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Right And Left Turns
Different risks, different realities

By: James R. Davis

If all you had to do was ride in a straight line, almost anybody could handle a motorcycle. But in the real world we have to negotiate turns with our bikes. While it is convenient to think otherwise, it is simply not accurate to believe that making a right turn is exactly the same as making a left one except for direction. There really are different risks and realities involved.

For example, in all countries where we ride on the right side of the road, right turns are sharper than left turns, while the reverse is true in the other countries. (This article will focus on the US road model.)

That means that right turns are harder to negotiate than left turns at any given speed. It also means that in addition to being harder to negotiate, if you mismanage the turn and go wide, you will find yourself in a lane of traffic that is running in the opposite direction. In a left turn situation that you mismanage you will find yourself off the road entirely.

Which is more dangerous is largely a function of chance.

If, for example, there are no oncoming cars when you mismanage a right turn, at least you remain on pavement and have the chance of recovering from going wide, but any oncoming cars present you with a head-on collision as an alternative.

Running off the road in a mismanaged left turn may not be worse than taking a tumble, but it could very well involve falling off a mountain.

While making right turns involves greater lean angles at any particular speed than a corresponding left turn, there is usually MORE TRACTION available in a right turn than when turning to the left. This, because most roads are crowned. Thus, while turning to the right the road is cambered into the turn while turning left it is cambered away from the turn.

Left turns effectively provide you a narrower lane for use by your motorcycle. That is, because you must lean a motorcycle in order to make a turn, you cannot ride as far to the left within your lane when making a left turn as you might like without dragging your head or left grip across the center line and into the path of oncoming traffic. Unless there is a retaining wall involved, motorcycles can use their entire lane width when making right turns.

Making a right turn at an intersection is FAR LESS dangerous than making a left turn at that intersection. The most obvious reason being, of course, that you do not have to cross the path of any oncoming traffic to do so. (As an aside, a pedestrian crossing the street at an intersection is FAR LESS at risk if he keeps the center of the intersection to his right rather than to his left because immediate danger comes only from his left and less immediate danger comes from easily visible sources.)

Turning left has two other dangers that are not present when making right turns: (1) The possibility that your side stand is down and, because most road surfaces are crowned, (2) you cannot lean a bike as far in a left turn as you can in a right turn without dragging some part of the motorcycle against the pavement.

One final thought: If you make a left turn across an oncoming traffic lane your danger is not restricted solely to that oncoming traffic. Before you actually make your left turn you must do a head check to the left to insure that someone is not trying to pass you on the left! If you are struck by that passing vehicle YOU ARE TO BLAME as you have performed an unsafe lane change!!!!

Copyright © 1992 - 2024 by The Master Strategy Group, all rights reserved.

(James R. Davis is a recognized expert witness in the fields of Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics.)

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