Risk Management

Another way to keep the odds in your favor is to maintain constant awareness and second guess every situation you drive into. This is where your age and maturity will give you the advantage. Because you have more experience with traffic situations, you will be much better able to see trouble ahead and adjust. Some say that you should never put yourself in a position where you don't have an "option out". Even when approaching a potentially dangerous situation, constantly be looking for an "escape route" should you need it.

Now consider this situation: You're approaching an intersection, it's night time, it's been raining and the streets are wet. There is no car for you to use as a blocker and there is a car at the intersection which may or may not pull out onto the road. You've slowed and you have your hands and feet ready at the controls but you cannot see the driver's face because of lights reflecting off his window glass. You are in a narrow lane with a guardrail on your right and an approaching vehicle in the left lane. (you have no place to "escape") There is a moment there where you have to make a decision, go though the intersection hoping the driver sees you (bad decision) or stop in the middle of a dark wet road (worse decision). In other words, there will come a moment when the only choice you have to make is a bad choice. I call these moments "Sweet Jesus" moments. For obvious reasons; there is a little prayer involved at that moment. "Sweet Jesus, don't let that guy pull out in front of me." It doesn't need to be dark and raining, if you've done much riding at all, you probably know the moment I'm talking about, and you don't even need to be religious to know about the Sweet Jesus Prayer.

You are able to minimize the risk, but the risks are ever present. So risk management means keeping the odds in your favor, trying to always have a plan for any eventuality (an escape plan), and to be able to go out riding and never having those "Sweet Jesus" moments. Not that prayer is bad, but if you're relying on it to save your life instead of your own skill, judgment and preparation, then you may just get to meet Sweet Jesus earlier than you expected.

Understanding visual acuity and how it is affected by speed is important to take into consideration. Vision is more than just "seeing", and believe it or not, good "seeing" will take some development. A rider has to constantly be scanning, constantly watching and ready to react to anything 3 to 5 seconds out in front of him. To do this it is necessary to turn your head, move your eyes using both your central vision and your peripheral vision to make predictions and judgments about everything around you. And while doing all of this, you're expected to also watch your gauges and rear view mirrors. You don't want to become fixated on any one thing or you will loose the attention of too many other things that can change in importance as you move toward them.

"Seeing" as used here requires much more than eyes. Because it involves processing information and making it meaningful, it is more a process of the brain than it is the eyes. Delayed recognition or inaccurate perception of potential hazards starts a process that leads to poor decisions and inappropriate responses. (crashes) Increased speed affects visual acuity in two ways. 1) If you are scanning 3 - 5 seconds in front of you, there is twice as much road out in front of you to scan at 60 mph than there is at 30. 2) As you go faster, you develop tunnel vision. Tunnel vision is when you loose your ability to see the periphery. While riding your bike, nearly all the sensory input you depend on is vision, so keep in mind, the faster you go, the less visual acuity (awareness) you are going to have.

Keep in mind what other things will affect your visual acuity. Fogged up or scratched face shield or goggles, rain, fog, night, glare, and even bugs. I'm afraid I've got to mention this one too: age.

The MSF recommends using a technique called SIPDE. It stands for Scan, Identify, Predict, Decide, Execute. This is a good technique to put into practice if you truly want to give yourself the best possible odds out there on the road.
1. Scan. Constantly scan your environment, especially those things you are approaching within the next 6 seconds.
2. Identify. Recognize any potential hazards or dangerous situations.
3. Predict. Try and determine the actions that those around you might possibly take.
4. Decide. Plan your course of action what you will do if/when the potential risk becomes real.
5. Execute. Follow through with your plan using your skill, knowledge and preparation.

Here are some more tips that will improve your odds: The first is similar to SIPDE but this one may be easier to commit to memory.

1) Oh say can you SEE. No, I don't mean just keeping your eyes open, I'm talking about Scan-Evaluate-Execute. Rather than making our way down the street on autopilot like we did in our SUVs all winter, we need to engage our brain before engaging our transmissions.

Scan - your surroundings, constantly searching for potential dangers.

Evaluate - what's happening around you.

Execute - measures to keep yourself out of trouble.

