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Ask Our Lawyer - November 2001

Author's note - I came across the following letter the other day and wanted to share it with you. Feel free to share it with your four-wheeled friends. Rod.

You Nearly Killed Me!
reprinted with permission from Tom Macom

Dear fellow Motorist,

I wonder if you realize how close you came to injuring or killing me today. You seemed completely unaware that you began to move into my lane when only half of your car had passed me. If I had glanced at my mirror at that second I probably wouldn't have been able to brake fast enough to keep you from hitting my front tire and throwing me off my motorcycle. I apologize for slapping your window and lecturing you. It probably seemed to you that some crazy biker was trying to terrorize you. I'm sure you're a nice lady and wouldn't want to hurt anybody, but
your inattention nearly caused a collision that would have been a mere fender bender for your Mercedes Benz, but could have caused me to be killed and that made me angry.

Perhaps you are not completely to blame. As cars get smoother, more comfortable, and easier to drive, as they get quieter inside and come equipped with high?power, nine?speaker, surround?sound stereos, as more distractions like cell phones and laptop computers become available for you to use while driving, it's easy to forget that you are hurling two tons of steel and plastic down the road. Inside that nice new car of yours, you have air bags, seat belts and anti?lock brakes to keep you safe and since you surely have at least the minimum required insurance, a collision with a 600?pound motorcycle just isn't very threatening to you, but it is life threatening to me.

I ride a motorcycle nearly everyday, year round, because I love the feeling of being in the open air, feeling the temperature changes and the bugs splatter on me, and of course the sunshine and wind on my face. I love the feel of leaning to steer and accelerating out of a curve. I love it so much that I not only ride to work everyday, I ride for fun on the weekends. I'm very aware of the dangers and I have decided that to me, the risk is an acceptable trade off.

And you must understand that regardless of how you feel about motorcycles, they are legal vehicles and are permitted to use the roadways. Regardless of your feelings about "bikers," I am a human being and deserve the same consideration that you wish to receive from others. And if
accidentally kill me because you weren't paying close enough attention or didn't see me, you will have to live with the fact that you caused another human being to die. I can't believe you would want that to happen, so let me try to help you understand what I must do to minimize the danger of riding and how you can help me stay out from under your wheels and not come crashing through your windshield to die in your front seat.

First, you have to understand that the natural at?rest position of a motorcycle is on it's side. In order to keep it upright, I have to balance it. When I get it up to 35 mph or so, natural forces help me to keep it upright, that is as long as the surface I'm riding on remains pretty consistent. But on patched roadways, or worse yet those under construction, there are lots of hazards that can upset that natural balance. Raised surfaces, such as the edge of a patch that your car bumps over easily can drop a motorcycle in a second if not crossed over properly. Loose surface gravel and curves that are sloped in the wrong direction all pose potential hazards if I don't ride carefully and give myself enough space to react. I swear sometimes it seems like the highway department is trying to do me in. But I hope that they, like you, just don't understand that the dynamics of a motorcycle is different from that of a four? wheeled vehicle. With practice and concentration, I've learned how to keep the shiny side of the motorcycle facing up, as long as you grant me a few courtesies.

If I leave slightly more than a car length between me and the vehicle I'm following, it's so I have enough time to react to the piece of truck tire that's lying in the roadway. It's not an invitation for you to slip into the space while you're trying to leapfrog through heavy traffic. That forces me to drop back and open another gap that someone else will leapfrog into. And since I don't tailgate you, extend the same courtesy to me. If you need to look down to change the temperature on your climate control, you need to have enough time to avoid hitting me if traffic suddenly slows.

When you see a small gap in the middle of a group of motorcycles, don't maneuver quickly into the gap. It's common for motorcycles to travel in groups, it's part of the fun. Needlessly splitting up the group is rude and dangerous.

These are common courtesies and safe driving practices for all vehicles and are particularly important to me as a motorcyclist. But in order for you to extend me these courtesies you have to be aware of my presence. I know that a motorcycle can easily hide in a blind spot so when I ride behind you in an adjacent lane, I always try to see your face in your rear view mirror That means that you can see me if you scan your mirrors regularly as they teach in any safe?driving class. I always ride with my headlamp on to make me more visible. My last line of defense is a rather loud exhaust system. You may find it annoying, but if it makes you notice that I'm traveling in a blind spot beside you, I consider it a safety device. I try not to annoy my neighbors with the noise, but I use it on the highway.

Some motorcyclists ride aggressively and faster than the flow of traffic. Passing other vehicles can be safer than being passed by them in some situations. Maybe the biker that roars past you is a sociopathic punk, or maybe he's trying to observe how you're driving and control the time that you are actually close enough to hit him. In either case, what can you gain by getting mad and returning the aggression?

Don't take offense if I ride between lanes and move to the front of a long line of stopped cars, especially on hot days. Without air moving over it, the air?cooled engine on my motorcycle will overheat and be damaged. Lane splitting is tricky and dangerous and I only do it when necessary but it is permitted by law in this state. Don't take it personally.

Notice me, but please don't stare at me as you drive beside me. Remember that you tend to steer in the direction that you are looking.

Let me have my lane.

You and I can share the road safely as long as you give your driving the attention it deserves and give me the same consideration that you would want from other drivers. In return, I'll try not to vent my anger at you when another, less?considerate driver does something that endangers me. And when we get to where we're going I can take a smaller parking spot designated for motorcycles and leave the big space for your luxury automobile.


A motorcyclist