Diane was riding along in city traffic, minding her own business. It was a pretty hot day so she decided to bungee her leather jacket to the rear seat. Diane wasn’t speeding; in fact traffic around her was going faster than she was. She was riding in the curb lane of two lanes of traffic heading west at dusk. The traffic light that Diane was approaching turned yellow. Two cars to her left accelerated to cross the intersection before the red.
Diane remembers seeing the truck in front of her in her lane. Its brake lights came on, so she braked and down shifted. She was following with lots of distance between her and the truck and had no trouble stopping smoothly with the braking skills she had practiced in parking lots. She stopped close behind the truck’s bumper and was reading the truck cap’s stickers when she was hit from behind.
The car following Diane smashed into her bike, slamming the bike forward into the stopped truck. Diane doesn’t remember much of what happened next, but knows she hit the truck cap with her face. The car driver called 911–just as soon as he finished the call he was on at the time he hit Diane.
That accident was over a year ago and Diane has at least two more surgeries to help reconstruct the damage from the accident. The car driver who hit Diane from behind was charged with following too close. That is small consolation for the negative life changes Diane has faced. She is determined to ride again and suggested I tell her story with the hope of helping others avoid what happened to her. Is that possible? Could you or I avoid being hurt in the same scenario?
While the blame for this incident is clearly squared on the driver, let’s replay it and see if Diane could have done something differently to have a better outcome. A couple of things come to mind when I look at the details.
1) It was dusk and the rider was heading west. That means that the setting sun could have been in the driver’s eyes, temporarily blinding him to what was in front him. Drivers often say “Sorry, I didn’t see you”. Perhaps some retro reflective tape on Diane’s helmet or jacket (if it was on) could have made her more visible?
2) Diane didn’t shoulder check behind her or check her mirrors when she stopped. A motorcycle can stop in a much shorter distance than larger vehicles which means checking following traffic is very important when stopping. If she had known the car couldn’t stop perhaps she could have swerved beside the truck’s bumper and in a safer position beside the truck.
3) Diane also stopped very close to the truck bumper in front of her. She did not leave a space cushion between her front tire and the vehicle in front. That space could be your only choice if you hear or see a following vehicle about to hit you to move forward and tuck yourself up between traffic.
4) Diane doesn’t remember if she kept her brake light on while stopped. The idea is that your brake light will make you more visible. Some drivers will associate your brake light going off with you moving. So always keep the brake on until you move off again.
5) Diane purchased riding gear that she thought looked good. Despite hearing her safety course instructor advise the group that full-face helmets are the safest choice, she bought a shorty. The helmet helped save her life, but a full-face helmet would have also saved her looks.
6) Deciding not to wear her leather jacket protected the motorcycle seat instead of saving her from road rash scars.
I hesitated telling you this story because I am not sure a motorcycle magazine is the right place to read such negative, black aspects of our sport. You tell me. I usually try to mask some riding tips or advice in a humourous story of how I screwed up. There was nothing funny about Diane’s accident so I decided to give it to you straight.
I thanked Diane for telling me about her ordeal because in thinking about it, I know I learned from her errors. They are errors we have all innocently committed many times. Have you stopped too close to the car in front of you (not leaving an out) and forgot to check behind when stopping? Helmet style and not wearing leathers is a personal choice. For me, I really don’t want to be less attractive, so I choose a full-face helmet. Previous wipeouts on gravel and paved roads convinced me to keep leathers on no matter how hot it is.
Take extra care near city intersections. It is the most dangerous part of our ride. Some of our fellow road users have their attention diverted or impaired with cell phones, alcohol, drugs or fatigue. So always be aware of what is around you. Checking mirrors frequently and your peripheral vision will tell you if you can safely make an emergency move to the side if it appears the vehicle behind you isn’t going to stop.
Clinton Smout, Chief Instructor
Canadian Motorcycle Training Services