10 things car drivers should know about motorcycles

Dailies -



In 2009, 5,474 people were killed on American roads due to distracted driving. Now, April has become National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. The MSF has put together a list of 10 things cagers need to know about driving around motorcycles. I hope you’re not reading this on your iPhone from the driver’s seat.

1. There are many more cars and trucks than motorcycles on the road and some drivers don’t “recognize” motorcyclists. They ignore them, usually unintentionally. Look for motorcycles, especially when checking traffic at an intersection.

2.  A motorcyclist may look farther away than he or she is in actuality. It may also be difficult to judge a motorcycle’s speed. When checking traffic to turn at an intersection or into (or out of) a driveway, estimate that a motorcycle is closer than it looks.

3.  A motorcycle can be easily hidden in a car’s blind spots or masked by objects or backgrounds outside the car. Thoroughly check traffic, whether you’re changing lanes or turning at intersections.

4.  A motorcycle may seem to be moving faster than it really is. Again, don’t immediately rely on your perceptions.

5.  Motorcyclists sometimes slow down by downshifting or merely rolling off the throttle, thus not activating the brake light. Don’t tailgate motorcyclists. At intersections, anticipate that motorcyclists may slow down without any visual warning.

6.  Turn signals on a motorcycle are not often automatically self-canceling. Some riders, (especially beginners) sometimes forget to turn them off. Try to determine whether a motorcycle’s turn signal is for real. And if you’re driving a car, remember to use your turn signals too. They’re a great communication tool for riders and drivers when used properly.

7.  Motorcyclists often adjust position within a lane to be seen more easily, to avoid road debris, and deal with passing vehicles and wind. Understand that motorcyclists often adjust lane position for a purpose, and it’s not an invitation for a car to share the lane with them.

8.  Maneuverability can be one advantage for a motorcycle, but don’t expect that motorcyclist can always steer or swerve out of harm’s way. Please leave motorcyclists room on the road, wherever they are around you.

9.  Stopping distance for motorcycles can be nearly the same or better than that of cars. But wet or slippery pavement can put motorcyclists at a disadvantage. Don’t violate a motorcyclist’s right of way, especially in bad conditions.

10.   Don’t think of it as a motorcycle, a machine: Think of the rider; the person on board is someone’s son, daughter, spouse or parent. Unlike other motorists, protected by doors, roofs and airbags, motorcyclists have only their safety gear and are at greater risk from distracted drivers.

We’d like to add our own:

11. Put the fucking cellphone down and pay attention to the road. You’re operating a goddamn 2-ton murder machine, take some responsibility for your own actions for christ’s sake.

The MSF has released a website specifically for car drivers.

  • Kevin

    I had an enthusiastic “Hear, hear!” for each point, especially the last one.

    But here’s one just for us Californians: don’t split lanes when traffic is flowing, and never travel faster than neighborhood speed when you’re splitting lanes. I see guys splitting lanes doing 60-70 when traffic is moving at 40-50, and this does nothing but scare and anger drivers. Leave that shit for the track.

    • todd

      traffic moving at 40-50 and you want me NOT spliting lanes? no way. You are almost guaranteed to be rear ended sitting in a lane. I feel way safe between the cars.

      The CHP’s own literature has a cruiser moving between two cars on an open freeway with minimal traffic. How fast might they be going?

      Sorry, I am on a bike. slow freeway traffic? seeya

      • Kevin

        At 10, 20, 30 mph above the speed of traffic, your reaction time and the reaction time of the drivers around you are reduced, and you’re talking about splitting lanes at the same time that the volume of lane changes is increasing. You might focus on getting rear ended as your biggest risk, but it isn’t. Besides, if traffic ahead of you slows because everybody is hitting their brakes, then you can pop in between lanes to avoid getting rear ended.

        Going faster because you can is not what the law is intended to allow, and the more that’s abused the more likely it is that we’ll lose the privilege.

