Posted on 10/21/2021 at 08:00 AM by The Biker Lawyers

Decorative Image showing multiple people passing one another on motorcycles

How to Pass a Motorcycle

A car is following a motorcycle on the highway. The driver of the car wants to pass. How is it properly done?

HINT: Most people do it wrong.

Let’s start with the idea that a car should never follow closer than three seconds behind a motorcycle. Why? Because the average person takes 1.5 seconds to recognize and react to danger. This means that half the three-second safety cushion is gone just starting to react to the danger. If the car is closer than three seconds behind the motorcycle, chances are greater for a collision.

The pass of the motorcycle should begin with the car trailing three seconds behind. That means the car waits for oncoming traffic to clear the car before starting the pass. The car should not close the three-second safety cushion until it’s safe to start the pass.

Imagine the situation where the three-second cushion has been closed to one or two seconds. A deer jumps out in front of the motorcycle. The biker brakes hard. Chances are, the car is going to rear-end the motorcycle. This obviously turns out very badly for the biker. So … stay three seconds back until it’s safe to start the pass!

Once the car has passed the motorcycle, it needs to stay over until it is three seconds ahead of the bike. Too often, cars pass motorcycles and immediately change lanes in front of the bike with no more than a one-second cushion. This cuts off the biker’s vision of the roadway, which is a big deal. Motorcycles are far more vulnerable to dead animals, blown tire tread, and other roadway debris. Changing lanes too soon after passing a motorcycle robs the biker of his ability to react to roadway debris.

A good rule of thumb after passing a motorcycle is to not change lanes until the motorcycle is visible in the rearview mirror. This makes it far more likely the three-second safety cushion will be there after the pass is complete.

This may seem like common sense, but it’s done wrong most of the time. By the way, the same rules apply when a motorcycle passes a car (or a car passes another car). Always keep that three-second safety cushion until it’s time to start the pass, and don’t pull back over until three seconds ahead of the car. Somebody’s life may depend on it.

Back Off!

One of the most irritating feelings is to be tailgated. It goes beyond irritating when on a motorcycle.

Any need to slow down suddenly becomes a life-threatening situation. A biker may get slowed down to avoid that deer, but the tailgating motorist is a threat to run the biker over. So how to avoid it?

The first thing a biker should do is signal the tailgating motorist to back off. The signal is given by extending an arm downward and making a repeated rearward motion with the palm of the hand as though literally "pushing" the car back. Most motorists will recognize and respect this request for more space.

If the tailgating motorist won't back off, the next best option will be to find a safe place to pull over and let the tailgater pass. Speeding up is not a good option, as it will probably just result in being tailgated at a higher speed. Once the tailgater has passed, the ride will be safer and more enjoyable.

Keep in mind, this goes both ways. If a biker tailgates an auto, the biker is asking to join the occupants of the car via the rear window. Trailing vehicles (including motorcycles) should keep a three-second (or more) margin between the front of the following vehicle and the rear end of the motorcycle or car being followed.

Keeping a minimum of a three-second margin of safety lessens the chance of being involved in a rear-end collision. That’s a good thing for everybody.
What is a safe following distance?

I've asked this question of literally hundreds of people, and the answers are all over the board. The correct answer is a minimum of three seconds.

Why three seconds? 

Crash scene reconstruction experts agree that the average human reaction time from the perception of danger to responding to the danger is 1.5 seconds. That means if a motorist slams on his brakes and the car behind is following at three seconds, half the following distance is used up just starting to react to the danger. Therefore, following any closer than three seconds behind a motorist dramatically increases the chance of some type of collision.

Motorcyclists are particularly vulnerable. If a deer suddenly crosses the road and the motorcyclist brakes hard to avoid hitting the deer, a motorist following too closely is likely to hit the motorcyclist at high speed. The three-second rule may be the difference between life and death for a motorcyclist being followed by a vehicle on four wheels.

How to calculate the three-second following distance? Pick a landmark - a marking on the road, a shadow, and start counting as soon as the vehicle ahead has passed that landmark. If the trailing vehicle reaches the landmark in less than three seconds, there's not enough distance between the two vehicles. That means it's time to back off. 

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