Only: Who's Really Blind?
Holy crap! There I was on the Marquam bridge, minding my own business. Suddenly, this blind woman driving a gold Prius whipped into my lane. I had to jerk the handlebars which almost made me run into the guardrail. I can only imagine what it would have been like to hit the bridge railing and plumment hundreds of feet into the river! Wow, was that ever close! I'm still wiping the sweat off my forehead.
So the woman right beside me decided to change lanes. Where I was. No harm, no foul, I look after myself. ( this is a quote from near the end of a recent post of mine )
Two totally different accounts, isn't it? More pointedly, one rider truly had a nearly disastrous experience while, to the other, it literally was no big deal. The difference? Level 1 and Level 2 experience. Last time I included a Level 3. This time there's only beginner/intermediate and advanced.
You've probably seen something like this yourself. Take a place of employment, for example. A few people ride their motorcycles to work. Ask "Tom" about his ride to work and he will swear with wide eyes that he nearly died somewhere along the journey. Tom's stock of "close-call" stories is amazingly deep. If it weren't for luck and his quick reflexes, Tom tells us, he wouldn't have made it to work in one piece.
You've heard people like Tom. How many war stories have you been forced to endure?
While Tom is recounting his harrowing ride, "Will" is listening with a half smile. Someone turns and asks Will how his ride was. Will recounts a nice ride with some interesting things to look at. He comments on smelling somebody's bacon frying for what must have been a tasty breakfast. It sure is wonderful to be able to ride to work, Will affirms.
The questioner presses Will further. Weren't there close calls like Tom's? Will just shakes his head gently while his smile grows broader. Oh, there were a couple of minor things, but they were easily dealt with.
Both Tom and Will travel a nearly identical route to work. Yet, both riders had very different rides. What's the difference? Tom has ridden for about three years. What has he learned? That drivers are "out to get him" when he rides. That every incident is the fault of brain dead, blind drivers with bad judgement. Tom went to the Department of Motor Vehicles on a small bike to take his endorsement test. He barely passed, but thinks his built in manly skills are enough to get him out of any trouble he may face. I'm not stretching the truth. I can name names of several guys I have an acquaintance with right now that are exactly the same way. One just crashed into a car that pulled out from an intersection. What is really interesting is that this guy was riding with another man. The other man was in front and successfully avoided the car. Hmm, the first guy did fine while the second guy, who had more time, hit the car. Despite the crash, he swears he doesn't need any training despite my urgings.
Will, on the other hand, takes refresher training courses very other year or so. Not just for the physical skills, but also to sharpen his mental strategies. Will realizes that drivers do make mistakes. He agrees with Tom about most people being blind and brain dead. Where Will goes farther, though, is that he realizes it is his responsibility to take care of himself. Will has good visual skills and is acutely aware of what is happening around him. He finds possible trouble early and makes small adjustments to avoid it. When a driver does make a mistake, it literally is "no big deal". Will is ready.
Level 1 skills versus Level 2. One year's experience repeated over and over versus a rider who has truly gained progressive experience.
With that in mind, let's use my experience with the woman in the gold Prius to illustrate the difference. The woman made the mistake. At some point she was literally driving blind while making a lane change. If she had crashed into me it would have been her fault. Pure and simple. Or maybe not. Fault is a pretty big word. Does it always fall exclusively to one party?
Somebody made a comment on this blog quite a while ago about making yourself unhittable. I'm sorry I can't remember exactly and don't want to take the time to hunt it down. That statement, however is worth its weight in gold. Thank you for sharing it. Whomever it was! Without having used those exact same words, I ride with that idea as my guiding beacon.
Motorists do change lanes into other cars and big trucks. Little wonder that they do the same to motorcycles. I want to take a second to make one thing perfectly clear. What will happen if a driver changes lanes into a motorcycle?
They will violate your space. My God! That sounds so sanitary, doesn't it? They will violate your space. I'll tell you what will really happen. Things are going to get really ugly really quickly. That big vehicle is going to knock our ass off the motorcycle. We and the motorcycle are going to suffer from the impact of the car. Not to mention meeting that Super Cheese Grater a.k.a. the roadway. Imagine a block long grater. Now run a piece of meat over it at 50 mph. Make you kind of sick? I hope so. This is a situation that is TO BE AVOIDED AT ALL COST!