      • Justin

        I don’t ‘split lanes’ per se with traffic above 30, but I stay at the pace of traffic on the side of the lane as if I was lanesplitting. This gives me an easy out but I’m not zooming past the cagers. All of my close calls have not come lanesplitting but when I’m taking up a whole lane like a car, so I always like to be able to shoot inbetween a lane if need be.

      • Toby

        There’s not nearly enough actual scientific data on this, so I personally go with my gut. I split lanes no faster than 40mph, and keep my speed down to no more than 10 or 15mph faster than the flow of traffic.

        YMMV, but this has served me well, as I’ve had a couple of close calls for which I was prepared and had time to react.

    • Sean Smith

      They don’t let bikes and cars out on the track at the same time. Lane splitting is one of those things that is exclusive to the street.

  • ontheroad

    I especially like #11.

    Also: what’s up with the HRC sticker on the tail of that Ducati superbike?

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      You mean that VFR400?

      • Gregory

        Yeah. And what’s the model of car? Looks like a red two-door hatchback with its hatchback open.

        • x

          who cares?

        • NickP

          3rd gen VW Golf, probably early 90′s

      • ontheroad

        You’re quite right of course. I was thinking it was a 748 or something with a wonky fairing kit. Yet another example of a fun little bike we never got here in the states.

        • Miticale

          I’m fairly confident that might be an older RC30 / RC45.

          • ontheroad

            maybe rc30… i thought the 45 had a different tail, in stock trim anyways. At any rate, I was way off (no trellis frame), but those taillights and that tri-spoke distracted me.

            Damn it, now I’m caught up googling sexy old Hondas. Never going to get any work done…

    • Ben

      Not to link to a car blog, but that photo is from this incident:


      Fast enough to tip an effin’ Golf.

      • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

        Yeah, that’s not a true story. It’s one of those displays safety groups fabricate and trot out at shows to scare people. Various stories have popped up on the internet about it, none of them with any basis in reality.

        • Ben

          I guess I should have read your comment on that story, eh? I stand corrected (and a bit relieved)!

        • Emil

          As far as I know this is the real deal. It’s from an accident outside Stockholm here in Sweden in the mid 90′s to early 00′s.
          It pops up on Swedish motorcycle boards such as sporthoj.com every now and then as it’s dragged around between motorcycle/car/safety expos.
          There’s quite an amount of first hand acquaintances of the biker who died.
          I believe the driver of the car was also killed.

        • zato1414

          After seeing this pic for years, is it real or not? I gotta know!

    • http://www.postpixel.com.au mugget

      ROFL Ducati
      hahaha :P

  • Brant

    11. Put the fucking cellphone down and pay attention to the road. You’re operating a goddamn 2-ton murder machine, take some responsibility for your own actions for christ’s sake.

    Should be numbers 1-10.

  • KP

    Mostly good, and I appreciate that the guberment is out there doing this on our behalf. Seems like #6 should assert that a car driver shouldn’t rely on a motorcyclists indicator, and make any assumptions based upon it. That’s the danger in us leaving our signals on, really.

    Also, isn’t #4 backwards? I thought motorcycles were always going faster than you perceive them to be?

    • http://vtbmwmov.org Eben

      The MSF isn’t the government. It is its own non-profit entity.

      As for the speed perception, I believe the single headlight makes it hard to tell what speed a motorcycle is approaching, whether it’s faster or slower than you think.

  • x

    12. (CA only) Exit the carpool lane at the designated entrances/exits. Those 2 sets of double yellow lines mean don’t fucking cross.

    • Alex

      + Fucking ONE

    • Steve

      Actually you can exit if there’s a white line on your side. The bigger prob is entering. You’re riding along at 40mph and some douche gets sick of sitting and pulls in front of you from traffic and you rear end him. That’s a bigger prob.

    • robotribe

      YES. YES. YES.

  • tomwito

    Man, that poor bike (and rider).

  • http://plugbike.com/ skadamo

    Awesome list.

