Top 4 Reasons Why Motorcycles Are So Difficult To See In Traffic

May 25, 2021 by Barry Zlotowicz Law Firms 

Top 4 Reasons Why Motorcycles Are So Difficult To See In Traffic

“Can someone please tell me why motorcycles are so difficult to see in traffic?” It’s a question we get asked a lot, and it can be just as frustrating for motorists as it is for motorcyclists.

But seriously, why are motorcycles so easy to miss out on the open road?

We’ve put together some of the most common reasons a driver may fail to see a motorcyclist, and while some of them may seem obvious, others will surprise you.

In addition to the reasons why, we’ve also talked to some seasoned riders who gave us some great pointers on what you can do as a biker to make sure you’re as noticeable as possible when you’re out for a ride.

Ok, enough talking, let’s dive into why motorcycles are so difficult to see in traffic.

Reason 1: Size Matters

It goes without saying that motorcycles are much smaller than their four-wheeled counterparts.

And we like it that way. The smaller size of a motorcycle makes it more nimble, more agile, and easier to park and store than the smallest commuter car.

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of parallel parking a motorcycle in the city, you know what I mean.

Any three-foot gap will do. You probably won’t even have to feed the meter.

However, the smaller size of our motorcycles also makes them much more difficult to see by default, especially in side and rearview mirrors of any vehicle from a distance.

It’s also worth noting that motorcycles have been shrinking over the past decade.

Yes, you read that right.

Kawasaki introduced their redesigned Ninja 250R in early 2008, and the overwhelming customer interest that followed found every major manufacturer in the game racing to cash in on the small-bike craze.

The popularity of the sub-400cc market exploded, and by 2012 just about every popular brand had wheeled out minuscule models in their lineups of every flavor from Yamaha’s popular R3 sportbike to KTM’s pocket-sized 390 Duke.

You could easily mistake the 125cc Honda Grom in your rearview for a dead bug if you didn’t look twice.

And while Groms and other “pocket bikes” are a blast to ride, the smaller bikes get the more obvious their size becomes a reason why motorcycles are so difficult to see in traffic.

What to do about the size dilemma…

When it comes to the size of motorcycles, there’s really not a whole lot you can do.

Sure, you could go out and buy a bigger bike, but where’s the fun in that?

Our best advice for compensating for the size of your bike is to ride like every driver on the road doesn’t see you.

Do everything you can, especially on the freeway, to leave as much space around your motorcycle as possible in traffic. Always leave yourself an “out” or escape path whenever you can just in case you need to swerve to avoid a collision

Riding in a group can also help overcome the size difference.

A single motorcycle can be overlooked, but a group of three or more, especially when riding as close together as safety permits, might as well be a Mack truck in terms of visibility.

Reason 2: Speed, Often.

It’s not far-fetched to allege that motorcycles often travel at higher rates of speed than your average car.

We’re not pointing any fingers here, but I think we can all agree that they certainly aren’t making motorcycles slower with each passing year.

But excess speed is undoubtedly a common reason why motorcycles are so difficult to see in traffic.

Simply put, the faster you’re traveling, the less time you spend in a driver’s line of sight. The less time a vehicle has to see you, the more likely they are to miss you completely, and the less time and distance you both have to react to avoid a crash.

Great, here comes the “slow down” lecture…

I mean yes, generally speaking you should slow down if you’re speeding all the time, but the more honest approach here is to be more sensible about your speed.

There’s a time and place for letting your engine sing.  A busy interstate or four lane highway isn’t one of them.

If you want to find out how quickly your bike can accelerate… up to the posted speed limit, of course… save it for those curvy canyon roads where even the legal limit can seem like a stretch.

Getting your motorcycle out for a track day or a few passes at your local drag strip is also a great way to see three figures on your dash without risking the safety of others or your driver’s license.

Reason 3: Low Visibility Colors

We’ve got a running joke between the riders in our local group.

When one of us announces they’re getting a new bike, the question inevitably follows: “What color black are you getting?”

We’re kidding, but many of us would be lying if we said black wasn’t our first or at least second choice for motorcycle paint and accessories.

And whether or not black happens to be your first choice, you need look no further than the best-selling manufacturer in the US to see the popularity of black motorcycles.

Harley Davidson accounted for nearly one-third of all motorcycle sales in 2020 according to Statista.com, and literally every single model they offer can be optioned in black paint.

I think it’s safe to say most motorcyclists prefer dark colors to brighter, higher visibility ones. They have since the 80s’, anyways.

