Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Motorcycle riders benefit from Defensive Driving classes

About a week ago I took a Defensive Driving class. I really enjoyed it. While I already knew half of what it taught, I learned new and other lessons.

After receiving my drivers license way back in another time (I was 16), it never occurred to me to hone my driving skills further. I was never encourage too either. Sometimes you're assigned additional training because of impairment, speeding or accident penalty's. Having never received any of those along with no major fines, it never occurred to me there was more to learn. That started to change one day with this...my first motorcycle.

My 2006 Triumph America

Approaching the training and licensing for a motorized bike was completely different than an automobile. For a car, people were less negative. You had airbags, seat-belts and were tucked away inside a cocoon. You were protected from most mistakes you might cause. Never mind that you, unskilled, were a danger to everyone else. It was fine.

For even exposing a slight curiosity about how to ride a bike, everyone around me was very negative. They continually told stories about how you were going to die. They recounted how they knew someone they had been injured quite severely from a motorcycle. Forget whether anything else could be at fault; the automobile driver or the motorcycle rider, it was the bike to blame.

Trying to get information on riding through friends, family or co-workers was a discouraging. While taking a beginning class sponsored by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation was a safe environment from physical harm, it wasn't mentally. Instructors yelled a lot. Many questions were treated as stupid. They played mental head games with select students. They being ex-military, treated it like a boot camp preparing you to face death.

Motorcycles ARE very dangerous, but when in the hands of a semi-skilled navigator with decent awareness and education, that danger is exponentially reduced. If you approach gaining your motorcycle endorsement like you did an automobile license, you stop learning at the moment you get your endorsement. If you have your endorsement and have no access to competent intermediate or advanced skills training, a Defensive Driving coarse can serve as a partial substitute.

I just took Defensive Driving. Since my original exposure to lackluster rider school training, I've since found basic and intermediate rider education that was much better. A lot of the accident prevention concepts are similar in both and I want to share a few highlights.

  • Motor vehicles are the largest single cause of accidental deaths, both on and off the job.
  • Scan ahead and interpret problematic traffic situations as far ahead as possible.
  • Maintain your vehicle (bike) mechanically.
  • Verify often all lights and signals are working.
  • Seat belts in cars are proven to save lives, so are motorcycle helmets!
  • Aggressive driving (riding) is an offense in many places, and road rage is criminal in most.
  • Most accidents occur at intersections.
  • Speed is the biggest accident contributor. The second is panic in problematic traffic situations.
  • Swerving is sometimes more effective than stopping for accident prevention, but stopping, swerving and speeding-up are all approved tools for prevention.
  • In one year, 1 in 8 will be involved in an automobile accident. That's about 12.5%.
  • Because of poor visibility, give large trucks and buses lots of room. Not hanging near them is better.

I had to laugh at this one, but it's sorta not funny...and it was in my Defensive Driving coarse.

  • Don't challenge trains. They are unable to stop or even slow down if you are trying to speed across a railroad crossing.
I hope all this sparked a fascination with learning to improve your riding craft! It does me.

Motorcycles for mental health