    About number 11…

    The kids who are about to learn to drive will never put down the phone. They can’t.

    I think accident rates in general are about to raise as these kids start driving. (hope I’m wrong)

    I hope a technology solution is created to solve the problem technology has helped create. Yeah I know phones don’t kill people, people do. People are really hard to train though. Google, save us!!

    • Alex

      you don’t need a technology solution, you need people to accept personal responsibility when piloting something with 300 times the horsepower of an average human.

      • http://plugbike.com/ skadamo

        I agree. not gonna happen.

    • Ryan

      Manual transmissions are a great solution to the problem of distracted driving. There is something about having to keep a car in the correct gear that makes people think about what they are doing.

      • David

        Agreed! You have to DRIVE it as opposed to simply steer it (by braille for some drivers!)…

  • Mr.Paynter

    *** No. 5!

    I would have been a lot happier middle of last year if a certain driver knew this!

    Tapped of to change down on my little SR 250 on an uphill highway and got hit from behind, all at 60 or so MPH.
    I did congratulate him on not running me over thereafter!

    • Core

      I bet their were ten vehicles missing the foam/cotton out of their seats.

  • http://plugbike.com/ skadamo

    “7. …and it’s not an invitation for a car to share the lane with them.


    I about crapped myself with rage the first time someone did this to me way back when. :D I simply flipped out and did really dangerous things. Not good. I am a smarter, more collected rider these days.

    • Michael

      It’s easy to lose it when somebody’s putting your life in danger. I remember riding along once on a two-lane which had to merge into one due to an accident. I was holding my position (right tire track on the left lane). This idiot in a Camry (is the Camry the new Buick?) starts pulling into my lane (ie. right into me). I honked my horn, which seemed to just irritate him. He kept coming in, and waving me to move to the other side of the lane. I kept shaking my head and yelling at him, since I couldn’t move over (we were stopped). He got so close that I instinctively put my boot on his bumper to shield myself. He only stopped when I started kicking his hood. I couldn’t believe it. I’m pretty calm (especially when riding) but sometimes you just get pushed too far.

      • Peter88

        Based on my experience, the Camry is the new Buick.

  • Michael

    I once saw a woman driving while eating a piece of cake. On a plate. With a fork. You almost had to admire her absolute commitment. That cake wasn’t going to eat itself, godammit.

    • HammSammich

      I used to live in a Duplex, and our neighbor, who was otherwise a very nice lady, would leave for work in the evening in her Ford Expedition while eating her dinner, usually on a porcelain dinner plate…the worst was a plate of spaghetti and meat sauce.

    • kat

      that’s actually kind of impressive. and terrifying.

      • Michael

        Indeed. The problem is that 99% of people are actually decent and thoughtful, until they get behind the wheel. Then they seem to separate out into aggressive douchebags or distracted morons. Or sometimes both.

  • Steve

    The rule I live by on the road is to assume that everyone in a car is out to kill me.

    • Myles

      Me too. Only way to be. Bright colors, loud pipes, signaling, all that is good stuff and definitely not going to hurt you – but no matter what a rider always has to be extremely defensive.

      I’m not as adversarial as you are, but we share a similar mindset. I just pretend I’m totally invisible.

      Anyway, cars are fucking horrible contraptions. The only time I think “nice car” is when someone has a “watch for motorcyclists” bumper sticker. When people get excited about bloated bullshit (eg. “Bro, I just took delivery of my new M3!”) I literally do not get it. My cheap old standard is faster and infinitely more involving to pilot. We need to increase property tax on automobiles 300% and fuel tax at least 200%. That will bring in more riders!

    • HammSammich

      I follow this rule too…that’s why I wear a black helmet and ride a black motorcycle. I figure if they’re trying to kill me, they’ve gotta see me first! ;) Oh wait…

    • http://www.brammofan.com Brammofan

      My corollary of this rule is that my ex wife has taken a contract out on my life and this contract is with the driver of every single driver out there. Personalizing it that way seems to bring it home to me.

