Riding Safety Tip- Reading the Body Language of Traffic

Riding Safety Tip- Reading the Body Language of Traffic
Try to be seen

Here are some tips to be able to read the body language of vehicles and traffic patterns.

Each lane has 3 positions. Left, center and right. Ideally a rider wants to be in the portion of a lane where he/she can be seen by other vehicles. However, when possible, riders also need to be able to predict or see what those vehicles intentions are. How do we do that? By studying the body language of drivers and their vehicles.

Often times, a driver will make some sort of gesture to indicate a lane change. Unfortunately, it is not always a turn signal. It could be anything from a small shoulder movement to a glance in the mirror. Once you start to observe these gestures or motions, you will have more time to prepare.

I find that when riding behind and in line with the driver’s side bumper, I get some valuable information in advance. In that lane position, I am able to see the driver’s side mirror, rear view mirror and any head, arm or shoulder movements. I am not suggesting this is the best lane position, just one I use often. The most common thing I am seeing currently, is drivers looking down and texting while driving. We want to get away from those drivers as soon as possible. These observations can be very valuable when lane sharing, (also referred to as lane splitting or filtering), which is allowed in California, and tolerated in a few other states. However, this is not the only information we are scanning for, we are also looking out 10-15 seconds down the road to help predict the traffic pattern. If traffic slows ahead we know that the vehicles near us will start to shift in response to that. We are scanning for road construction, accidents, traffic signals, etc.

Here is a good exercise to practice in order to get you to scan more aggressively. Try to not rely on using your brakes unless you really need to. Instead use your gear selection and smooth throttle modulation to regulate your speed. This will force you to gather as much information as you can in advance in order to maintain a smooth ride. For new riders this will also help you with gear selection choices. Again, this is just a suggested drill, I am not suggesting that this should completely replace braking.

Defensive riding is just another strong tool to have in the kit, and should be practiced daily.


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  • If we assume for the moment that the rider is well trained, skilled and careful, visibility is the next big issue. Since 2007 I have equipped all my bikes with DemonLite modulators (for headlights and taillights). They are street legal and make a huge difference in conspicuity. I have ridden other bikes lately that do not have them and the difference is dramatic to the rider. I recommend them to all the riders I know.

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