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Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics

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Passing Without Lane Change
(10 MPH Can Kill You)

By: James R. Davis

When we pass a vehicle in a two-way environment we generally do so as fast as we prudently can - we want to get back in the lane quickly and we want to get out of harms way just as quickly.

But what about when we are on one-way roads? For example, we are in the fast lane on a freeway and we are passing cars continuously. Or, more ominously, we are not in the fast lane and there is a slowdown or severe traffic restriction (say at a congested off-ramp) in the lane next to us.

In the first example, if we are moving at normal traffic speeds - that is, if we are moving at about the same speed as other vehicles in our lane, then there should be a reasonably small speed difference between the bike and those vehicles we are passing. 10 - 15 MPH is pretty normal. Our biggest risk is that a vehicle we are about to pass decides to change lanes without noticing us - clearly we need to pay close attention.

In the second example the speed difference between our bike and the vehicles we are passing is usually much greater than in the first example. Further, many of the drivers of the vehicles we are passing do not want to be 'trapped' in the lane they are in and are looking for an opportunity to dart into our lane.

I suggest that any time you are moving faster than about 10 MPH over the speed of the vehicles you are passing you are at significant risk of not having enough time to react to and avoid potential accidents.

It simply is not worth any time you might gain to expose yourself to those kinds of situations intentionally.
  • If you are in the fast lane and it is traveling at a significantly faster speed than vehicles in the adjacent lane, get out of the fast lane - move right.

  • If you are in a lane adjacent to one that is restricted for any reason and, thus, you are traveling at a substantial speed differential - move left and away from that unnecessary danger.

Borrowing from one of our riding friends ... a bit of hydraulic or weather analogy seems very apt. If you are appropriately scanning the traffic in front of you as you are moving you will get a sense of 'pressure' or 'turbulence' near trouble spots such as described above and a sense of 'smoothness' or 'even flow' where you should strive to put your bike. I like that analogy a lot!

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

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