      • HammSammich

        That’s awesome…it also gives you a great excuse to speed! “No seriously offficer, I’m fairly certain that woman with 4 kids in her Town & Country are actually a crack squad of mercenary ninja’s hired by my ex-wife to do me in…” :)

  • Brad

    Every time I commute in Chicago on two wheels I see some asshat doing far worse than texting – reading a book or a full f’ing newspaper, isn’t uncommon

  • T Diver

    Thanks for reminding people. Get off the fucking phone! This is something that makes me hate even my best friends.

  • Ducky

    It’s why I always try to stagger myself to stay out of blind spots and I touch the rear brake lightly (for the light) when I’m rev-match downshifting for traffic lights.

  • Ben

    My favorite is the lady in a Prius who almost killed me yesterday reading the full fuckin’ New York Times. She gave ME a dirty look for beeping my (pathetic) horn when she drifted into my lane.

  • Kevin

    How do we get NYC taxicabs to read and follow this list? I swear it seems they are magnetically drawn to colliding with me.

    • mcfaite

      You need to get yourself an aluminum and carbon fiber bike!

  • crazyuncle

    I’ve learned that if I’m tailgating a clueless, distracted civilian in a fire truck with lights and sirens blazing and an air horn that could wake the dead blasting in their window,and they still dont move over, I can safely assume this person could give a shit less about my safety when I’m on a bike. (This describes approx. 20% of drivers at any given time, in my experience) Interestingly, they are represented in all demographics.

    • Gene

      Ha! I was on my old SV once when I heard sirens and saw flashing lights reflecting off buildings. I was swiveling around going “where the HELL is that firetruck!?!? he’s LOUD!” when I grabbed my passenger rail and twisted around to look directly behind me. Oops. At least I could squirt between 2 cars and get out of his way quickly.

      And I have extensions on my mirrors too. :-(

      • Core

        Dang he must of been riding your ass then.

      • crazyuncle

        I only do it to cagers, not my peeps.

  • mcfaite

    Whenever I go out on the road, I’m surrounded by people with lapsing attention – it really is a huge problem.

    Sadly, the last time I almost got hit it was by a guy on a motorcycle checking his GPS…

  • HammSammich

    I’m not advocating violence or property destruction, but I’ve heard stories from old timey hooligans in the local classic-bike club, about keeping a couple of extra used spark plugs in your pocket to throw at the windows of inattentive drivers…I suppose it might work, but I’m not sure it’s wise to provoke someone who’s driving a “goddamn 2-ton murder machine.”

    • KLR_Pilot

      I’ve taken two driver’s mirrors off in the past year with my right foot as I passed the asshats trying to kill me, but only after I politely tooted my weak-ass KLR horn at them to let them know I was there, after I got the finger, off comes the mirror. Also in the past year, I’ve taken one side mirror off at a stop light after an absolute asshole passed me in a left turn only lane and then cut back in front of me in the straight lane only to stand on the brakes at a red light. I pulled/slid up next to him and asked him what his fucking problem was and he flipped me off and when the light turned green he literally tried to spear me with his F150 and drive me into on-coming traffic. A block later was another red light so I calmly dismounted the ol’KLR and gave his driver door 5 or 6 solid kicks with the tow of my MX boot and pulled his factory tow-mirror off the side of his new F150 and threw it in the median, got back on the KLR, drove through the median, across a Chic-Fil-A parking lot and continued on home waiting for the cops to show up since I figured somebody had to capture that on a cell phone camera. But they never came. My therapist says I’m making great progress.

      • http://www.thisblueheaven.com Mark D

        You’re my hero.

    • Mr.Paynter

      I keep a handful or so of old 5c pieces in my messenger bag if I’m on my SR250, these are mostly to drop subtly when people are not maintaining a proper distance. They basically just bounce pinging the car which usually then backs off. I have thrown the handful at a car once, but he totally deserved it! A mate of mine has also claimed two or three wing-mirrors!

