Former motorcycle safety instructor Ole and his wife Cathie Jorgensen took advantage of the great weather to come out to where the intersections are fewer and the roads are twisting.

Throttle Therapy: The fine art of motorcycling and practicing safe intersections

This week’s column looks at the basics of traffic-light controlled intersection etiquette.

Spring has transformed into summer a bit earlier than usual this year. And as the sun gloriously shines down on our full-faced helmets, bikers flock to the streets in great numbers.

This is also the time of year where bikers spend exhaustive hours education anyone who will listen to them about the rules of the road.

This week’s column looks at the basics of traffic-light controlled intersection etiquette.

Stopping

A yellow light means … slow down and get ready to stop. As a recent accident in Surrey demonstrates, running a red can have catastrophic results. To state the obvious, motorcycles are smaller than vehicles, and consequently, a biker with a car on their tailgate might feel pushed to run a yellow.

Yes, there are legitimate times to run a yellow. For example, if it’s a “young” yellow (just turned) and you can’t safely come to a complete stop before the legal stopping point because the roads are wet.

A novice rider might feel pushed because the driver of the vehicle behind you is trying to read the small print in your driver’s manual and you get the sense they have accelerated, not braked.

This for me is a novice issue as a seasoned rider will know how to effectively manage a tailgater well before an intersection. Like increasing the space in front of you from a three second to a four second count, or pulling off to the side of the road so that the bozo behind can scootch up behind the vehicle in front of you, and feel greatly pleased with themselves.

And if the obnoxious tailgater does sneak up on you just before an intersection (life happens), you will begin “signalling” your intention to stop by touching your back brake, which will trigger your back brake light. Tapping it repeatedly is a great way of waking up the person behind you to the fact that you intend to stop. As much as you are looking forward, you are always checking your rearview to see that they are getting the message. If it appears they are still responding to a text message instead of watching the road, you must also be ready to accelerate through a young yellow.

Look for “clues” when contemplating that the green light might soon turn: a stale green (green for a long time) and flashing pedestrian signals (or the new count-down) both indicate a change. If it’s a vehicle controlled light, look for cars sitting at the red. If it’s a pedestrian controlled light, look for (duh) pedestrians.

The other point here is to always come to a stop in first gear, and stay there! Do NOT shift to neutral and start fiddling with zippers, helmet fasteners, cigarettes or cell phones. When the light turns green (which I’ll review next), you must be ready to move off, because the car behind you expects you to move and will start moving forward themselves.

Starting

When “at the front of the line” at a red light, always give a moment to pause before moving off when the light turns green.

At the motorcycle safety school, we taught riders to do a two-sided shoulder check after the light turns green, before moving off.

Three reasons.

First, it ensures that you are awake and that nothing has crept up on you while you idling.

Second, it alerts the vehicle behind you that are are checking and haven’t started moving off just yet.

Third, and this is the most crucial, it allows another car to enter the intersection before you. Call it a sacrificial lamb, but if there is a vehicle running the red, you won’t be impacted. You have allowed another vehicle to be your buffer. Sounds cruel, but it’s not. Vehicle drivers running a red are either stupid or incredibly distracted. Either way, they will be more inclined to stop when they see a large-sized vehicle in front of them than if it were a smallish-to-invisible (so they say) sized motorcycle. (And, no, this is insufficient reason to get after-market pipes!)

Riding through on green

As simple as it sounds, when you approach a traffic-light controlled intersection and the light is green, there are still things you can do to ensure your safety. Before you enter the intersection, look for vehicles approaching their red light at an unusually high speed, an easy indication that they are stupid or distracted. Look first down the lane nearest your path of travel, then look down the the other direction. In typical two-lane roads, it means first looking left then right.

Second, cover your controls. Throttle, in case you need to accelerate, and brakes in case you need to stop. Also be prepared to execute an emergency swerve. And if you don’t know what that is, best get your butt into class.

Bottom line

Assume nothing. Take responsibility. Get, and stay, educated. That’s how I have survived the many disasters in my own life.

Interestingly, like many other life-rule cliches, it applies equally to motorcycles.

 

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