When a Rider’s Actions Make Matters Worse

The difference between a close call and a crash often points to the rider knowing the effect an action has on control. Unfortunately, a lot of motorcycle riders react incorrectly.

When faced with a life-threatening situation we will pull from our knowledge and experience to decide on a course of action. This means that the quality of your knowledge and experience directly affects whether you act correctly or not.

However, it’s important to note that avoiding an incident requires for you to also have sharp skills, well-developed habits and a keen sense of situational awareness to avoid being put into difficult situations in the first place. Without these important mental skills, you will continually find yourself experiencing close calls and poor outcomes.

Smart decisions prevent panic situations to occur in the first place.

Failure to Act

Excellent skills, effective habits and keen awareness still may not be enough. Even with these skills, it is likely that we will react to a life-threatening event with instinctual survival responses.

Human beings are hard wired to react to threats in a similar way our ancient ancestors did when faced with being eaten by a large predator. In this situation it was smart to freeze in our tracks to hopefully go undetected, and if that didn’t work we would run as fast as we could.

Motorcyclists who face a serious hazard often freeze. This can result in the rider acting too late, or not at all, does not lean the motorcycle further as needed to stay on the road when a corner tightens.

Incorrect Actions

After a moment of inaction often comes overreaction. A startled rider may overreact in a knee jerk manner by grabbing the brakes too hard or swerving in the wrong direction. Overreaction is often the root of many “I had to lay it down” scenarios. It’s common for panicked riders to stab the brakes when startled by a mid-corner problem, which can easily lead to a fall.

Oftentimes, there is no time to think. In this case, our mind does a split-second evaluation of the scene and signals the muscles and nerves to act. The action that occurs is not necessarily based on logic, and is surely not derived from thoughtful analysis about what is the best action to take.

Unfortunately, what the rushed and panicked brain concludes as a good idea is often a bad idea. Many riders who attempt to avoid a collision fail to execute the proper action. Often, a lack of mental foresight contributes to the poor outcome as your brain must use precious time to process the unusual event.

Target Fixation

It’s human nature for our eyes to fixate solidly on a hazard. This is called target fixation. Since we tend to go where we look, it is important to try to look for an escape, rather than at the threat.

Resisting the natural tendency to look at a threat is not easy. The trick is to condition yourself to look to the solution, not the problem. You do this by finding opportunities on every ride you take to train your eyes and mind to consciously look away from real or imaginary hazards

Panic braking can cause loss of control.

Panic Braking

One of the most common reactions when faced with the prospect of colliding with a car is to grab the brakes. While slowing down is usually a good idea, doing so by abruptly jabbing the brakes can lead to a skid and loss of stopping power and control.

A well-trained and practiced rider may be able to overcome the panic response and brake properly by applying the brakes fully without skidding. But, most motorcycle riders on the road are not that adept at emergency braking, because they don’t practice. This is why anti-lock braking systems are a good idea.

Read How Not to Suck at Braking

A lot of crashes that are the result of over braking occur in corners. This is because available traction is being shared between cornering and braking forces. It’s important to note that most ABS systems do not prevent a skid when cornering. However, bikes with the latest IMU technology take lean angle into account and is able to arrest a skid caused by overbraking while leaned.

Cornering panic is a very common crash scenario.

Cornering Panic

Cornering is one of the most challenging aspects of motorcycling. The act of leaning a heavy machine into a turn is something that challenges most people’s trust in physics. As humans, we are only comfortable leaning about 20 degrees. This comes from our built-in sense of safety.

Regrettably, many riders fail to fully train their brain to accept more extreme lean angles. These riders run off the road when a corner tightens more than expected, because they cannot force themselves to achieve the required angle of lean. Instead, they freeze and run off the road, or grab the brakes and skid to a fall.

Read How to Not Suck at Cornering

Swerving into Trouble

Swerving is a very useful maneuver for avoiding a collision. Unfortunately, well-executed swerves are not terribly easy to do, especially for new or untrained riders, because swerving requires the rider to act with confidence and authority.

Because swerving is an advanced skill that few riders are proficient at and because there is a great potential for error, it is often better to try and slow or stop before the hazard. It’s important to remember that swerving and braking don’t mix well.

Situational awareness is a key skill to master.

Expect the Unexpected

The best outcomes occur when the rider predicts that action is required before it becomes urgent. A rider who fails to predict that a car may turn left across his or her path at an intersection is at greater risk of having inadequate time to react appropriately to the situation.

In contrast, the rider who is continually on the lookout for the possibility of this scenario is already mentally and physically prepared and is more likely to act skillfully, and is less likely to act in a way that makes matters worse.

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The Lane Splitting Debate

Lane-Split-introA recent study by the California Office of Traffic Safety reports what many motorcyclists already know; that lane splitting is (or, can be) “safer” than sitting in stopped traffic. This means being less prone to serious injury.

To enjoy the safer status, riders must only split lanes when traffic is moving at 30mph or less and when the rider travels no faster than 10 mph more than surrounding traffic.

The study also confirms another suspicion that lane splitting benefits all road users by reducing the number of vehicles adding to traffic congestion. Yeah, us!

What is Lane Splitting?