2) Assume the position. Of course I'm talking about traffic positioning. You were probably taught to stay in the center of your lane or in the far left or right portion of your lane when a car is next to you. You should always make it a point to maintain as much of a cushion as possible between you and other cars, trucks, walls, or anything else that could cause you trouble. For example, the car that is merging onto the highway on your right may notice that you are riding in the center lane, but why chance it. Rather than simply moving into the left part of the center lane, move on over to the far left lane to create an additional buffer in case they don't see you or are in a hurry to get to their AA meeting.

3) Let's play a game. The 'What if...' game, that is. If you don't know what I mean by this, you'd better stick to the parking lot for a while longer and wait for the next MSF class to open up. The "What if..." game is where you identify potential hazards in advance and ask yourself "what" you should do "if" this or that happens. For example, what if the car sitting at the stop sign decided to pull out in front of me, or what if the car in the lane next to me decides to swerve into my lane? Do I brake hard, swerve, or both? That's only a couple examples from the "What if ..." game, so if you're not playing this game every time you ride, you may not be a winner when it's your turn to play for real.

4) Look Where You're Going! Yes, it's the simplest lesson taught in even the most basic riding class, but do you practice it? The idea is that your bike will go where you are looking, so if that approaching car crosses the center line, are you looking at the car or where you need to go to avoid being flattened like a pancake? If you're looking at the car, you might very well ride straight into the car because of what we call 'target fixation.' I've had people tell me they were looking straight into the driver's eyes when all of a sudden; they turned left right in front of them and I smacked 'em. I usually answer with, 'Really?' rather than what I'm really thinking, which is 'Why were you looking them in the eye rather than looking where you needed to go to avoid the accident?'

5) Practice makes perfect. Do you know how hard you can brake at different speeds without locking up your wheels? If not, find an empty parking lot, and brake several times—gradually building up to an emergency stop, which will test the limits of your traction. You may be surprised at the actual distance it takes you to stop at different speeds. I just love it when someone says, 'I had to lay my bike down to keep from hitting the car.' That is total BS! Unless you're a professional stuntman working on a sequel to Biker Boyz III or you're about to hit a semi-trailer from the side, which could decapitate you, if it's too late for you to swerve and avoid the object, you're far better off braking hard and hitting the object at a reduced speed than laying your bike down and sliding into the object at full speed—possibly with the bike on top of you. I mean, which has more stopping power—your brakes and the rubber on your tires or chrome, steel and skin? I'll leave that one up to you, but to me, it's a no brainer!

Another way to stack the odds in your favor is to increase your visibility. The State of Minnesota has a web site with some good suggestions that includes the following:

Most riders would agree that their goal is to enjoy their bikes and make it home safely. Being high-viz will make that job easier. About half of all motorcycle crashes involve a collision with another vehicle. In many crashes, the driver never saw the motorcyclist - or didn't see him or her until it was too late. There are many reasons why other drivers do not see motorcyclists.
• Most car drivers aren't familiar with motorcycles, so they don't think to look for them in traffic.
• Motorcycle riders typically wear dark colors and can easily blend into the background and "disappear."
• Motorcycles are smaller than other vehicles, so they are more difficult to spot in traffic and can be hidden by other vehicles or roadside features.
• Daytime headlight use does not give motorcycle riders much of an advantage anymore, due to the widespread use of daytime running lights on cars.
• The smaller size and single headlight on the motorcycle makes it more difficult for other drivers to judge a rider's speed and distance.
As a rider, the burden is unfortunately on you to do something about being visible. We expect other drivers to watch out for motorcycles in traffic, but because motorcycle riders are so vulnerable, they have the responsibility to make themselves as visible as possible. In a multi-vehicle crash, it's the rider's life-and-limb at stake, so it's the rider who must make the extra effort to stand out in traffic.

Fortunately, making yourself "high-viz" is relatively easy. There are lots of ways to get noticed in traffic. Most riders understand the concept of "conspicuity" even if they've never heard the word before. Conspicuity (con-spik-CUE-i-tee) is a fancy term for "visibility." It is the ability of an object to draw attention to itself, even if nobody's actively searching for it. Rider conspicuity, therefore, is the ability of a motorcyclist to draw attention to him- or herself, even though other drivers may not be actively looking for them.