Solutions For Improving Visibility:

We don’t expect anyone to run out and decorate their motorcycles with safety-yellow paint, but there are a few common-sense measures out there to help with the visibility issue.

For starters, picking a helmet that includes a fair amount of high-viz yellow or orange will help you stand out.

Your helmet is arguably the most effective piece of gear for getting noticed as your head is one part of your body that moves constantly when you ride, whether you’re looking ahead through a curve or doing a quick check of your blind spot before making a lane change.

High visibility colors are effective because they reflect more of the sun’s UV rays to stand out, which is great for the daytime, but that also means they lose all of their effectiveness when the sun sets.

For that reason, we also recommend using highly reflective materials like 3M Scotchlite on as much of your gear as possible.

Motorcycle jackets and pants often come with reflective materials already integrated into the trim, but consider adding some reflective tape to the bottoms of your pants, knees, elbows, and back of your helmet to help you stand out at night.

Another smart way to add reflective material to your bike without cramping your style is to add reflective rim striping.

Reflective rim tape can be purchased either color-matched to your wheels (if you want to keep it low-profile), or in contrasting colors like red-on-black if you want to add some extra style to your bike.

Reason 4: Even When They See You, They Might Not See You

Sounds confusing, right?

We’re right there with you.

However, according to a 2019 study by the Australian College Of Road Safety, even if a driver is looking right at you, their brain may still fail to “perceive” you as a vehicle, which will cause them to go on driving as if you were a stationary object, or not there at all.

This strange finding has been dubbed “Inattentional Blindness,” or IB for short, and is believed to be one of the main contributing factors in “Look-But-Fail-To-See” crashes involving motorcyclists.

Scientists have explained this phenomenon by suggesting that because motorcyclists appear roughly the same size as a person, but have no discernible “human” movements (we’re essentially sitting still when we ride), a driver’s brain will filter them out of the “potential hazards” we’re conditioned to watch out for like cars and pedestrians on foot.

Best Practices For Being Seen On Your Motorcycle

Clearly, motorcyclists are already at a disadvantage when it comes to being noticed in traffic.

One of the simplest things you can do to make sure you’ve got the best chance possible of being acknowledged is to ride in either the inner or outer-third of the lane of traffic rather than sticking to the center of the lane.

This puts your motorcycle in the line of sight for both the rearview and side mirrors of most vehicles, and thus improves your chances of being seen from behind.

Another easy way to increase your likelihood of being seen is to use your lights as much as possible, and no, we’re not just talking about flashing your brights when someone cuts you off.

Flip on your turn signals several hundred yards earlier than you would in a car whenever you can to make sure you’re seen and the traffic both in front of and behind you knows you’ll be turning at some point.

It’s also helpful to “ride” your rear brake lever every time you reduce your speed by engine braking.

This is a good tip because although motorcyclists are used to the idea of using the engine to slow down in traffic, many drivers aren’t familiar with the concept, and by lightly riding your rear brake as you apply engine braking, you’re effectively “signaling” to traffic behind you that it’s time to slow it down.

Why Motorcycle Is Fun = Why Motorcycle Is Dangerous

It’s unfortunate, but it’s true.

The open-air freedom, the thrilling acceleration, the powerful brakes, and the high-speed balancing act. They all make motorcycling a pleasure, but they also make the bikes themselves a safety liability.

And truth be told, that’s always going to be a large part of the appeal.

“Fast, loud, and dangerous” sounds like a good time to many of us, yet these were all likely contributing factors to whatever brought you to our site.

If you’re an automobile driver reading this, consider the points we’ve covered to be a great argument for why “look twice, save a life” is more than just a bumper sticker: It’s something you should put in practice.

If you’re a motorcyclist, I hope we’ve provided some useful tips to help keep you out of harm’s way.

And if you’ve already been involved in an accident, give us a call now, and put these tips in your back pocket for when you get back on the open road.

Injured in a Motorcycle Accident? Call Chicago Legal Group Today To Arrange For Your Free Initial Consultation.

Located in Glenview, Chicago Legal Group focuses exclusively on the representation of personal injury victims, including those injured in motorcycle accidents. We use our experience, tenacity, and advocacy skills to get our clients the compensation and resources they need to move forward with their lives. Your initial consultation is free, and you pay nothing in attorney’s fees until we obtain compensation for you.

*Thanks to Kurt Spurlock for contributing to this article.


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