Everybody knows how to safely pass other traffic, right? Sure. It’s pretty simple stuff. Or is it? At the very least, it’s worth analyzing this common road action in some detail in order to demonstrate the individual steps involved. Hopefully, this will help you realize exactly how crucial it is to get it right.
A while back, we talked about using the SIPDE approach in order to avoid common motorcycle accidents. It’s a useful process, so here’s how to use every step to safely pass other traffic:
You typically want to scan your entire environment for hazards, but don’t forget that this also entails taking note of your placement, the placement of all the vehicles around you, and most definitely the placement of the vehicle you want to pass. Make sure that there is a place for you to actually go. Plus, make sure you are also in a zone where passing is safe and permitted. Don’t pass just because the possibility exists. Scan thoroughly and intelligently.
This is something that’s sort of the second part of your scan. Specifically, however, you want to identify potential hazards. How are road conditions? Are you in anybody’s blind spot? Is there an intersection up ahead? Treat each situation uniquely because each passing opportunity will come with its own set of conditions. The hazards may be plenty, or may be few. By identifying as many as you can, you will help yourself perform the next step.
Once you have identified potential hazards, predict what effect they may have on your immediate environment and your ability to execute that pass. Might someone block your pass by somehow putting themselves where you are planning to go? Might the vehicle in front of you speed up or slow down suddenly? Will that road construction have resulted in a change in elevation? Will you be moving in to or out of that car’s blind spot? These are examples of only a few factors you must consider in pretty much an instant. Since each situation may call for the identification of unique hazards, each situation may also call for unique reactions. It may be the case that you have nothing to worry about, but get in the habit of thinking ahead just in case you need to adjust your course of action.
Think about how you want to pass, where you want to pass, the timing of your pass, what gear you need to be in, and where a possible escape route might be. Make sure you form a plan that is specific enough to keep your pass safe, but flexible enough should trouble happen anyway. You can’t be too prepared.
And now for the fun part. Prepare to pass by moving into the third of your current lane closest to your target lane. Signal and perform a final shoulder check. If you have the space and the extra two or three seconds to do so, supplement your motorcycle’s turn signals with a hand signal, just to eliminate any doubt about your intentions. Do not shift and turn in rapid succession. Downshift to raise your engine’s speed and access more of its power in order to make your pass easier (unless your bike has a wide, useable power band that will allow it to pass easily). Make your lane change smooth and fast, but not obnoxious, and then cancel your turn signal about a second after you have taken up your desired position in your new lane. Similarly, make your pass as quickly as possible without making a strafing run on the driver you are passing.
If you are staying in that lane, then you’re done. If you’re planning on re-entering the lane you just left, then once you’ve gained enough lead space (typically a two-second cushion, much like your following space), signal to re-enter said lane and then do so. Don’t forget that re-entering your original lane will require you to scan that lane, identify potential hazards in and around that lane, predict what may happen as you re-enter that lane, determine your course of action, and then execute your lane change!
That’s it. It sounds like a lot of work, but in reality, you will (hopefully) have developed enough proficiency as a motorcyclist to allow you to perform all of this within a matter of seconds. Most operations can be done using the approach we have discussed and they will almost all take but a few seconds as well.
The road is an extremely dynamic place, so we have to stay sharp and keep our processes sharp as well. Passing is just one dimension, but one that you now can now grasp firmly.