The Contact Patch
by Todd Vosper
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Check Six... Really!
I consider myself a pretty safe rider; I wear full armor even on short errands, try hard to
remain conspicuous and take advantage of proper lane positioning, and try to keep track
of all my threats using a good scan and mirrors. I'm not saying I'm perfect mind you, I
make plenty of mistakes but try to learn from them as much as possible.
The other day I was commuting to work and passing over the San Diego – Coronado
bridge. For those of you not familiar, the bridge is about 2 miles long, makes a nearly 90
degree turn as it rises to 200' over San Diego bay before returning to Earth. It's 5 lanes
with a movable divider and on this particular morning I was on the side with two lanes. I
started in the number 1 lane (nearest the divider) and there was little traffic, though at 65
mph I was closing fairly fast on some slower traffic ahead. I was nearing the top of the
bridge and had been checking my mirrors fairly regularly and didn't have any traffic
around me – or so I thought. As I started to change lanes I happened to check my mirror
one last time to find a late model Dodge Charger only seconds behind me and coming
fast... and I mean fast. I had enough time to swerve back to the number one lane as he
sped past; I'm no policeman but I would estimate 80 mph or more. What happened??
I made three big mistakes that morning that almost cost me dearly. The first was not using
my turn signal. I was sure no one else was around me (see mistake number 2) and
thought I would simply swing around the slower traffic. Had I signaled properly, the
Charger driver would have seen me (hopefully) and had more time to make his own
The second mistake was being complacent. I thought I had good situational awareness
and let my guard down. Not good. Although I had been checking the mirrors, I let my
rearward scan lapse based on my assessment that no traffic was near me. I also didn't
properly account for the curve of the bridge and the possibility of faster traffic, both of
which gave me a false sense of security. Although I had checked my mirrors, the Charger
was out of my field of view due to the curve of the road. And since he was significantly
faster than the other bridge traffic, I wasn't expecting someone to be gaining so rapidly.
Finally, I started to make my move without clearing my path first. Luckily for me, I at least
took the time to check the mirror as I began my lane change.
Lessons learned? First of all, turn signals are easy. Use them. I have older kids who drive
and they were sick of me telling them to “be predictable”. One of the ways we are
predictable is to use our signals. 'Nuff said.
Second, never EVER get complacent. This was just as important flying Harriers as it is
riding motorcycles, but unlike other rider errors, complacency becomes more and more of
a threat as you gain experience and comfort on two wheels. Always anticipate faster traffic
behind you and don't fail to account for blind corners, curves, large trucks, etc. which may
block potential threats during your mirror checks. I wish I could remember the proper
name, but I read an article a couple of years ago regarding British safety courses. The
article listed the “school solution” procedures for making a lane change and of course a
mirror check was included. But what struck me was the emphasis on one final visual check
– they called it something like “the life saver”. Seemed redundant to me at the time – the
whole procedure was extensive to start with - but easy to see now why that last second
check could be important.
Lastly, don't move your motorcycle in traffic without knowing exactly what you are moving
into – I wasn't saving any time by checking my mirror during the lane change – you could
argue I was unduly distracting myself from the task at hand too.
Bottom line, staying safe requires constant vigilance and attention. Don't let your guard
down even when you think you are alone on the road. And don't forget to Check Six!