By June 21, 2010

Random Motorcycling Tip #16: Avoid Being Rear-Ended

One of the most feared motorcycle vs car accidents is being rear-ended at a stop. I am not sure how often this actually happens, but every time I read about an incident like this or see pictures it makes my gut turn. The scenario goes something like this:

A motorcyclist is stopped at a sign or traffic light. A motorist isn’t paying attention and slams into the back of the motorcyclist. The offender is usually in a car, but I read about someone being hit by another motorcyclist. The photos were ugly.

Here’s how to do the best you can to avoid being rear-ended at a stop.
A Honda Magna meets its end sandwiched between a Pontiac and a Chevy truck in 2009. The rider was thrown into the truck and escaped injury.

Quick summary

You can skip to the tips if you have don’t have time to read all this stuff. I recommend you read everything, but this is a good start to protecting yourself. Skip to the “I don’t want to die” part.

The gory details

There are many things about being rear-ended on a bike that make it worse than being hit in a car, but let’s recap the biggest things here:

  • Cars (especially trucks) can hit the back of a bike and then ride on top of the rear tire and strike the motorcyclist. I have seen photos of cars parked on top of bikes, right where the rider sits.
  • If the car doesn’t stop on top of a motorcycle, it can knock the bike over, pinning the motorcyclist underneath with a burning hot engine and possible gas spill.
  • If a motorcyclist manages to avoid becoming a carbon-based parking lot and keeps the bike upright, they may suffer severe neck and back injury from the collision. There are no airbags and no lumbar supports on my bike.
  • Even if they manage to survive all of that stuff, a motorcyclist may be pushed into, and often under, the vehicle in front of them. This one is so much “fun” that it could happen in combination to the other possibilities.

Here’s what you can do.

  1. Leave room between you and the car in front of you. I like to stop so that I can fully see the tires of the vehicle in front of me, plus a foot or two depending on the time of day. If you are first in line, leave enough room for you to move forward about four feet. This is important as you read on.
  2. Keep an eye on your rear view mirror. I also recommend doing the Ackbar during this period in case the light turns green or you can move from your stop sign.
  3. Leave the bike in gear. This allows you to move forward in case the car behind you doesn’t stop in time. This is one of the reasons you need to leave room between yourself and whatever is in front of you.
  4. Move forward if you feel unsafe. Roll forward if you sense that the car is going too fast, if the driver isn’t paying attention, you notice they are eating a Frosty from Wendy’s while juggling their mobile phone and a jumbo pretzel, or if you just feel uncomfortable. Here’s the best part: no one will notice if you’re wrong and the car stops in time. At the very “worst,” it looks like you scooted up a bit for the car behind you. “Mommy, isn’t that a nice motorcyclist making room for us?” “What motorcyclist, Lil’ Betty? Did you feel that bump? Pass Mommy her Double Gulp Diet Coke.”

I usually do all of the above until at least one car has pulled up to a complete stop behind me. If they are close behind me, I scoot forward a little (in case they get rear-ended) and then keep the bike in gear. Better safe than sorry.

In short, give yourself room and the opportunity to move out of the way of trouble. If you really have to, ride forward and out of the situation entirely. A friend of mine has run a light to avoid being rear-ended, and another fellow rider has skittered out in front of the parked car in the next lane.

Stay vigilant, and keep the shiny side up.

Posted in: motorcycling

5 Comments on "Random Motorcycling Tip #16: Avoid Being Rear-Ended"

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  1. Brice says:

    One more tip, keep the bike to one side of the lane. Not out of the traffic, but with enough room to move between the vehicle in front of you and whatever might be next to them. That way you can escape all the way out of the zone. There was no way could leave enough room in front of that Magna to escape that red car without leaving the line of traffic.

    Always have an escape route.

  2. Andrew says:

    What Brice said.

    I tend to swerve a little just as I’m coming to a stop behind another car. Then I split my attention between the road ahead and my rear-view mirror. I pump my brakes when I see a car approaching – my used bike came with some kind of aftermarket doodad with flashing red LEDs under my main brake light, which I really kind of like. But if I don’t think the car behind me is going to stop, I want to be able to goose my bike out of its way. Chicago has bike lanes on most streets, so I can dodge into those. There’s also turning lanes and painted medians. Heck, if I have to, I’ll take my chances jumping a curb if I think it’ll save my life – certainly do-able on my dual-purpose BMW.

  3. DrFaulken says:

    Good advice from both of you. I forgot to mention applying the brakes to signal incoming cars, which I do. I also have a brake light modulator.

    I didn’t think about angling my bike in between the lanes for a full escape route. I am glad you mentioned it, and I will definitely start doing this.

  4. Andrew says:

    I feel safer pointing myself at the best escape route. And I’ve never yet had a car driver express any upset at me for leaving 4-5′ of space between me and the car in front of me.

  5. Dan Brusca says:

    Ouch, that photo looks ugly. Especially when you notice the girl crying in the bottom right corner. Thanks for the advice…