Let’s just get this out of the way: this article does not make excuses for Colorado riders who drive illegally or unsafely. Lane splitting is currently illegal in Colorado and swerving at great speeds through heavy traffic is unsafe. What this piece does is explain are some behaviors that may seem like motorcyclists are playing loose with the rules of the road and why riders do them.
The things we’re talking about are neither illegal nor unsafe and car drivers out there should understand why these moves are important to the safety of the rider doing them. I’m sure sometimes it can seem a rider may be just messing around. But what if they are being safe?
- Why do motorcycles stop to the rear right of my car bumper?
- Why do motorcycles swerve around in their lane?
- Why do motorcycles stop so fast in front of me?
Our goal is to help our non-rider friends better understand some of the motorcycle behaviors that may confuse them. In the end, the more non-riders understand us and SEE us, the safer we are on the road.
Why Do Motorcycles Stop by My Back Right Tire?
So, you’re driving along a city street and there’s a motorcycle behind you. Being a responsible driver, you keep him in your mirror and drive as predictably as possible so that he knows how and when to react to traffic changes.
But then you come to a stop and that biker pulls up on the right – almost next to your back, right tire – and you’re thinking, “What is he doing?!” He may even be in your blind spot. Why didn’t he stop squarely behind you so that you can see him?
Before you read any more, you need to watch this terrifying video:
The action unfolds like this:
- The motorcyclist is trailing a car at a very safe distance.
- When the car slows, the motorcyclist slows down.
- Then, there is a slowing of traffic for a reason we can’t entirely see and the oncoming traffic to the left is at a stop. (Did you notice the truck veering across the yellow lines to attempt to pass the car in front of him? He nearly hits our biker.)
- Suddenly, the car in front slows to a stop and the motorcyclist pulls to the right, probably in the car’s blind spot.
- Up ahead you can see two more bikers pulled to the right.
What happens next is so sudden and shocking that you’ll probably have to watch it a couple of times like I did.
Can you imagine if that biker was right in line with the car in front of him? He’d be dead. And the other riders up ahead could be severely injured. In this case, the motorcycle behavior likely saved their life.
Motorcycle Behavior: Dodging road debris looks like playtime but is critical
Here’s another example of motorcyclist behavior that can seem distracting and unsafe: when a motorcyclist seems to be swerving around within a line of cars moving forward. It can seem like he’s horsing around, but there could be multiple reasons for this:
- he may be dodging road debris that you can’t even see or that doesn’t affect you when you’re on 4-wheels or,
- he might be avoiding oil slicks that can build on the road, or
- he may be changing position in an attempt to see better down the road, or
- he may simply be trying to assure that he isn’t in someone’s blind spot.
Why do motorcyclists stop so fast in front of me?
Generally speaking, stopping speeds for motorcycles are similar to cars though brake time can be influenced by road conditions and rider skill. There are so many variables involved with stopping speeds when comparing cars and motorcycles that it probably demands its own article but overall, in good weather and good road conditions, stopping time is similar. If it’s raining or road conditions are poor, the rider will probably need more time to stop than a car.
What you’re interpreting as the motorcycle stopping fast is probably a matter of the motorcycle being smaller than the other vehicles in traffic. Because it is smaller, it may appear to be farther away than it really is. (This perception can also make it difficult to judge their speed which makes drivers sometimes think a motorcycle “came out of nowhere” when they really didn’t.) So, give them extra space to give your eyes and brain time to adjust your speed as needed.
Motorcyclists also often slow down by downshifting or rolling off the throttle which will not activate a brake light. Giving them a little extra for that consideration space gives you more time to react.
Some Scary Motorcycle Statistics in Colorado and Beyond
In 2022, a staggering 149 motorcycle riders died on Colorado roads. That represents 20% of our state’s total traffic fatalities. The numbers are chilling enough, but then consider the fact that motorcycles only make up 3% of the total vehicles on the road. Motorcycle riders are vulnerable.
In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motorcyclists are significantly overrepresented in traffic crashes and fatalities each year. In fact, in 2020, per vehicle mile traveled, motorcyclists were about 28 times more likely than passenger vehicle occupants to die in a motor vehicle crash and were 4 times more likely to be injured.
The most common motorcycle-versus-car accident that I see in my Denver personal injury office is when drivers make a left-hand turn across oncoming traffic and plow right into a biker who has no time to react.
Drivers Need to Look Twice for Motorcyclists on Colorado Roads
As auto drivers, we have a responsibility to stay alert for all vehicles around us including motorcycles. Here are a few more examples of ways that you can honor motorcyclists on the road and keep them safe:
- Though a motorcycle is a small vehicle, its operator still has the same rights of the road as any other motorist. Allow a motorcycle the full width of a lane at all times.
- When you see a single headlight or two headlights close together: Slow down and take your time. Look twice!
- Give the motorcycle in front of you plenty of room. It’s hard to tell when a motorcyclist is slowing down as they may downshift and a single brake light may be harder to see.
- Don’t panic when they swerve within their lane: If a motorcyclist moves close to the center line, it could be because he or she is making sure they can be seen by the driver in front of them. They’re avoiding a blind spot. They might also be avoiding slick oil buildup that can occur in the center of a lane or even dodging small road debris that doesn’t affect a 4-wheeled vehicle.
- Change lanes cautiously: Make absolutely certain there’s no one in your blind spot.
- Left-hand turns can be killers! If you’re turning left in front of oncoming traffic, give yourself a ton of room before turning. And look twice!
- Use your turn signals: You should always communicate your plans to other drivers, but this is particularly important around motorcyclists. Signal to indicate your turns and drive predictably.
Denver Roads are for Everyone
Sometimes it can seem like motorcyclists “aren’t behaving.” And because we’ve all seen a motorcyclist pull stunt moves in crazy traffic, we tend to assume that any behavior that seems different is more of the same: unsafe road jockeys trying to play around with their bikes. (For the record: you also see a TON of bad auto driving behaviors and you don’t assume that all car drivers are road jockeys, right? Let’s stop stereotyping motorcyclists.)
I’m convinced that 99% of car drivers out there aren’t “hunting” for motorcyclists to mow down. But to motorcyclists, it can often feel that way. Talk to any motorcycle rider and he or she can tell you horror stories about near-misses, horrible accidents, and buddies who lost their lives in motorcycle-versus-car accidents.
In my experience as a Denver motorcycle attorney, most motorcyclists out there are trying to ride safely but they are very vulnerable on those bikes. Literally, every month, I meet a motorcyclist who was injured by a driver who says, “I didn’t see him!” But that isn’t the motorcyclist’s fault; it’s the driver’s.
If you’re confused by a motorcyclist’s behavior, do your best to remain predictable. Always signal your intentions, stay within the speed limit, don’t slam on your brakes, don’t tailgate, and always, always look twice before turning left.