Visibility Tips:

Full-face helmets with extra-thickness eye shields offer maximum impact protection for a pretty face. A pigeon to the face at 70 mph can become a fatality for more than just the pigeon. An investment in ultrasonic animal whistles is perhaps a wise move. It is best to point your eyes where you want to go—as required in stick-and-ball sports—rather than staring at what you want to miss. "Target fixation" can make one hit what he wishes to avoid. That's a great habit for playing stick-and-ball sports, but can prove deadly in motorsports. Potholes and sewer covers are common hazards: practice the skill of avoidance by forcing yourself to look 12 inches to the side so that your brain can steer you towards safety. For those riders who exercise their right to not wear protective gear (especially helmets), in the interest of looking and feeling cool, expert riding skill becomes even more critical.

"Swerving" (described later)--even when not needed for avoidance—can help an oncoming driver pick a motorcycle out of the visual clutter, and will give him a stereoscopic idea of the bike's distance. Using other vehicles as "blockers" when approaching busy intersections can ensure visibility from inattentive drivers (i.e., if a car pulls out it will be hit by the blocker instead of the bike). The government recommends a rider pump his brakes to flash the brake light to drivers behind (which is impossible to do in an emergency situation). An electronically pulsed brake light is a better idea that the government says is illegal in many states. Brake-light flasher relays may be ordered from J.C. Whitney Co., 1-312-431-6102. Extra-bright headlight and tail-light bulbs can be purchased from both Whitney and Dennis Kirk for about $10. Headlight modulators (devices that make the headlight constantly flash on and off) are available, but there is no data available at this time as to their effectiveness. There is a lot of discussion (and controversy) about it at this time.

Electronics can also improve rider safety, just as with drivers of other vehicles. Radar detectors not only protect against speed traps but help keep a rider alert, and anything that keeps a rider alert improves safety. Radar detectors with Safety Warning System (SWS) technology also warns riders of 100 impending types of road hazards. A scientific test by Motorcyclist magazine proved that police radar, on a straight and deserted desert highway, gives motorcyclists an 1/8th-mile to ¼-mile more time to slow down than for car and minivan owners. Maximum detection range (without a radar scrambler) was 800 feet, using a four-cylinder bike. A V-twin might be half that. Detectors also warn of road hazards through the Safety Warning System intelligent-highway program. Few detectors offer ear-jack connections, but these can be improvised with $15-worth of supplies at Radio Shack. Likewise, C.B. radios, weather station receivers and GPS devices can be helpful. All of these devices (when used cautiously as not to become a distraction) are proven to increase a driver's safety and reduce his risk of a crash. Wiring harnesses can be rigged to easily disconnect at the waist in the event of a crash.

The government does a poor job of instructing motorcycle riders in the skills needed for safe operation of their vehicles. In a California study, where rider instruction was taken seriously by the government for the first time in history, crashes and deaths were cut by 88%. This is an incredible improvement in public safety, especially considering that 20% of riders did not participate in the schooling. Perhaps success at crash elimination would have approached 100% had 100% of citizens participated in the training. No cops, no tickets, no DWI arrests, no prisons required. Millions of tax dollars saved. Actually, responsibility for training was taken away from the government and turned over to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, a non-profit corporation created by Japanese and European motorcycle manufacturers. This experiment occurred nearly twenty years ago. Why has its lesson not been learned by the federal government and other state governments? Why does the corporate media not pounce on such a news story? Why are riders being denied this life-saving information?

The number one skill needed for safe riding is proper steering control. The number two skill required is proper braking control. Accident studies confirm that a majority of motorcycle crashes involve an absence of these skills, such as the NHTSA's 1981 project, "Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures," by Dr. Harry Hurt (part of which is posted above).

