One beautiful summer day, I was out riding the back roads in my home state of Wisconsin. The sun was on my face, the warm wind was rushing past me, and the rumble of the bike made me feel like I was in heaven. No cell phone, no Internet, just a big smile on my face and maybe a bit of a sunburn starting on my nose.
I took in the familiar smells of fresh-cut hay, the nearby lake and even the cows in a barn over yonder. As I entered a small town along that day's route, I knew that it was time to stop my intense daydreaming and start watching for the many hazards that could present themselves: additional vehicles on the road, pedestrians, traffic controls, etc.
As I rolled along the town's main drag, I noticed a young woman, cell phone pressed firmly against her ear, pulling up to the exit of a parking lot. I'm sure I saw her look at me. She was slowing down to allow me to pass by, right? WRONG! This woman looked right at me and still pulled out in front of me. Fortunately I was ready for a moment like this. I was aware of the fact that I had space to my left, which allowed me to swerve. And my hand was already over my brake lever, which helped me brake fast and hard enough to slow significantly without losing control. My evasive movement suddenly registered in the driver's distracted brain, and she stopped. This allowed me to swerve past her, leaving both of us trembling and thinking about what would have happened if circumstances had been even a little bit different. I was angry and wanted to turn around and have a little discussion with her about distracted driving and right of way, but it was too late. I spent the rest of my ride thinking about conspicuity. Yes, I said a word that's really hard to pronounce: "Kon • spi • que • i • tee," which is the act of being conspicuous.
Riders have always been vocal regarding the fact that car and truck drivers must look out for motorcycles. With distracted driving seemingly at an all-time high, there are many programs out there spreading the word about awareness, like Allstate's Rider Protection Project, which reminds drivers that looking once at an intersection is never enough. Also, groups like ABATE have been visiting driver education classes and teaching a program called "Share the Road." All of these initiatives are good, and it's finally looking as though the message may be getting through to people. From 2009 to 2011 we've begun to see a small decrease in motorcycle-related fatalities, and we hope that means a decrease in injuries as well.
I often think about how we riders seem to be at the mercy of other motorists, asking them to be ones responsible for seeing us. But along with motorist awareness comes a rider's personal responsibility to be SEEN.
As riders, there are many things we can do that help people see us, ranging from riding position to the clothing we wear. Face it, riding a black bike at night, wearing black clothing from head to toe, does not help motorists see us.
If I'm following a large vehicle, I need to assume that other cars simply do not see me. I need to keep enough distance between myself and the other vehicle so I don’t blend in, and so I'm not hidden by the vehicle in front of me. Remember, if you can’t see a vehicle's driver in their side mirrors, then they can’t see you. That's a good guide to keep you from following too close behind a car or truck while riding, and to make sure that you remain well within their field of vision.
Being on the left side of a lane can also make a rider more visible, as trees, posts, parked cars and other objects can make it hard to see a motorcyclist traveling a two-lane road on the right side of the lane.
Lately, riders have been more willing to add LED lighting to their bikes in order to draw increased attention to themselves. Heck, I've even gone so far as to place reflective decals on the front and rear of my bike. These decals are really cool because they don’t appear to be reflective during the day, but they do the trick and get me noticed at night. Take a look at your motorcycle and think about what you can do to increase visibility in front and back — even on the sides.
Riders can also turn to clothing to help make sure they're seen by other motorists. There are many choices out there, starting with lime-yellow colored apparel, which does a great job of getting riders noticed during daylight hours. At night, and during other times of low visibility, retro-reflective clothing such as vests, arm and leg bands and gloves make motorists aware of your presence by bouncing light from a vehicle back to the eyes of the driver. This light bounce gives you a huge advantage on the road since the effect is just like attaching a flashlight to yourself! Reflective materials are generally available in two forms. First, there's the flat, silver-colored material used for piping or strips on jackets and construction vests. The other features two layers with plastic over a backing. This material is designed to reflect back maximum light while presenting more of a jewel quality to the eye of the beholder.
Now, you may be thinking, "I don't want to go down the road looking like a lit-up Christmas tree." Well, that's not necessary. I once told a group of motorcycle safety professionals that it was my intention to make being visible "cool." Of course they laughed at me and wished me luck, but I believe that day has arrived. None of us wants an otherwise enjoyable ride — not to mention our life — to be ruined by a person who simply, for whatever reason, did not see us.
That day in the parking lot, I brought "conspicuity" to myself by swerving and braking hard. But maybe a reflective vest or bright-colored clothing would have gotten me noticed sooner so I wouldn't have had to swerve and hit the brakes. I can’t recall what I was wearing that day, but the incident served as a valuable reminder to challenge myself constantly to be a better biker. And that's a question you should be asking yourself as you prepare for the upcoming riding season: What can YOU do to be a better biker?
If riding weather hasn't hit yet where you live, I hope it arrives soon so you can get out there and enjoy some amazing rides. Until next time, stay safe, stay visible and I'll see you out on the road!
Vicki Sanfelipo, RN/EMT
What do you do to get noticed on the road? Let us know in the comments section.
Allstate Insurance Company is not affiliated with Vicki Sanfelipo. Allstate makes no warranties or representations and is not liable for any goods or services provided by this individual or this organization. The views presented here do not necessarily represent the views of Allstate.