Motorcycle Awareness Month – The Wrong Way Down

Motorcycle Awareness Month – The Wrong Way Down

A controversial viewpoint that looks at motorcycle safety from the other side of the looking glass

I’m a lifelong motorcyclist. I’m a professional rider, I earn my bread from the seat of my bike. I been a trainer, had training, been all over the country and overseas, led tours, coordinated events and rallies, read the books and every accident study I can get to. I’ve had my share of spills, close calls, and mistakes and I’ve got the scars to remember them by.

May is motorcycle awareness monthMotorcycle Awareness Month doesn’t even make the list of  “commemorative months” on wikipedia and is about as effective as “National Ice Cream Month” (which does make the list) – It’s the wrong approach to the problem of how to be safer riding a motorcycle on our increasing dangerous roads.

Image - Watch out for Motorcycles

False Hope

“Watch our for Bikers” is wishful thinking. It puts the responsibility on someone else – “You need to watch out for me”. Believing that little yellow diamond is going to penetrate the brain of a pony-tailed soccer mom with a minivan full of kids rushing to get to the little  league game is quite a leap of faith. Or that the road warrior salesman is going to suddenly take his mind off his next meeting as he’s fighting his way through the traffic on his way to Des Moines. That the old codger in the Buick with a line of traffic a half mile behind him is going to suddenly wake up and recognize there are other vehicles on the road? That teen is gonna put away the cell phone and start driving the car? Not my experieince. Not the real world. YOU need to watch out for YOU.

Even if you could get through and alert every other driver on the road you’re not going to change the laws of physics. Motorcycles are just plain hard to see because they are the smallest vehicle out on the roads. They are comparatively rare so people don’t expect them. They are easy to lose track of surrounded by so many larger vehicles. Every one of us knows a driver can look right at you and not see you coming. Accept it – you’re virtually invisible to others the road.

motorcycle-wreck-maggieThe “motorcycle awareness” that will keep you alive longest is the awareness that you are responsible for your own safety on the road. You need to up your riding game. Distracted driving is the leading contributor to accidents on our roadways. The counter strategy is increased awareness on the part of the motorcyclist, not all the other people out on the road. They’re not going to change, you need to change to adapt to the conditions that exist.

We know the most common causes of motorcycle accidents related to other vehicles – car pulls out or turns in front of motorcycle, car changes lanes on highway into motorcycle, car runs into motorcycle stopped at intersection.

The motorcycle awareness we need is to deal with these situations as riders as effectively as possible. This is what happens – expect it and assume it will every time.

  • Ride as if that car IS going to pull out or turn in front of you. Be prepared to react to it. Every car, every time.
  • Constantly be aware of your position to surrounding traffic on the road and don’t ride in blind spots. Don’t assume that car next to you sees you – if he needs to swerve I’ll bet he’d rather hit you than a truck. Move out of the situation. When they crowd in on you get out of the situation as soon as possible.
  • Position yourself to be visible when stopped. Don’t sit right behind a car, move out to create a silhouette that stands out from behind. Keep the bike in gear and have an escape route ready in case you see that car running up on you too fast.


The roads are getting more crowded and more dangerous. There are new challenges to face. People are just going to keep doing what they’re doing, they are not going to change. If you want to be safer, take your safety in your own hands – the others are too busy to bother.


wayne busch - Smoky Mountain Motorcycle

Wayne Busch

– Wayne Busch lives in Waynesville, NC, where he produces the most detailed and comprehensive and up-to-date motorcycle pocket maps of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains to help you get the most of your vacation experience. See them here –


41 thoughts on “Motorcycle Awareness Month – The Wrong Way Down

  1. As a rider for more than 50 years, all I can say is….”Right on, brother”. As I told my son we he got his first street bike, “Ride like every car and truck out there is out there to get you; always leave yourself an out!”

  2. I couldn’t agree more! I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to make drivers more aware, and I think we could do much more to combat distracted driving. At the end of the day though, it’s your responsibility to keep yourself safe. This includes wearing the correct gear. I’m constantly amazed by the number of people that due to their safety gear choices, or lack thereof, that would be completely screwed if anything went wrong.

    Our community has a ways to go in this area, too many riders still seem to think that nasty wrecks only happen to others.

  3. Finally someone telling it like it is. Its like playing football, we have to think both defensively and offensively at all times.

  4. We all used to look at each other as we drive in our cars, now it is being taught or for some reason drivers have blinders on and don’t look around for anything. I tell all inexperienced riders, not only look at what the car is doing, but look at the driver… not that they will see you, but the riders start realizing just how little they pay attention to things outside and around their vehicle.

    Andy , MSF Rider Coach.

  5. Want to thank you for saying this so well. I’ve shared this to 4 other groups and all of the comments are positive. It’s a good reminder – we can’t hold others responsible for our safety on the road. It’s our lives and we have to be proactive in our riding habits to avoid dangerous situations.