So listen up. Or read up, as the case may be. Take a look at this snapshot. ( Isn't that the escape word for a photographer? )
Yeah, it's a picture taken in my truck mirror. Not much to see. A car right behind me. One farther back. Some empty pavement. A few other things. I didn't take the photo to show anything at all. What I care about is what you don't see in the mirror. Take a look.
Again, this is an illustrative snapshot! Although I did spot meter on the pavement so that Elvira'a lights didn't trick the camera into underexposing the shot. No, I didn't have a graduated ND filter to take care of the sky. I did, however, cleverly include myself in the photo if you look at the trim ring around the truck's headlight. Elvira's lights are illuminated and I have the four way flashers activated. The bike was in the exact same spot and state when I took the picture in the mirror. Amazingly, the bike never shows in the mirror. Nor does the headlight glare.
Here's another view of the bike in relationship to the truck.
That's a pretty typical distance. Two lane freeway. Bike in the right third of its lane and passing by the truck. This could just as easily happen on the right side of the truck. In my riding I'm usually the one in the faster lane. As you can see, this is only a small S-10 pickup. The larger the vehicle, the larger the blind spot. I read somewhere once that researchers hid 14 motorcycles in the blind spots of a large tractor-trailer rig. Wow!
So drivers are literally driving blind at times. Yes, I know. That's what a head check is for. Drivers are responsible to check their blind spots before they change lanes. Hey, nobody could agree more! There's a lot of crap drivers are supposed to do. Like use their turn signals. It just don't happen like it should, sorry to say.
Here's the crux of the matter. We all know that cars and trucks have blind spots. Do we actually ride like we know that? Do we want to put our lives on the line by trusting that drivers will do the right things? Will we hurt less knowing it's somebody else's fault? Hold that thought a minute while you look at this.
Again, I put myself in the snapshot. It's an ego thing. I stuck long suffering Katie in the truck's driver's seat and sat on the bike. I wanted the mirror and my reflection to reinforce that. You can see Katie's hand on the steering wheel and just a bit of her hand in the truck mirror. What you can't see is any of Katie's pretty face or her eyes in the truck mirror. If I can't see her eyes in the mirror, then I know she can't see me in the mirror, either.
Basic stuff? Let me challenge everyone. How many times do we just sort of hang about in a driver's blind spot? Even further, how many times do we actually watch the mirrors and realize we're even in a blind spot? You don't have to answer here and put yourself on the spot. That's not the objective of this exercise. The objective is to raise awareness.
The Prius lady I encountered? I knew full well I was in her blind spot and rode accordingly. In this case she was to my left. Traffic in my lane had been moving briskly and it looked like I would pass her fairly quickly. Then the cars ahead of me started to slow as we were rounding a weirdly banked curve. Realizing I wasn't going to get out of her blind spot to the front, I started to back off a bit. I increased my following distance behind the car ahead of me. All the while I was watching her body language and her front tire. Just as I was clearing her blind spot to the rear, she started over. Now I was in a place where she could see me better. I know she did eventually see the bike because she corrected back into her lane. The encounter gave her a scare but not me. I recognized the blind spot and got out of it. Even if she had come all the way over, she'd have cleared the front of my bike. Because I had already adjusted for the possibility.
In other words, I made myself unhittable.
I was going to leave it here but I recognized another application of this on the freeway today. I was riding where there were three lanes. Elvira was in the fast lane. Honestly, I was only the passenger when she chose to move quickly. There were a couple of trucks in the far right lane. Having passed some slower traffic in the middle lane, I was ready to move back into the middle lane myself. I found myself waiting a bit to make the move. Blind spots cover more than one lane. Rather than change lanes and have one of the trucks decide to move to that lane at the same time, I waited until I was well ahead of the trucks before I proceeded. Just to ensure that everyone could see me when I executed the move.
This blind spot stuff seems pretty basic. The key is to actively incorporate what we know in our heads into our everyday riding. Complacency is always ready to dull our senses. You might say complacency blinds us. It's our responsibility to make ourselves unhittable. There are a lot of areas to master. Being aware of blind spots and staying out of them is only one of many things. Our progress in applying these mental skills determines if we are like Tom or Will in our riding.
As to my final advice here: We all know we look good! Quit admiring ourselves in storefront windows and start watching mirrors!
Miles and smiles,
Note: Tom and Will are not meant to be portrayed as real individuals. They are based upon composites. The situation with two riders at the same place of employment is based upon my real experience with a co-worker who rode a motorcycle to work. This guy eventually gave up riding.