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See and Be Seen

Using Your Mirrors

While it's most important to keep track of what's happening ahead, you can't afford to ignore what's happening behind. Traffic conditions can change quickly. By checking your mirrors every few seconds, you can keep track of the situation behind.

Knowing what's going on behind can help you make a safe decision about how to handle trouble ahead. For instance, if you know someone is following you too closely, you can decide to avoid a problem ahead by turning away from it, rather than by trying to stop quickly and risk being hit by the tailgater.

Frequent mirror checks should be part of your normal scanning routine. Make a special point of using your mirrors in these situations.

  • When you are stopped at an intersection. Watch cars coming up from behind. If the driver isn't paying attention, he could be right on top of you before he sees you.
  • Anytime you plan to change lanes. Make sure no one is about to pass you.
  • Anytime you will slow down. It is especially important to check if the driver behind may not expect you to slow, or if he may be unsure about exactly where you will slow. For example, he might see you signal a turn and think you plan to slow for a turn at a distant intersection rather than at a nearer driveway.

Many motorcycles have rounded "convex" mirrors. These give you a wider view of the road behind than do flat mirrors. However, they also make cars seem farther away than they really are.

If you are not used to convex mirrors, get familiar with them. Here's how:
While you are stopped, pick out a parked car in your mirror. Try to form a mental image of how far away it is. Then, turn around and look at it. See how close you came. Practice with your mirrors until you become a good judge of distance. Even then, allow extra distance before you change lanes.
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Head Checks

Mirrors do a pretty good job of letting you see behind. But motorcycles have "blind spots" just like cars. Before you change lanes, make sure to have a head check: turn you head, and look at traffic to the side. This is the only way you can be sure of spotting a car just about to pass you.

On a road with several lanes, make sure to check the far lane as well as the one next to you. A driver in the distant lane may be headed for the same space you plan to take.

Motorcycles have blind spots just like cars.

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Position to See

As a motorcycle rider, you can put yourself in a position to see things that a car driver cannot see.

  • On curves-You can move from one portion of a lane to another to get a better view through a curve. Moving to the center portion of your lane before a curve-and staying there until you come out of the curve-lets you spot traffic coming toward you as soon as possible. This also allows you to adjust for traffic that is "crowding" the center line or for debris that is blocking part of your lane.
    Illustration of positioning to see on curves.
  • At blind intersections-Blind intersections can make it hard to see danger coming from the side. If you have a stop sign, stop there first. Then edge forward and stop again, just short of where the cross-traffic lane meets your lane. From that position, you can lean your body forward and look around buildings, parked cars, or bushes to see if anything is coming. Just make sure your front wheel stays out of the cross lane of travel while you're looking.
    Illustration of positioning to see at blind intersections.
  • At the roadside-Angle your motorcycle so that you can see in both directions without straining and without having any part of the cycle in the lane of travel. Angling your motorcycle so that you can get a clear view in both directions is particularly important if you plan to turn across a lane of traffic.
    Illustration of positioning to see at the roadside.

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