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Passengers Are NOT Helpless
Should something happen to the rider

By: James R. Davis

The general impression amongst motorcyclists is that a passenger would be totally helpless when it comes to controlling the motorcycle should something happen to the rider. Nonsense!

An accident occurred in Ohio, I believe, some years ago where a deer attempted to jump over a motorcycle from the side and hit the rider, knocking him completely off the bike. The man's wife was a passenger at the time and she managed to take control of the bike and get it off to the side of the road and slowed it down so greatly that it simply fell over (into the grass.)

Well, you argue, since there was no rider in front of her she was able to reach the controls.

In fact, even if the rider was still there having, for example, simply collapsed from a heart attack, the passenger can almost always still gain control of the motorcycle.

Two controls that the passenger usually cannot reach are the gear shift lever and the rear brake, but the three that he/she CAN reach are the clutch lever, the throttle, and the front brake. (And, not incidentally, the engine cutoff switch.) Thus, the passenger can steer the bike as well as control its speed.

Even with a rider backrest, a passenger can stand on his/her pegs and lean over the rider to gain control of the bike. Cash and I have practiced this maneuver and demonstrated it to several motorcycle groups at rallies and other gatherings.

It does not take a rider (or anyone at all on the bike) to balance a motorcycle moving at any reasonable speed. Because of trail there is an automatic attempt by all motorcycles to get vertical and steer in a straight line. In other words, though there will likely be some wild gyrations of the bike as it finds its way to a stable posture, there is TIME available to the passenger to get control of that bike.

First order of business is to slow it down. Second order of business is to steer it to as safe a place as possible before it falls over, because fall over it will.

Before it falls over that engine cutoff switch should be turned off.

The passenger is certainly not helpless. Perhaps it would be a good thing to let him/her know it and even practice (at a dead stop, engine off, on the side stand) assuming control, no?

Following is a picture of Cash and myself using my GoldWing in a Co-Rider Safety Demo showing her taking control of my bike even though I was still in the rider's saddle and there is a backrest between us. Note that she was not standing nearly as tall as she could have should she have needed to because I was not as far out of the way as I was in the demo.

[Need I add that this is another reason why a person who prefers being a passenger and never intends to ride a bike by themselves should be encouraged to attend the MSF?]Please note that if she lays on the rider she tends to keep him on the bike. A good thing if traveling at 70 MPH, no?

For those of you who believe that the incident of a deer taking out the rider was an exaggeration, here is a story posted by the AP on June 5, 2013:

COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS, Utah (AP) - Authorities say a Utah deer was mortally wounded after she mounted a moving sport bike during rush hour.

Cottonwood Heights Police Sgt. Scott Peck says the doe dashed into traffic about 7:30 a.m. Tuesday and leaped onto the motorcycle.

Peck says the 19-year-old rider was knocked off and slid about 100 yards, while the bike kept going for about 300 yards.

The deer was disemboweled by the impact, fell from the motorcycle almost instantly and later succumbed to her injuries.

Police say the rider was wearing protective gear and appeared to suffer little more than road rash.

Officers say they see about 50 deer-related accidents a year in Cottonwood Heights as the animals migrate through nearby mountains. But Peck said a deer mounting a bike was "kind of a first."

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

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