For those of you who aren’t motorcycle riders or who live in one of the 49 states that don’t allow lane splitting, you may not know what lane splitting is. As the moniker suggests, lane splitting is when a motorcycle rider rides between two lines of cars heading in the same direction, like when riding on a multi-lane highway.


As of March 2022

  • California is the only state in America to make lane splitting legal officially.
  • Representative Noel Campbell of Arizona introduced House Bill 2285 that aims to restart talks about legalizing lane splitting in Arizona. Discussions are still underway, but people expect this motion to pass this time.
  • Though lane splitting is technically not legal because Hawaii, “shoulder surfing is allowed when there is traffic congestion.
  • Senate Bill 629 was recently introduced in Connecticut, and lawmakers are currently discussing legalizing lane splitting and filtering.
  • In Oregon, a proposition to make lane splitting legal, has been introduced to the Speaker’s desk and is currently in discussion.
  • Senate Bill was reintroduced and is still pending approval in Washington.
  • A bill has been referred to the Virginia Committee on Transportation and awaiting approval.


Riders split lanes on the highway when traffic slows. But, they also split lanes as they filter to the front of stopped traffic at a stop light. This is common practice in many parts of the world, but will get you a ticket in most of the US.

Lane splitting will more likely be tolerated if it is done with respect.
Lane splitting will more likely be tolerated if it is done with respect.

The Good

Filtering through traffic, whether on a multi-lane highway or local arterial means there are fewer vehicles clogging up the works and if done at low speed, is relatively safe for the motorcycle rider if done correctly.

The primary reason for motorcyclists to consider lane splitting is that it puts the rider in a less vulnerable position. Being rear-ended by a four-wheeler is a sure-fire way to end up in a hospital bed and that’s not even talking about the possibility of being sandwiched between two cars!

The Bad

However, lane splitting has a totally bad rap because some riders do it wrong. Proper lane splitting is done at a speed no faster than 10mph beyond the travel speed of surrounding traffic. Unfortunately, some riders zip between cars in a way that is dangerous and scares the hell of those they pass.

This unwelcome behavior can incite resentment from drivers and further reflect badly on all motorcycle riders, even those who split lanes safely. Some irate drivers have been known to close the gap as the rider attempts to squeeze past.

Exercise patience.

Safe? Really?

Here is the rub. Even though the study confirms (through statistics) that lane splitting reduces instances of cars colliding with a motorcycle, it also says that there is an increase of motorcycle riders rear-ending other vehicles.

This is where the speed factor comes in. It doesn’t take a government study to know that ripping between slow moving cars is a bad idea.  The study clearly states that the safety benefit applies only to riders who lane split at 10mph or lower.

The study confirms another seemingly obvious assumption; that it’s not safe to split lanes when traffic is traveling above 30mph, so ride slowly as you filter, please!

Even with the study, a lot of riders I know still do not think it is a good idea. I suspect it’s because they have never done it and they can’t imagine drivers in their state tolerating a maneuver that has always been considered illegal and irresponsible. Just for reference, lane splitting in other parts of the world is not only tolerated, but expected.

Check out this PSA from Australia in favor of lane splitting.


Check out a video from Ride Apart about Lane Splitting:

Lane Splitting Tips

Make sure your luggage can fit between vehicles.
Make sure your luggage and mirrors can fit between vehicles.

What follows are tips from my perspective. I may be a reasonably intelligent motorcyclist, but I have little experience splitting lanes. Last year, the CHP put out a guideline for motorcyclists, but it was taken down after someone complained, so that resource is not available. Which means I could use some help from my Cali-friends. Use the comments section below to add your thoughts.

For those of you not riding in California, you may want to keep these tips filed away for the day when lane splitting is made legal in your state (don’t hold your breath, though). In the meantime, consider writing your lawmakers to encourage pro lane splitting legislation.

  1. Lane split only when traffic is moving at 30mph or less.
  2. Set your speed at or under 10mph faster than traffic.
  3. Be patient! Lane splitting should be thought of as a privilege and be respectful.
  4. Resist frightening drivers by keeping your speed down. You wouldn’t want to trigger road rage. You’ll lose.
  5. Know your bike’s limits. Those wide hard bags and mirrors you love so much will cause a serious problem if you try to squeeze into a too narrow gap between two vehicles. If in doubt, wait until there is enough room to proceed.
  6. Avoid blind spots. Lane splitting means you will be riding close to vehicles’ fenders and in drivers’ blind spots. By filtering forward at 10mph faster than surrounding cars, you will ride THROUGH blind spots, which is good, but be aware of the danger of lingering in a blind spots when you have to slow.
  7. Be extra careful when riding near large trucks and RVs.
  8. Keep an eye out for cars changing lanes. Seeing an opening in traffic should put you on full alert for cars moving across your path. Also, be aware of approaching exits where drivers may suddenly change lanes.
  9. Cover your brakes.
  10. Watch your mirrors for other lane splitting riders. Move over for riders splitting faster than you.
  11. Be courteous to slower lane splitting riders. Don’t tailgate your fellow riders.
  12. Move back into a lane once traffic begins to match your filtering speed. Remaining in between lanes with other vehicles moving at the same speed is asking for trouble. Rejoin traffic when possible.
  13. Keep your eyes scanning well ahead.

Okay. It’s your turn. Please use the comments area below to share your thoughts on lane splitting.

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