  6. I am a FIRM believer in this thinking, I ride with my head on a swivel and have the mindset that EVERY other person on the road is oblivious to me…on a lighter note…the super power I wanted as a kid….I got it…I’m finally INVISIBLE!!!!

  7. I agree!
    You are the one responsible for your own safety. Yes everyone needs to look out for motorcycles… But motorcycles need to be aware of other drivers and not assume they are looking for you. Watch the driver of the car, and the front wheel if the car is stopped the front wheel will give you the most notice if the driver starts to move , also if you are beside the car the front tire will give the fastest information about a lane change or turn, if you can not see the driver watch the front wheel.

  8. Agreed! My rules are: 1) I am invisible and 2) even if they DID see me, they won’t yield the right of way! Drive this way every time, keep yourself away from groups of cars, always be planning your escape route, and wear ALL the gear all the time. This is the only way to up your chance of surviving out there in a sea cages. They just don’t think like we do…unless they are motorcyclists.

  9. I wonder in how many states’ Driver Education books, even make mention of being aware of Motorcycles on the road? I bet not many. So yes, let the rider beware.

  10. On average 50% of all motorcycle crashes are single vehicle crashes with the most common being lane departure (running off of road or crossing center line) and nearly all rider fault. Of the 50% involving other vehicles, the motorcycle rider is at fault or a major contributing factor (speeding, impaired riding or aggressive riding) in nearly half of these crashes. Frequently when a driver turns left or pulls out in front of a rider, the rider is speeding making the approaching time/distance difficult to estimate. As others have mentioned, many riders wear dark clothing which tends to make them invisible to other drivers. Nearly 75% of all motorcycle involved crashes are the riders fault, so we are our own worst enemy. Numerous nationwide studies document these numbers and I have personally reviewed thousands of crash reports and totally agree with these numbers. Get trained, wear proper riding gear and wear gear that makes you more visible to the rest of the motoring public.

  11. I have only been driving about 2 years and I don’t take chances on my bike I watch everyone and for anything that moves when I am on the road. And everything you said is correct. People don’t watch for motercycles . We , the drivers have to watch out for ourself. Thanks for telling like it is.

  12. Great information! One more item I always tell my riding friends is to take an MSF course. I rode for 40 years and then took the course and was amazed what I learned. Nearly 300,000 miles on a motorcycle without an accident and the course was absolutely worth every minute.

  13. What bugs me is motorcycles running in the day time with their hi beam head light on. It blinds me and I can’t look at them to see what the hell they are doing or about to do when I meet them. I can’t help them if I have to look the other way.

  14. Oh yeah! you right on, good to know. I have my driver handbook, and it says never assume the other driver see you. You have to stay alert while riding the bike. Look out for yourself.
    Keep on bikin’ Brother of the winds

  15. Very well said. Defensive driving is the single most important factor in safe riding, or driving a car for that matter!
    As for high beams, I was once approached by a man in a pick-up truck after pulling into a shopping center. He told me he almost pulled right in front of me but saw my high beam at the last moment and reacted! Better other drivers be slightly annoyed than me being annihilated!

  16. …always presume everyone is drunk stupid and blind…..advice from my Dad….use it when in my small cage….and on my bike….

  17. Pingback: Motorcycle Awareness Month.

  18. Congratulations on voicing a different viewpoint. As someone who does spend nearly every weekend from March through November standing in a parking lot coaching others in the fine art of riding, I can agree with most of the latter parts of this article, especially that we have to take ultimate responsibility for their skills and for being alert. A license to ride a motorcycle isn’t a license to be a complete ass in traffic.

    What I can’t agree with is that “motorcycle safety month” doesn’t work. Here in Massachusetts, we do it in April, not May. We launch a full-scale media campaign complete with highway signs to remind motorists that there are vehicles other than plows and sanders – smaller, and agile, but vulnerable. And it DOES work. Since its inception, motorcycle crashes and fatalities have gone down by close to 60% in the early season. Why doesn’t it last? Because complacency sets in, and as riders get more comfortable with their now rusty skills, they start taking more risks.

    A real problem, as the author states, is that Motorcycle Awareness Month doesn’t get ENOUGH press or coverage, but indeed it is only ONE tool, not the total solution.

  19. All good safety observations here. The funny and annoying and potentially hazardous thing is, a lot of this good advice has to be experienced firsthand to make an impression.

    If advice made good riders, everyone in California would be highly skilled, because the motorcycle handbook is surprisingly good. Problem is, it’s full of good knowledge that you won’t internalize until you’ve ridden a while, then reread it to recognize some of the stuff you’ve personally experienced.

