Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Fatal Traffic Crash - Highway 101

Less than eight hours ago a man lost control of his motorcycle and slid underneath a pickup traveling in the opposite direction. He died at the scene.

The 55-year old rider from Seattle, Washington was southbound on a 2007 Harley Davidson, entering a sharp right curve. He lost control and slid into the northbound lane, smashing under a 2000 Toyota pickup. The 62-year old driver of the pickup tried to steer right to avoid the collision, coming to a stop straddling the fog line on the northbound shoulder of the highway. He suffered minor injury.

The motorcyclist was wearing a protective helmet.

Lessons Learned

Middle of the afternoon, no mention of weather conditions, no mention of traffic or road conditions...we are left with only two reasonable causes for this crash:

  • Distraction

  • Speed

  • Something caused the rider to take his eyes off his line of travel. Or he was traveling too fast for the curve.

    First, the issue of distraction.

    Surrounded by scenery, especially that of our beautiful coastline, riding our wonderful, twisty Highway 101, it's oh-so-easy to take your eyes off the road. On a motorcycle, it only takes a brief moment to crash if you're not looking where you want to go.

    A motorcycle goes where your head is pointed and our eyes are looking. It's that simple, or at least it should be that simple in the way we ride. If we emphasize the need to always turn our head and look in the direction we want to go, our balance and sense of speed combining with our lean will work.

    It's different when operating a car. A four-wheeled vehicle is inherently stable...there is no wind in our face to distract us...a car does not lean into the curves...we can usually get by with just our peripheral vision.

    We have no such luxuries on a motorcycle.

    Next, the issue of speed.

    The ONLY way to take a curve at high speed is to lean...lean WAY over...lean so far your peg scrapes and you expect it to scrape, so you're not surprised when it scrapes and you lean more and accelerate even more.

    Is that how you want to take that curve?

    If you are not willing to scrape your peg, then DON"T SPEED!

    I'm sorry for the all-caps, but not too sorry. A motorcycle can take a curve safely at a much faster speed than any four-wheeled vehicle, but the trade-off is the need for lean. Most weekend riders do not have the skill, and the trust, to lean deeply into a included.

    Unless you're willing to train daily on a track, taking high-speed curves, you must back off on the speed.

    It's OK to roll on the throttle in the middle of the fact, it's a good practice. The increased acceleration seems to help anchor the bike as it comes out of the turn and returns to a vertical stance.

    But entering a curve at high speed gives you no room to accelerate're already at the maximum speed for that curve and you haven't even started to lean. It's much easier to enter at a reasonable, even slow speed, roll on the throttle, leaning into the center of the curve, and continue to accelerate out of the curve.

    How do you know how fast to enter a curve?

    The best rule of thumb is the yellow warning signs that precede a curve. They are usually posted at a very safe, slow speed. Usually I'm able to add ten miles per hour faster to my speed and still have complete control entering the curve. But I wouldn't recommend exceeding that warning limit by more than 10 MPH.

    Enter the curve at the recommended speed (10 MPH over is OK), and roll on the throttle, accelerating as you pass the deepest part of the curve and start to straighten out.

    It's always possible to safely accelerate AFTER you've entered the's risky to try to de-celerate in the middle of a's deadly to enter a curve already going too fast.

    Keep your eyes on the road and control your speed.