Steering Through Sticky Situations : Intersection Encounters !

The problem with discussing specific situations is that every situation differs. For every bit of advice I provide in this article, I can think of possible situations where that advice doesn’t apply.

Riding Through Intersection

I'm going to provide you with generally accepted procedures for dealing with certain situations, but when you’re by yourself out on the road, you’re going to have to make your own decisions based on your own observations in a given situation. Keep in mind the principles in this chapter as general templates, but in the end, rely on the information you gather through your own diligent observations to ultimately guide your actions.

Intersection Encounters

The most dangerous situation you’ll encounter on a bike is a driver turning left in front of you, and most often that happens in some sort of intersection, making intersections the most dangerous places to ride. You can do much to minimize that danger by following certain procedures when approaching and passing through an intersection. When you ride through any intersection - that is, any area where traffic can possibly cross your lane of traffic, always consider the following :

- Slow down. This puts you in control of the situation. It gives you more time to scan the intersection for potential dangers. The earlier you can detect a dangerous situation, the quicker you can react to avoid it. Slowing by just 10 miles per hour reduces your necessary stopping distance by almost half.

- Cover your front brake when riding through an intersection. This reduces your reaction time.

- Position your bike away from other cars. This gives you room to maneuver out of the way if an errant car jockey fails to see you and moves toward you.

- Watch the front tires of other vehicles, but it’s doubly important at an intersection. An oncoming vehicle with its tires turned toward your lane can pull in front of you nearly half a second quicker than can a vehicle with its wheels pointing straight ahead. In this situation, half a second is literally worth a lifetime.

- Make absolutely certain an intersection is clear of other traffic before you proceed. Watch for drivers stopped in other lanes waiting to turn—they may not see you and turn in front of you. Slow down enough to allow yourself room to stop.

Memorize the above rules, internalize them, and make them part of your riding techniques. By doing this, you’ll significantly reduce your chances of getting in an accident.

Types of Intersections

When riding, consider any area where something might cross your path an intersection. This includes the usual places, like crossings and where two roads meet, but it includes a lot of places you might not consider to be intersections.

For example, turnouts are intersections. Turnouts are often located at scenic points, and people pulling into and out of them tend to pay more attention to the scenery than to traffic. This applies to any spot where people congregate alongside a road, like a beach, a bridge people fish off of, or a park-and-ride parking lot (parking lots along roads where commuters leave their cars and get on buses). Always slow down when passing such a place, and move away from the side of the road the turnout is located on, giving yourself more room to maneuver.

The most dangerous intersections are the intricate ones, where several roads converge at once. Traffic doesn’t follow usual patterns at such intersections, and vehicles enter the road at unexpected angles. Often there will be frontage roads (roads running parallel to main roads) merging at such intersections, too, further confusing everybody. When riding through these intersections, slow down even more than you normally do, because you have more activity to monitor.

Moving Through Intersections

When passing through an intersection while you’re following a vehicle that blocks your view, like a bus, watch for left-turning vehicles that are unable to see you behind the bus. Again, leave plenty of space between you and the vehicle in front of you so that you have room to get out of the way. And position yourself in the part of the lane that allows you to see and be seen.

In some ways, alleys are similar to intersections, because you have to watch for traffic crossing your path in an alley. Alleys are filled with blind driveways, and people often back their cars out without looking. Even a diligent driver who looks before backing up might not be able to see you because of some obstruction, like a fence or a trash dumpster. And kids and animals like to hang out in alleys, too. Slow down when you ride through an alley, and watch for kids, dogs, cats, and cars.

When you are following large vehicles in traffic, you may not be able to decide where to position your bike. If you can see oncoming vehicles clearly, it’s best to ride on the far-right side of the lane, positioning yourself as far away as possible from a left-turning driver. But if you’re following a bus or a truck, you may be better off riding in the far left part of the lane, where they can best see you, and where you can scan for possible left-turning drivers.

Stopping at an Intersection

When approaching an intersection where you need to stop, pay extra attention to the vehicles behind you. Be especially careful when stopping on a yellow light, in case the driver behind you thinks yellow means put the accelerator to the floor and drive like crazy.

Because of the danger of drivers rear-ending you at intersections, you need to scan for a possible escape route whenever you approach an intersection. Always position yourself toward one edge of the lane or the other to provide the quickest escape route, should you need one. Choose the side of the lane that gives you the most free space to maneuver out of the way, which will usually be the side of the lane farthest away from oncoming traffic.

