Aug 222010

Reprinted from WingWorld September 2010 – Sharon Stanley – Editor

I’ll begin with a story that highlights my first strong training experience-and then my first real encounter-with the need to keep an eye on the driver behind my vehicle while at stop lights, stop signs, etc.

For several years, I was the co-owner of a delivery route for one of the world’s larges package delivery companies. Before being certified to hit the road for this company, it required that all drivers undergo a driver training program. One of the key elements of this program was to constantly scan one’s mirrors-especially the rearview mirror.

During my training, I thanked my instructor for being so adamant about pointing out the need to scan the rearview mirror.  He then thanked me, noting that often times trainees complained about him grading them on their lack of checking the rearview mirror. “They’re supposed to be in control of their own vehicle,” he told me trainees would tell him. True, but does that matter if the end result is that your vehicle gets hit and-had you only checked your rearview-you might have been able to avoid a collision?

He then noted that trainees would sometimes ask him: “How often does a vehicle actually hit you from behind?” Hmmm, that had been my line years ago!

You see when I was 16, I had the opportunity to buy a particular model car very inexpensively from the people for whom I babysat. They even said they’d let me work off the payments so there wouldn’t be any actual cash out-of-pocket. Imagine my excitement! There I was, already enjoying the liberties of a driver’s license and I now had the chance to own my very own car. I was ecstatic. That is, until my father forbade the purchase.

He said that particular vehicle had been the center of controversy concerning rear end collisions. Over the past few years, several of these models had blown up when rear-ended, killing their occupants. “Aw, come on Dad,” I begged. “How often does that actually happen?” “No,” was all he said as he again handed me the keys to the old tank of a Chevy he occasionally let me borrow.

Well, two months later, I no longer questioned my dad’s wisdom. Sure enough, my friend and I were driving home from a day at the amusement park when-out of the clear blue (or so I thought)-a Jeep rear ended us with such force that it pushed that old Chevy’s trunk halfway up to the back window. I’d never seen the Jeep; I was such a young driver that I hadn’t even checked my rearview mirror as we sat at the light while the vehicle rapidly descended on us.

Now understand, I might not have been able to avoid that collision but that’s not the point. The point is that I didn’t even try to avoid the crash because I: 1) Didn’t believe a rear-end collision would ever occur; 2) Hadn’t yet learned and practiced ways to keep a safety margin around my vehicle; and 3) Didn’t keep an eye on my rearview mirror.

Over the years since then, I’ve thankfully avoided at least three dozen more incidents of being rear-ended. And, most thankfully, several of those times have been while on my bike. I believe I’ve avoided these crashes mainly by changing both my attitude and my driving habits.

So what do I do to at least try to avoid being rear-ended while at a stop light, stop sign, toll booth, etc.? Well, I:

1. Fully believe the vehicle behind me may hit me. (In fact, statistics reveal that rear-end collisions are the most common form of vehicle crashes; about 2.5 million occur each year in the U.S.). I always believe it can happen to me.
2. Always try to leave myself an “out”- a cushion of space that will leave as much of a safety margin as possible so I have both the time and open area in which to react.  This includes leaving plenty of space between my bike and the vehicle in front of me or the open intersection in front of me (if I’m first up at a stop sign/stop light, etc.).
3. Take notice of any possible “outs” to my left and/or right. If possible when stopping, I position myself in a lane where I have at least one other” out” [besides the one in front of me).
4. Ride in staggered formation when riding with another motorcyclist(s).
5. Scan my surroundings and prepare for how I’ll react if rear-ended.
6. Keep my bike in gear (with the clutch pulled in, of course and my right hand only lightly on the brake lever) so I can readily hit the throttle if necessary, I do this until the vehicle behind me (and several more if there is a line of them) has come to a complete stop.
7. lf I am uncomfortable with the lack of space between the vehicle behind me and my bike, I indicate that to the driver via a hand signal for him/her to stop (stay put) as I move slightly forward.
8. Frequently check my rearview mirrors to see if the car immediately behind me is drifting forward or if there is a vehicle further back that is approaching too fast and may cause a “domino effect” collision.

Hopefully these-and any other safety measures you use-will help keep us all safer as motorcyclists, even as other drivers become ever more distracted.

I hadn’t ever planned on this subject being the topic of an editorial. But I was recently reminded of the need to keep an eye on the driver behind me so as to try to avoid a rear-end collision.

Most Members who have been riding for several decades obviously know to scan their rearview mirrors frequently and to keep an adequate safety margin, but it bears repeating since more and more drivers these days are driving while distracted.

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