  20. I agree with you 100%, I am a trainer for road captains within our riding organization and one very important thing I teach to our riders is when approching an intersection where a vehicle may pull out, FLASH your high beam lights at them and do this 3 or 4 times to get their attention, because, you are right, they don’t see you. This has been very effective for me and the flashing of the high beams has more often then not stopped drivers from pulling out after they started to move and realised i’m on a motorcycle, they stopped and waited. I have even had school buses stop from pulling out because the so called professional driver was not paying attention. oh by the way the extra loud horns on my bike have helped on more then one occasion also. stay safe, ride safe

  21. I wouldn’t call that “controversial”, I’d call it common sense (and survival sense).

    I have 2 rules whenever I’m on the bike:

    1) Nobody else on the road can see me.


    2) Anyone who can see me is going to try to kill me.

    Might sound a little paranoid, but it’s kept me alive on numerous occasions over several decades of riding. 🙂

  22. I have said for a very long time, ” you have to ride with the attitude that you are invisible to everyone else.”

  23. This is the way I ride…This is the reason that I am still ALIVE….Pure and simple…every car or truck is out to get me…that is my mentality. You are a Gazelle in the plains of the Lions…Constant vigilance.
    Thank you for making it so clear!

  24. Spot on advice. I’ll pass it on in denver. THANK U!
    Ride safe & arrive alive!

  25. All good observations by many experienced riders. With possible exception of flashing high beams at intersections, which could make driver believe you are signaling them that they can have the right-of-way, causing them to potentially turn in front of you.

  26. An excellent read. Sadly, motorcyclists by and large simply lack the understanding of how true this article is and that is proven when I get negative reactions every time I am amongst motorcyclists and say any of the following statements:

    1. We motorcyclists are often our own worst enemy when it comes to accidents.
    2. The Rider owns at least some of the blame in virtually every motorcycle involved accident.
    3. Riding with earphones plugged into both ears and that “Distracted Driving Kills” sticker on your helmet is being hypocritical (never mind illegal in many states).

    I had someone come this/close to ripping my head off when I stated that a rider who was killed after being rear-ended by a motorist who was putting on nail polish and drove through a red light at highway speeds owned at least some of the blame for her death.

    Testimony provided in the case proved that the rider passed this car at least once in the previous 5 or so miles and likely had the opportunity to observe the nail polish being applied and would have known there was a distracted driver behind them. The rider stopped abruptly rather than run the yellow (not saying you should run yellows but if you have a car close behind you as you get a yellow light you should seriously consider it as an option). The rider stopped in the middle of the lane leaving far less of a chance for the motorist to swerve around and miss the rider at the last moment. The rider made no movement as the speeding car approached despite having a clear line of sight in their lane at least 100 yards behind them which suggests the rider didn’t see the speeding car approach and fail to slow down appropriately for the red light.

    Without question the motorist in the accident cited above was in the wrong and was appropriately charged, convicted, and sentenced. However, the rider owns at least some of the blame as well as responsibility for several actions they appeared to have not taken that may have saved their life if those actions were taken.

    For reference, I refer to an accident in Lake Zurich, IL in 2009 that resulted in the creation of the “Black Nail Brigade” which evolved into what is now referred to as the “Epic Ride.”

  27. Get louder pipes this does help.. where bright colors and I change positions alot on the road makes you more visible.. extra brite lites help also.. anything to stand out

  28. I ride by two main rules. Assume every vehicle you meet is going to turn in front of you and every vehicle coming up on a side road is going to pull out in front of you. Then all the other things like tailgating, being tailgated, riding to fast for the current situation, daydreaming,etc,etc. All of which will get you killed or seriously injured.

  29. I was taught to ride with high beam on all of the time. The reason, when the high beam goes out, the low beam still works. However, when the low beam goes, the high beam does not work. (At least on my bike….may not be the same on others).

  30. If loud pipes saved lives, imagine what learning to ride would do.

    Where have I heard that before?

    Loud bikes do nothing but annoy and alienate us from the non-riding community.

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  32. Thank you for your article. I always ride like no one sees me.

  33. I have found one of the best ways to improve your defensive riding is to ride dirt bikes with no lights. No brake lights being the important part. Having rode dirt bikes with at least 10 neighbors since I was a kid I never gave much thought to it but after getting bikes for my own kids and watching them take off on their little 50s I began to notice something. At first they would ride into each other and as their new found friends would join in there would be a couple of cut offs and an occasional dead trail stop with a couple kids flying over the handlebars(a couple swear words and a few bandaids and they were back at it} Then as the weeks went on I began to notice the packs of dirt bikes riding around within inches of each other and no one was getting hit. No brake lights, no turn signals just like a ballet. Each kid was now analyzing and preparing for what could happen and how to get out of the way before it happened. I had never noticed this myself when I was growing up because I was immersed in the action but when I stood back and watched this unfold from a different perspective it is truly amazing.

  34. Absolutely spot on correct.
    It matters not how straight the gate
    How charged with punishment the scroll
    I am the master of my fate
    I am the captain of my soul

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