In past posts I have written about or mentioned issues on the road caused by drivers. Texting, eating, putting on makeup, etc. while driving have led to thousands of accidents on the road. Some of them with other cars, and unfortunately accidents with bikes. We all know the risks of riding, accept them, and continue to ride despite the idiots behind the wheel. But, are close encounters and accidents always the fault of a cager?
Distracted riding is a very real and serious problem for riders. We take riding for granted by hopping on our bike and riding off into the sunset because we do it with regularity. We see getting on our bike the same as someone getting into their car and taking off down the road. And then when a accident occurs it is often immediately assumed the driver was doing something to cause the accident and should be flayed and thrown in a dark cell never to be heard from again. That may be the case often enough but riders get distracted too. On our recent trip to ride the Blue Ridge Parkway I was almost the victim of a head on collision with another bike. We came around a curve and another bike was coming head on at me in the middle of my lane. Fortunately he wasn’t riding fast, I was alert and was able to respond quickly enough to avoid a collision by a few inches. It startled him and he promptly moved back to his lane. It’s obvious he was distracted. Possibly looking around at the beautiful scenery, lost in thought, who knows, but it happened.
Let’s assume the following scenario. You’re riding far away from civilization down a nice repaved two lane road, no tar snakes, mountains in the distance with beautiful flower blooming fields spread out before them, not a car to be seen, and the road spans before you in the distance. It’s 78 degrees, the motor is rumbling smoothly under you, the air is thick with wonderful smells, there hasn’t been any roadkill for a month, there are nice puffy clouds evenly spread out to break the sun at times and cast an interesting shadow pattern across the landscape. Now the scene is set, it couldn’t be more perfect, and this has gone on for over an hour. Then before you know it you wake up. What?! Wake up?! No, this is not a dream, you really are on this road and suddenly realize that time has passed, miles have gone by, you’re mind was wandering on a myriad of thoughts (probably good ones), but suddenly you snap out of a stare that you didn’t even realize you were in until…you realized you were doing it. You were deep in thought most likely induced by the perfect riding world you could be in and enjoying every bit of it but were still distracted. Yup, this has happened to me and I know it’s happened to others and that’s when we become our own danger. It wouldn’t take much while in this state of mind for an accident to happen without a car even being involved.
That was a perfect ride scenario, but now put yourself in a situation that all drivers face, stress. Weekday rush hour is a prime example of this problem. People are in a hurry to get to work, in a hurry to get home, pissed off about work, dwelling on personal issues, and they get behind the wheel or handlebars and head down the road. Their minds are completely distracted with every personal issue and commitment to safety on the road simply doesn’t exist. It’s very easy for this type of problem to affect a rider and can cause accidents in a variety of ways. When your distracted like this you might ride faster, ride erratic, try to make a yellow light, not come to a complete stop, fail to look both ways at intersections, fail to yield, fail to avoid the cager that just made a driving mistake, and probably a laundry list of other things you might think of. Then “BLAM” an accident occurs and it really had nothing to do with another drivers inattentiveness, it was all your own doing because you, the rider, were distracted. I want to put blame on automobile drivers as most riders do because most drivers don’t care about what their doing behind the wheel. But, sometimes it’s simply the riders fault.
What about group riding distractions? You’re out with your MC, RC, RG, or maybe out with a couple friends taking in the scenery and the next thing you know your in the other side of the lane, out of formation, and possibly putting the rider in front and behind you in danger because you were looking around. It can be overwhelming especially for newer riders to group ride safely. There are a lot of distractions in groups that don’t play into solo or even couples riding. Staying in your side of the lane, hand signaling, mechanical signaling, staggered formation, the person in front of you, behind you, to the front/back right or left of you, decisions of whether to go through a changing light or stop, will the rider behind me hit me if I do? Then throw in the riders that are sightseers and keep taking their eyes off the road causing you to have to focus on what their going to do instead of paying attention to riding safely. New riders that your not familiar with, are they experienced, what can I expect them to do in a situation, are they going to stay in their lane. Riders in groups that just want to be noticed as they rev their engines to make noise and look around to see if anyone is noticing them. Maybe their checking out woman, or men, desperately searching the crowds of onlookers hoping to see someone running to them in a lust driven state of mind because they heard the rider rev his engine and saw him sitting on his/her bike in all of their irresistible glory!! Yeah, right, reality check! That rider is far beyond distracted, their delusional. All of these situations are distractions while group riding that can be the cause of an accident and must be taken into consideration. I was in a charity ride one year that was open to anyone and the rider to the front right of me kept swerving across the lane. The guy was all over the road, gunning the engine to show off, slamming on the brakes, waving at people, head up his ass basically without any concern for the other riders around him. I finally got tired of it, pulled up beside him and yelled “STAY IN YOUR LANE AND STOP SCREWING AROUND”. It startled him and he jumped out of his seat a bit, but he got the idea and began paying attention. There are LOTS of distractions for riders in groups which can cause accidents that solo riders don’t have to be concerned with.
Another type of distraction are weather conditions. When it heats up in some of the southern states and gets 100 degrees or more your gonna feel the effects while riding. No matter how fast you ride in extreme heat your body will not cool down. You may feel cooler but in actuality your not, the temperature is still the same. Then the sun baking you from above, the sweat is flowing, possible heat related conditions take hold of the body and now your riding distracted and impaired. Your mind is reacting slower, you’re staring straight ahead with limited if any attention to your surroundings, you might become dizzy and have increased fatigue as your body fights against the heat. Your thoughts may be dwelling on how thirsty you are, how hot it is outside, how hot you are, the heat coming off the bike, where you can I pull over, how long till you find a place to cool down. All of these thoughts now become mental distractions that pull your focus off the road. It’s tough to maintain safe riding practices when your body breaks down from the heat and you become a danger to yourself.
Rain is often a distraction for riders too. As the rain hits your face it can hurt and causes distraction. As your glasses, goggles, or face shield fog up it becomes a distraction to wipe them while riding or see through them. Concentrating on the wet road conditions, what could be under that puddle coming up, limited visibility, all of this causes distractions for the rider that they wouldn’t have to encounter in ideal riding conditions.
I think the point has been made that riders can also become distracted in their own ways while riding. Just as drivers cause the greater part of their own distractions as shown in this post Cager Danger, riders can also cause risk to themselves and others. As riders we need to be constantly aware of our own distractions even more than drivers. Our alertness is critical to our safety and life and we already have enough danger with uncaring drivers to throw our own distractions into the mix.
Ride Strong Ride Safe