By August 12, 2010

Random Motorcycling Tip #18: Recovering From a Near Miss

I knew the car was going to be trouble as soon as I spotted it. I could see the left rear passenger window was covered by a sales sticker as the Toyota sedan sped up the highway on-ramp.

Great, I thought to myself, someone taking a test drive during rush hour.

The Toyota merged onto the lane next to me. I could see the driver chatting with the passenger, waving his right hand excitedly. The car was rapidly approaching the car in front of it, and I knew the Toyota driver wasn’t paying any attention.

I started doing all of the things I’ve written about before: I moved over to the left side of my lane, I put my finger on the horn, and I turned my head so that I could watch traffic in front of me as well as the Toyota to my side. I put the Spring Hypothesis to the test. Sure enough, the car started to come into my lane without signaling as soon as the driver perceived the car in front of him.

Beep-beep-beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!! my horn sounded. The car jerked right and swerved back into its original lane.

I kept my speed and moved ahead in traffic. I looked in my side mirror just in time to see the Toyota cut off an SUV behind me. The SUV flashed its lights and I heard another horn go off.

Even though I identified a source of danger, anticipated a dangerous situation, and reacted appropriately, I wasn’t out of the woods yet. Now I had to deal with my mind and body’s reaction to what happened.

Here’s how to deal with the emotional and physiological issues that come from surviving a near miss.

Calm down

Your heart may be racing, and you will most likely have adrenaline pumping through your veins. I try to get my heart rate and breathing down to normal as soon as possible. If you don’t, trying to sort out everything else is like trying to stop a stampede.

  1. I take a deep breath, and try to relax any stress in my shoulders, hands and thighs.
  2. Tell yourself to calm down.
  3. Analyze your body’s reaction to the event. Thinking about the cold, heavy feeling of adrenaline passing into your arms and legs gives me more control over my body. It’s a mental trick, and it keeps my mind from running away with the “flight or fight” hormone.
  4. I think about the things I did right, and try not to dwell on anything I did wrong or could have better.
  5. Congratulate yourself on not dying. Sometimes I say things out loud, most of the time it’s in my head.

Your first reaction might be to get angry, or to stay scared. Or worse yet, start at scared and ramp up to angry. This keeps your heart rate and blood pressure high, and worse yet may compel you to do something unsafe.

When I first started riding I would attempt to flee the area as soon as possible. If someone cut me off, I sounded the horn angrily with one long, sustained blast and then would speed up to get away. What I discovered is that riding like this may put you into another potentially dangerous spot.

If you ratchet up your speed, you might approach traffic too fast and have to adjust suddenly and less safely than if you just cruised on. Other motorists may not perceive your (much greater, by this point) speed and move in front of you, giving you another situation to deal with. You may weave in and out of traffic to “get away” only to wind up trying to change into the same lane as another car. Your fine motor skills may be hampered, so grabbing a fistful of brake or throttle could happen — both potentially bad things in the middle of rush hour.

When a near miss happens to you, try to stay relaxed and logical after the event. Break the situation down in your mind as quickly as possible so you can get over it and prepare for the next incident.

Good luck, and keep the shiny side up.

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