      • HammSammich

        Hmmm…Not that I haven’t wanted to, but I’ve honestly never gone after a careless driver before (unless revving my bike and honking my pathetic horn count). Closest I’ve come was when I was riding w/ a friend and we were cut off by an oblivious driver…he flicked his lit cigarette into the open driver side window as we sped by. Maybe I should take up smoking again. Eh, who am I kidding? I’m not going to ride around in an open face helmet.

  • CG

    I believe #2 is a real biggie, folks just don’t have enough experience to judge the speed of bikes. Bike did a test a few months ago with people trying to judge the speed of bikes going by, and all of them, regardless of age and background, got it really wrong. They tended to overestimate sport bikes’ speed, and underestimate others. Here’s an effing clue to my fellow bikers: if there is an HOV lane use the damn thing, sitting in the middle lane is just asking for it….

  • Dan

    I always wondered why we tie the rear lights to the brakes only, rather than getting input from the speedo (or an accelerometer) and lighting up any time I slow down fast enough. Pressure switches are cheaper, I’m sure, but the “watch out I’m slowing down” message is so important that it has to be worth some added expense.

  • vegetablecookie

    #12 That motorcyclist you’re about to cut off is ambidextrous and has his concealed carry permit.

    • Archer

      HK p7m8… Completely ambi, flat, glove friendly trigger guard, inert unless held in a firing grip. +P+ bonded jacket Golden Sabre rounds, for better glass penetration.

      Just sayin’…

      • Gene

        Would you mind riding, uh, “shotgun” with me?

        Had to be said…

  • Archer

    I am given to understand that a certain Porsche Cayenne is missing a driver side mirror after the cell phone wielding moron behind the wheel pulled out without looking, directly in front of a certain motorcyclist equipped with a bright red Taichi suit and bright red helmet on a bright red sport bike outfitted with two 5000k 35W HID lights, who may or may not be an HFL subscriber…

    Sometimes you just gotta swerve hard. It also helps if you are very flexible and can raise your right foot very high while accelerating….

  • http://www.karinajean.com karinajean

    am I the only nerd that brings up motorcycle safety and distracted driving in staff meetings at work at least 3 times a year? because I shouldn’t be. I work in NJ and we have a health and safety moment in every meeting so I will SEIZE that soapbox and try to personalize the damage that can be caused by distracted driving. I recommend that y’all nerd-up and start doing the same. especially this month – make EVERYONE you know an ambassador.

  • Johndo

    Best way to make car drivers more aware of bikes would be to make them take a motorcycle class. Once you’ve ridden a bike, you don’t drive your car the same way after.

  • http://greatjoballweek.blogspot.com/ Case

    Ahhh I loved these comments so much more than all that banter about skinny jeans. The best part about having a freakout on a bike after someone tries to kill me on the freeway is that it’s hard to misinterpret my body language when I stand on the pegs, put my arms up and ask “What the FUCK are you doing?”

    Haven’t had cause to do a mirror delete. Yet.

  • Mattro

    Just wait the extra 30 seconds and let the motorcyclist go first or pass before you take off. SOOOOO many close calls from people in cars hesitating, then pulling out at the last minute.

    also, that’s what she said.

  • Gregoire

    The same here in France.

  • Core

    Soccer moms I don’t see that on their.

    I have seen them putting freaking black eye liner on while going down the road.

    It’d be nice, if their was some law of physics that said “When you do stupid shit while driving, your head will explode” Yeah I’m extreme about people paying attention while driving.

  • David

    On 134 E, a pick-up truck pulled left all the way into my lane forcing me (and my passenger) to veer left right up next to the Cadillac in the next lane over (bars nearly touching glass). It was only when I pounded on the truck driver’s window did he realize there was someone in the lane already (currently squeezed between his truck and the Caddy) that he moved back! Dip shit!