Check Six… Really!

by Todd Vosper

I consider myself a pretty safe rider; I wear full armor even on short errands, try hard to remain conspicuous and take advantage of proper lane positioning, and try to keep track of all my threats using a good scan and mirrors. I’m not saying I’m perfect mind you, I make plenty of mistakes but try to learn from them as much as possible.

The other day I was commuting to work and passing over the San Diego – Coronado bridge. For those of you not familiar, the bridge is about 2 miles long, makes a nearly 90 degree turn as it rises to 200′ over San Diego bay before returning to Earth. It’s 5 lanes with a movable divider and on this particular morning I was on the side with two lanes. I started in the number 1 lane (nearest the divider) and there was little traffic, though at 65 mph I was closing fairly fast on some slower traffic ahead. I was nearing the top of the bridge and had been checking my mirrors fairly regularly and didn’t have any traffic around me – or so I thought. As I started to change lanes I happened to check my mirror one last time to find a late model Dodge Charger only seconds behind me and coming fast… and I mean fast. I had enough time to swerve back to the number one lane as he sped past; I’m no policeman but I would estimate 80 mph or more. What happened??

I made three big mistakes that morning that almost cost me dearly. The first was not using my turn signal. I was sure no one else was around me (see mistake number 2) and thought I would simply swing around the slower traffic. Had I signaled properly, the Charger driver would have seen me (hopefully) and had more time to make his own corrections.

The second mistake was being complacent. I thought I had good situational awareness and let my guard down. Not good. Although I had been checking the mirrors, I let my rearward scan lapse based on my assessment that no traffic was near me. I also didn’t properly account for the curve of the bridge and the possibility of faster traffic, both of which gave me a false sense of security. Although I had checked my mirrors, the Charger was out of my field of view due to the curve of the road. And since he was significantly faster than the other bridge traffic, I wasn’t expecting someone to be gaining so rapidly.

Finally, I started to make my move without clearing my path first. Luckily for me, I at least took the time to check the mirror as I began my lane change.

Lessons learned? First of all, turn signals are easy. Use them. I have older kids who drive and they were sick of me telling them to “be predictable”. One of the ways we are predictable is to use our signals. ‘Nuff said.

Second, never EVER get complacent. This was just as important flying Harriers as it is riding motorcycles, but unlike other rider errors, complacency becomes more and more of a threat as you gain experience and comfort on two wheels. Always anticipate faster traffic behind you and don’t fail to account for blind corners, curves, large trucks, etc. which may block potential threats during your mirror checks. I wish I could remember the proper name, but I read an article a couple of years ago regarding British safety courses. The article listed the “school solution” procedures for making a lane change and of course a mirror check was included. But what struck me was the emphasis on one final visual check – they called it something like “the life saver”. Seemed redundant to me at the time – the whole procedure was extensive to start with – but easy to see now why that last second check could be important.

Lastly, don’t move your motorcycle in traffic without knowing exactly what you are moving into – I wasn’t saving any time by checking my mirror during the lane change – you could argue I was unduly distracting myself from the task at hand too.

Bottom line, staying safe requires constant vigilance and attention. Don’t let your guard down even when you think you are alone on the road. And don’t forget to Check Six!