"The path between straight-line motion and free equilibrium turn requires an initial steering motion OPPOSITE that of the steady turn. Motorcycle riders in these accidents showed significant collision avoidance problems. Most riders would over brake and skid the rear wheel, and under brake the front when greatly reducing collision avoidance deceleration. The ability to COUNTER STEER and swerve was essentially absent."
-Dr. Harry Hurt, "The Hurt Report", US DOT, NHTSA, "Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures", 1981

If you'd like to order a copy of the entire Hurt Report, it's available through the National Technical Information Service, Springfield, Virginia 22161, 1-800-553-6847 or 703-605-6000:

Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures, Volume 1: Technical Report, Hurt, H.H., Ouellet, J.V. and Thom, D.R., Traffic Safety Center, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California 90007, Contract No. DOT HS-5-01160, January 1981 (Final Report)

The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it. --Proverbs 27:12 [Recovery Devotional Bible]

For whatever reason, the state and federal governments have done little with regards to motorcycle rider education. It is thus a citizen's responsibility to himself to learn whatever he can on his own, otherwise, increase his risk of injury or death. "Risk management," fortunately, allows an intelligent citizen to analyze the dangers and to then devise coping strategies to minimize those dangers to an acceptable level. Nothing is completely safe, and most accidents occur in the home. Despite media hype of all the dangers inherent to living, to hide in the bushes and watch while other people live their lives would be a boring way to survive, wouldn't it? Isn't it much better to learn how to live? Having any "quality of life" depends upon undertaking activities, and virtually all activities inherently contain levels of risk. Our objective here is to make the risk of motorcycling "acceptable".

This is only a potential accident, now.

Riding a motorcycle requires considerably more skill than driving a car, or even riding a bicycle, due to all the extra controls to operate and the faster speeds involved. This is part of the appeal, that a motorcycle demands absolute attention from its rider. Most riders have never received professional training in how to do it correctly. This situation would be like sending prospective pilots up into the wild blue yonder without the benefit of training, as many older-generation pilots were forced to learn to fly. Early flight training during WW I was mainly "seat-of-the-pants" learning, which may explain why we lost so many young pilots back in those days. Perhaps that is why official motorcycle crash statistics are so much higher per mile traveled than for automobiles. Perhaps that's also why motorcycles are so "exciting."

Motorcycles (and bicycles) behave in a manner that mystifies people. Engineers can dazzle you, or bore you, with jargon like "dynamical characteristics" and "geometrical and inertial parameters." Although many people fear science, it provides explanations which can clarify, or put into words, many things you may have experienced. Physics is the mathematical study of the interaction of matter and energy (i.e., motorcycles in motion). It is important that the rider have a basic understanding of the physics involved in the machine he is riding. I will try to keep it simple, but if a rider doesn't really understand how his motorcycle works, the odds will stack up against him, and that's what risk management is all about: not letting the odds stack up against you. Keep the odds in your favor!

Another way to have the odds in your favor is to improve your skill level. As you read the concepts within the information here, get out and ride those concepts. I can't accentuate enough the importance of practice. You can acquire the knowledge, which is important, but practice is the one and only way you will ever raise your skill to the next level.

It is true that 3/4ths of motorcycle crashes involve collisions with cars. A common excuse given by drivers is "I just didn't see him". Motorcyclists have got to be aware that they are invisible out there. In other words, drive like nobody can see you. A properly ridden motorcycle is extremely maneuverable—experts say it is even more maneuverable than a car—and ought to be capable of squeezing past most any vehicle that might pull in front of it. A properly ridden modern motorcycle has 20% superior braking performance compared to any car. Slowing just 10 miles per hour when approaching cars at busy intersections can cut deceleration distance almost in half, and resting a hand on the brake lever can reduce reaction time. Staying alert is critical. Rapid visual scanning of potential intersections is essential for the prevention of surprises.

Return to Home Page

Chapter 1. Let's Look at Some Data

Chapter 2. Risk Management

Chapter 3. Two Wheeled Physics

Chapter 4. Countersteering: Cornering Techniques

Chapter 5. Gravity Is a Good Thing

Chapter 6. Gyroscopic Precession: Nature's Power Steering

Chapter 7. Braking: Weight Transfer and Maximum Performance

Chapter 8. Controlling Slides and Tank Slappers: Mind Over Matter

Chapter 9. Group Riding

Chapter 10. Riding Etiquette

Chapter 11. MSF Courses- Editorial