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What You Should Know About Motorcycles

California State Route 41 - Credit: Craig Howell

Prepare for Motorcycle Questions

Basically all driver handbooks and manuals contain a chapter where the importance of sharing the road safely with motorcyclists is emphasized. You should pay special attention to this chapter for two reasons:

  • In traffic crashes involving cars and motorcycles, the driver of the car is usually at fault.
  • It is very likely that you will see questions about this on your written DMV knowledge test.

The following are some of the general facts that you are likely to see both in the handbook and on the DMV written test.

Rights and Responsibilities

Motorcycles are vehicles with the same rights, privileges, and responsibilities as any vehicle on the roadway. If you are the driver of a car, treat a motorcyclist the same way you would treat another car.
The motorcyclist must obey by the same traffic laws as you.

Allow the Motorcyclist a Full Lane Width.

Sometimes, it may seem as though there is enough room in the traffic lane for both your car and the motorcycle. You should, however, never share the lane with a motorcycle. The motorcycle needs the room to maneuver safely and is entitled to the full lane. In other words, the motorcyclist has the right to ride in the middle of a traffic lane for their safety.

Couple on MC - Copyright:  Aliaksei Skreidzeleu

When you need to pass a motorcycle, move completely into the other lane.

Remember, it is illegal for a motorist to share the lane with a motorcycle, but most states allow two-wheeled motorcycles to drive alongside each other in one lane.

Don’t Turn in front of an Oncoming Motorcyclist

Because of their small size, it can be difficult to judge the speed and distance of a motorcycle. If you are preparing a left turn and there is an oncoming motorcycle from the opposite direction, don’t try to beat the motorcyclist through the intersection.

Motorcycle Crash - Wikimedia

About one-half of all motorcycle crashes involve another motor vehicle. Nearly 40 percent were caused by the other vehicle turning left in front of the motorcyclist.

Drivers involved in such accidents often claim that they didn’t see the motorcycle.

Check Your Blind Spots and Signal

Because their smaller size, motorcyclists are also often hidden in your blind spot or missed in a quick look. Always check twice for motorcycles in mirrors and by looking over your shoulder before changing lanes or turning. Signal your intentions of changing lanes or merging with traffic well in advance. This will help the motorcyclist to anticipate your movements and find a safe lane position.

Keep a Safe Following Distance

Road conditions which are minor annoyances to the driver of car can pose major problems to motorcyclists. Potholes, gravel, wet or slippery surfaces, pavement seams, railroad crossings, and grooved pavement can all force a motorcyclist to suddenly change speed or adjust their position within a lane.

Increase your following distance to at least three or four seconds when you are following a motorcycle. This will give you enough time to adjust your speed or stop, if the motorcyclist must maneuver or stop in an emergency. Remember, in dry conditions motorcycles can stop more quickly than cars. This is why you need additional room.

You should also be careful in areas with gusty winds. Strong cross winds can move a motorcycle out of its lane of travel. Large, fast moving trucks sometimes also create wind blasts, which can affect the motorcyclist.

Watch Turn Signals

Motorcycle signals usually are not self-cancelling and riders sometimes forget to turn them off. When you see a flashing turn signal, wait to be sure the motorcycle is going to turn before you proceed.

Photo Credit: Craig Howell and Aliaksei Skreidzeleu

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