Intersection Safety

Two sets of eyes – avoiding accidents at intersections

We all typically see ourselves as good riders - keeping our head on a swivel looking left, right, behind, and out in front as we approach an intersection. We watch for dramatic items, like vehicles cutting us off or emergency vehicles that need a clear path. As you approach an intersection, here are a few key factors to consider and best practices to prepare for each:

1. Has the traffic signal changed recently or is it stale and ready to change?

Long before the intersection, the traffic signal is visible. Make a mental note of the signal's condition at a fair distance from the intersection so that as you approach you do not have to spend time looking at the opposed traffic signal for information and can focus on more immediate tasks.

2. What is the traffic doing directly behind you?

Are they slowing, do they see you, are they distracted or approaching too quickly? Just before applying your brakes, always check behind you to see what the traffic is doing so you can be ready if a vehicle is approaching quickly or recklessly. Move to another lane, if available, or off the road if necessary.

3. Is a vehicle near you turning or planning to pass you on the right or left side, even if there is not a legal lane for the vehicle to do so?

In multiple lane conditions you must watch both sides of your motorcycle as you come to a stop as another vehicle might speed up to run a yellow or red light or try and sneak by to make a right on red. Many vehicles think they can "fit" through the space you have allowed between you and the next object. As a rider, you need to choose your lane position to ensure that you the safest for now - and each intersection can be different. Use your lane wisely.

4. Have you accounted for and identified the "outs" or escape routes can you can use should other traffic start enter your space?

As you come to a stop at the intersection you should leave enough space behind the vehicle in front of you to allow a maneuver of your motorcycle into another location (without the vehicle in front of you moving) should you need to do so. Many times motorcycles ‘disappear’ in traffic and visually become a part of the vehicle nearest to them. The driver of an approaching vehicle does not define the difference between the two separate items and, boom, a conflict occurs. A good rider always leaves an escape lane - just in case. Remember every motorcycle has 3 tracks within their lane and, should the need arise, a typical motorcycle will fit between two other vehicles side by side on the road. If you see in your mirror a driver approaching you from behind too quickly, you should always leave yourself enough space to move left or right and pull between the vehicles in front of you - let them take the hit of the fast approaching vehicle from the rear - you get into a safer spot!

5. How tall is the curb, or center divider, and can you surmount it should the need arise?

A rider of any type of motorcycle - sport, sport tour, cruiser, dual sport, etc., - needs to practice with their specific machine surmounting obstacles. There will come the day when you will have to ride over a curb, an auto part, animal, or through a pothole and if you have not practiced in a controlled environment you may not be ready for what needs to happen to make it to the other side. As we say in the training industry - repetition, repetition, repetition.

6. How many pedestrians are at the intersection and do any of them plan to cross your path of travel? (Pedestrians typically have the right of way, and we as motorists should always do our best to yield the right of way to them.)

You do not always think about the people at the curb or between parked vehicles, but one of the more unpredictable conditions is the average pedestrian in a downtown environment. They expect you to watch them and they just step out. As the motor vehicle operator you need to give them the right of way so cover your controls, ride a little slower in congested areas and be ready to stop quickly.

7. Is there construction, potholes, debris, or oil spots that will require additional riding skills to navigate the intersection?  

Every rider should practice riding in difficult conditions like sand, gravel, light oil, and such in a safe environment. Do not make your first experience be at a major intersection where you were looking well ahead and saw the construction sign so you rode up cautiously to the event, but once you got there the crew just turned the street into a sand pit for the next 50 feet! Be prepared by practicing.

8. If you are the first vehicle at the intersection, are you aware of the "signal" box in the pavement, and where the motorcycle needs to be placed to initiate a change in the traffic control device?  

Most active intersections that have traffic control equipment will have some type of sensor installed under the pavement in the lead location of each lane of traffic or as required. As motorcyclists with a single track vehicle we have 3 lane choices - I call them (from left to right) 1, 2, and 3. You have probably noticed a rectangular line cut into the street usually on center of position 1 or 2 of a lane. And is typically where the sensor is located. Sensors function in many different ways; two typical ways are weight or electromagnetic field. Some motorcycles do not trip the sensors. If you find yourself not activating the signal, it is best to be patient as the traffic signal will cycle, or you can allow a larger vehicle to get near the box and trip it for you. It is always a good idea, however, to center yourself on the box and learn which sensors in your neighborhood you and your motorcycle consistently activate.

9. Once stopped, are you staying in first gear with the clutch and rear brake applied?

To always be ready to move at a moment's notice - this is a requirement for all riders in active traffic. So when you come to a stop at an intersection you should be in first gear with the clutch fully disengaged and the right foot on the rear brake pedal so that it illuminates the tail light. This provides the rider with the most opportunities. No need to get into first gear from neutral. Just ease out the clutch, release the rear brake, and go. An added benefit - the traffic behind you sees your brake light illuminated telling them that you are stationary so that the vehicle behind does not just move at the green but instead looks to see the change in your tail light.

Intersections typically present the rider with multiple opportunities for dangerous situations to occur. No situation is caused by a singular event; there are always a number of factors that cause an interaction to occur. And intersections produce so many items in confluence with each other within a small environment that to be safe, a rider must practice caution and learn many different skills to consistenly navigate intersections.

Be safe out there!

Background on our guest author:
I would like to introduce myself. My name is Steve Kirsch and I am an owner of the advanced motorcycle training company Total Rider Tech. I have been a motorcycle riding instructor for a number of years and something I have always wanted to do is share some of the best practices that I have gathered over the years from coworkers, friends, and from experience on the road and the teaching range. When I teach a class, I always try to share with my students one or two extra skills that I have stored away, but there is never enough time to really talk about "all" of the tricks and tools that I have boxed up. I am a pack rat when it comes to this stuff! I love learning new riding techniques. My personal motorcycling mission statement is to take a minimum of one motorcycle-related educational course every year. I truly believe that as a motorcyclist I can never be fully qualified. I have always enjoyed the quotation, "I did not know that I did not know that until I took this course!" By sharing information, motorcyclists have the opportunity to be safer, better riders. I am proud to be a part of the motorcycling community and this is my way of giving back to my favorite sport. My plan is to put practical tidbits of information in LocalMotoHub's newsletter and on the web site as often as I can, sharing down the ‘good stuff’ that has come to me over the years.

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