you about it.

  5. A lot to chew on in your comment Jim; some EXCELLENT stuff. Using our eyes to scan is critical. Having escape routes; critical. Imagining potential scenarios and playing that “what if?” game; critical. Nice one Jim!

  6. You are absolutely right Suman. Even though a light may not be present, anytime there is a possibility for motorists to intersect us, it is a location that presents higher risk for us motorcyclists. We appreciate your vigilance and willingness to improve. We’re always impressed with your positive attitude and desire to learn more. Kudos!

  7. Juan, you bring up a couple valuable points. Adjusting your lane position and creating motion can do two very important things: 1) It can increase your time and space from motorists. 2) The motion may increase your chance of being seen as motion tends to activate our peripheral vision. We highly recommend making your lane positioning dynamic; avoid staying in place to help you see and be seen.

  8. In my mental checklist for traffic threats like approaching a green light or side traffic entering, are eye contact, and rolling wheels, among others. If I can’t get eye contact with the driver entering right, I click him off as a 100% threat, and prepare to STOP. Secondly, I find that I best judge the moment of truth ( ? Is he pulling out on me ?? ) by looking for rotation of his front wheel, rather than looking for movement of the whole vehicle. I think rotation is easier to see for that first 6 inches when their foot comes off the brake pedal. Gives me 1 or 2 more seconds of react time, I figger.

  9. I’ve found tremendous value in continuing to keep in practice the skill of -scanning ahead-. Personally I’ve found it affords me time to think, recognize potential threats, choose avoidance / escape routes and helps me enjoy my riding experience that much more.

  10. I’m in agreeance with Jim Graffam !!! I’ve found tremendous value in continuing to keep in practice the skill of -scanning ahead-. Personally I’ve found it affords me time to think, recognize potential threats, choose avoidance / escape routes and helps me enjoy my riding experience that much more.

  11. As I approach an intersection, I am developing strategies on how to maximize my presentation. See and Be Seen is a top priority. In addition to ensuring other vehicles are not obstructing my view or the view of me by other drivers turning left, I approach the intersection in the left track of the lane I am occupying, typically the farthest left through lane. Prior to entering the intersection, I will move to the right track of the same lane I am occupying to create movement to both get the attention of the left turner and to give them a better perspective of my approaching speed. Although I certainly do not coast through an intersection, I will reduce my speed by rolling off the throttle prior to entering the intersection. I also mentally prepare for one of two ways to avoid a hazard-either by stopping quickly or by swerving.

  12. I know when I’m scanning an intersection I will actually speed up or slow down so there is no doubt who got there first. I hate arriving at the intersection at the same time, and having to decide who “breaks the tie”. I do the same thing in my truck now.

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