Getting Rear-Ended: What Went Wrong?

Lessons learned from real motorcycle accidents.

motorcycle traffic dangers
"It was too late to react, and the next thing I knew I was tumbling along the Santa Monica Freeway in rush-hour traffic."Illustration: Carlo Giambarresi

The Crash
I got myself into this mess because I didn't take into account what was going on behind me. The Pathfinder had shed quite a bit of speed before it rammed into the back of my bike, but it hit me hard enough that I got launched over the handlebar and onto the road. Thanks to good gear, good luck, and alert drivers, I wasn't run over, killed, or even badly injured, but the impact cracked the subframe, which ended up totaling the bike. The driver was beside himself for letting his attention lapse, and he said that when he hit me he was sure I was doomed. The accident could have been the end of me, but the truth is, it would have been really easy for me to avoid the incident in the first place.

The Scenario
I was on my way home from work at dusk, riding down an entrance ramp that narrowed from two lanes to one before merging onto a major freeway. As usual, traffic slowed abruptly at the merger. I saw the domino line of brake lights moving toward me and pulled on the front brake lever well ahead of time. The driver behind me evidently wasn't as attentive. By the time I heard the SUV's tires chirp it was too late to react, and the next thing I knew I was tumbling along the Santa Monica Freeway in rush-hour traffic.

The Lesson
I completely failed to consider what was going on behind me when I got on the brakes, and, ultimately, that's what led to me getting rear-ended. A quick glance in the mirror would have clued me into the impending disaster, and I could have easily veered onto the shoulder. After getting rear-ended, I check my mirror every time I touch the brakes or even roll off the gas. It's become a habit.

There’s certainly some valuable takeaway from this incident. For starters, you should always ride with a finger or two on the front-brake lever so you’re ready to slow down at a moment’s notice, but it’s also important to remember that any time you reduce your speed you should check your six to see that the vehicles behind you are slowing, too, and monitor how quickly they’re doing so. If you notice the slowdown with enough time, flash your brake lights to get the attention of drivers behind you, just in case they’re gazing down at their phones.

Scanning traffic ahead of you will buy you reaction time, practicing your emergency braking will ensure you can slow down as quickly as possible, and planning an escape route—usually to either side of the car in front of you—means you have a backup plan if things really go wrong.