How To Avoid Getting Rear-Ended

Watch your six!

How to avoid getting rear-ended.
Watch your six!Illustration: Rich Lee

Baseball great Satchel Paige once said, "Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you." Good advice, maybe, for a seemingly ageless pitcher, but not so good for motorcyclists, especially when they're stopped at an intersection and don't see the distracted driver bearing down on them from behind. It takes more than a working brake light to prevent being bunted into a busy intersection or squashed like a bug between two bumpers. Here are some tips to help you avoid getting caught in a squeeze play.

As you decelerate for a stoplight, check your mirrors to see if the traffic behind you is slowing down, too. Touch the brakes several times to flash your brake lights. Be extra vigilant if you decide to stop for a fresh yellow light in case the guy behind you decides to run it. And while we don't generally advocate running a yellow, that's your best course of action if it's clear that the car behind you is planning to.

Now that you've stopped, be ready to go again in a heartbeat in case the space you're in seems in imminent danger of being occupied by a speeding car. Position your bike on either side of the greasy center of the lane. Leave the transmission in gear and hold the clutch in. If that's not practical, put your right foot down, leave your left foot on the peg ready to engage first gear, and cover the clutch lever.

Always have an out in case the car in your mirror is becoming alarmingly large, alarmingly quick. If you're turning left and there's a curb or a median to your left and a car in front of you, position your bike on the right side of the lane so you can slip around the car if necessary. But be aware of through traffic coming up behind you that's not slowing down to turn. Stop far enough back from the car ahead to give yourself room to maneuver. If your front tire is inches from a bumper, you won't be able to turn without backing up first. That's a bad place to be.

In addition to bike placement, bike equipment can help tip the odds in your favor. Keep your mirrors clean and adjusted properly, and if all you can see in them is your elbows, swap them out for ones that do what mirrors are supposed to do. Check your brake light and taillights often, invest in some auxiliary brake lights, and add some reflective tape to the back of your bike for night riding. Every little bit helps.

Quick Facts

A recent study distributed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed that in 29 percent of rear-end collisions involving a motorcycle and a car, the car hit the motorcycle. But the same study also showed the bike hit the car in 68 percent of rear-enders. So keep your eyes on your mirrors at stoplights, but don't forget to look where you're going between intersections.