How to Avoid Distracted Drivers | Street Savvy

Driven to distraction

By Vince Ciotti, Photography by Joe Neric

The dashboard of any late-model car is loaded with electronic distractions. Add a smartphone-equipped driver virtually wired to family and friends and you’ve got distracted driving: a seemingly unlimited array of digital gizmos vs. one very analog human attention span. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 5474 people were killed on American roads in 2009 in accidents involving some form of distracted driving. Avoiding 5000-lb. SUVs on a 500-lb. motorcycle can make Main Street USA feel more like Baghdad or Kabul. So what can you do to stay out of the statistics?

Keep right
We all know how slick the center of a lane can be, especially at stop signs and red lights. Once you’re moving, watch the drivers of oncoming cars. They wander: to their right, you’re safe; to their left, you’re dead. It all depends on which knob they’re reaching for. Give them as wide a berth as possible by staying to the right side of a two-lane road.

Beware the Multi-Lane Road
They can come at you from any direction on a four- or six-lane superhighway. Avoid the superslab whenever you can and take a whole lot of extra care when you can’t. Motorcycles are more fun to drive on twisty two-lanes anyway.

Be bright
Okay, so the Black Rebels M.C. wouldn’t have looked as cool wearing yellow jackets back in 1953. This is 2011. Anything that’s bright and maybe even reflective increases the odds that a preoccupied driver’s eyes will spot you in time to do the right thing.

Be brighter
Today’s bikes have amazingly bright high-beams for daylight riding. It’s important to be considerate too, especially at night. But if you can use them without blinding oncoming traffic, do it. Some cars will retaliate with their high beams, but at least they noticed you. Remember the last time you passed a Gold Wing at night? Some are lit up like Christmas trees year-round with all those extra lights. Gaudy? Maybe, but you see ’em, right? Think about adding an auxiliary LED up front or out back. They may not be cool, but they just might save your bacon.

Avoid the T-bone
Whether it’s a car pulling out from the right or turning left across your bow, a bike T-boning a car has been a painfully classic accident scenario since the original Hurt Report came out 30 years ago. And what’s the automobile driver’s classic story for the cops? I never saw him. When approaching a vehicle that’s perpendicular to your path, assume the driver doesn’t see you. Assume he’s cuing his iPod, she’s texting her boyfriend or granddad is squinting at the GPS—anything but looking out for you.

Think big
There’s a car up ahead, pulling out of Denny’s late at night. What does the driver see? Is it a Peterbilt full of anvils a mile away? A Kia Soul full of high-school kids a quarter-mile away? Or is it a Honda CBR600RR one block away? They all look about the same to the average distracted driver. Assume that, given a chance, a right-angled vehicle will pull out right in front of you. Your horn can’t compete with 110 decibels of Lady Gaga. The eyes offer the quickest path to the brain. Flash your high-beam a few times, and then, if they still don’t see you, leave it on. That’ll get their attention.

Distracted drivers are the newest threat to motorcyclists on the roads. They’re dangerous enough to your loved ones in the family SUV. For all of us rolling around out there on two-wheelers, they present a simple choice. Be wary—or become a statistic.

By Vince Ciotti
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