When you stop behind a vehicle, don’t pull up close behind it. If you do so, you’ll block yourself in. You won’t have room to move out of the way if the vehicle in front backs up, and you won’t have room to get around the vehicle in front if the vehicle behind you doesn’t stop. Always leave enough room between you and the vehicle in front of you so that you can move around it in an emergency situation.

Leaving yourself enough room to maneuver is important any time you have to stop, whether or not you’re at an intersection. Even on the freeway, expect trouble from behind, and monitor the traffic behind you. If you see a vehicle behind you that’s not stopping, look for a clear spot and rapidly accelerate toward it.

To do this, your bike will have to be ready to go. When you sit at an intersection, or anytime you have to stop when there is traffic around, keep your bike in first gear, with the clutch lever pulled in. That way, if you need to get out of someone’s way in a hurry, you won’t have to waste time putting the bike in gear.

When you stop at an intersection, look for the best traction for putting your feet down. Avoid putting your feet down on any damp, shiny, or dark spot. The spot may be oil, antifreeze, or diesel, which is the most slippery fluid you’ll encounter. (Some people refer to diesel on the road as black ice.)

Also be careful not to put your feet down on any painted lines or marks in an intersection. Painted spots will be slippery, and just a small slip of your foot when you are stopping can cause you to wipe out. And remember, if you fall down because of something slippery on the road, there’s a pretty good chance that whoever is following you will also hit the slippery stuff and possibly lose traction, too.

The safest part of the lane to put your foot down in is the tire track. The slippery goop that drips off cars builds up in the center of the lane. When you put your foot down, place it at the edge of the tire track farthest away from the center of the lane.

Leaving an Intersection

When leaving an intersection, the number-one thing to remember is not to proceed until you’re absolutely certain that the path is clear. When the light turns green, wait until things settle before entering the intersection.

Realize that some people consider the first part of a red light just an extension of the yellow. I’ve almost been taken out by drivers who continue through intersections when they have a red light. The only way to protect yourself from red-light runners is to slow down when you ride through an intersection. Always make certain the path is clear before entering an intersection, even if you have the right of way.

When starting through an intersection from a standing stop, it is especially important not to trust eye contact as a means of determining if another driver has seen you. Even if another driver sees you, he or she might not register your motorcycle as traffic.

Turning in Intersections

The same rules that apply to passing through an intersection apply to turning at an intersection. Make certain that all lanes are clear before making a turn.

Often, other traffic will block your view at an intersection, especially if a turning lane is present. If you find your view blocked, slowly ease ahead until you can see past the offending vehicle. Remember, when you do this, your tire will enter traffic before your view clears, so be extra cautious. Lean forward and stretch your neck ahead as far as is comfortable, being careful to remain stable and in control of the bike, to see around the vehicle blocking your view. This will help make certain you don’t roll your bike out in front of an oncoming vehicle when you ease ahead to clear your view.

When making a turn at an intersection, be extra careful when trucks are present. Trucks with long trailers make wide turns, and they often need more than one lane to negotiate a turn in an intersection. If you pull up beside a truck, thinking the truck is going straight, and the truck turns in your direction, you could be trapped.

You may be able to power ahead and get out of the situation, but then you run the risk of being struck by an oncoming vehicle hidden from your view by the truck. If you’re lucky, there will be a shoulder instead of a curb at the side of the road, allowing you space to get away from the trailer.

Your best course of action is to not get in such a situation in the first place. Avoid squeezing between a truck and something else at all costs, even if it means not entering a turning lane and having to use a different route.

Avoiding Dangerous Intersections

Some intersections are death traps for motorcyclists. You will encounter intersections with electromagnetic stoplight sensors (which trigger a change in the traffic light by detecting large masses of metal over them) that can’t detect an object as small as your motorcycle. At such intersections, you can find yourself faced with the choice of running a red light or waiting until a car pulls up behind you, neither of which is an acceptable option.

Other intersections may have too many obstructions—like signs, lightposts, and buildings—for you to make certain all lanes are clear before you enter them. If you know of an intersection like this, one that makes you uncomfortable, avoid it if at all possible. Even if you have to ride a few extra miles, if you can select a safer route, your chances of arriving are improved by avoiding dangerous intersections.