Editor's Note: Spring time the right time to watch for bikes

Ah, May – blooming plants, kids playing ball, tractors in fields, and motorcycles on the roads.

May is, among other things, Motorcycle Awareness Month. As the weather warms, bikers are getting back on the road, and drivers need to remember to watch for them.

There’s some really fascinating research on how our brains work that show we don’t actually see, with our eyes, everything we think we see. The world moves fast, so our brains fill in the gaps with what should be there – what we expect to see. That’s how sleight-of-hand artists make it seem like things appear from and disappear into thin air.

That’s why, in collisions between autos and motorcylists or bicyclists, you will so often hear a driver say, honestly, “I just didn’t see them.”

It’s also why a heartbreaking number of those collisions occur when a motorcycle is making a legal left turn and the driver of an oncoming car doesn’t stop.

A few years ago, when I was covering the police beat, I remember coming in to the office on a Monday and my heart sinking as I found the police report of a weekend motorcycle crash. The biker had been making a legal left turn, an oncoming driver struck him, and then left the scene. A second biker, who had been riding with the first, realized his friend was no longer behind him and went back for him. As he was in the road trying to tend to his friend, he, too, was struck by a vehicle.

The way to combat this is to pay conscious attention when you’re driving. Motorcycles and bicycles are small, but they don’t really just come out of nowhere. Sometimes, because of their size, they can be hiding in a blind spot caused by a car’s interior or by external things like bushes or trees.

Drivers also need to know that a motorcycle doesn’t always give a visual cue when slowing down – if the rider downshifts or rolls off the throttle, the bike will slow without activating the brake lights. Bikes also can’t stop on a dime, and their mirrors usually make things behind them seem farther away than they are. Leave a little more room when following a bike than you would if you were following a car.

A passenger complicates every aspect of driving a motorcycle. Pay attention and leave a bike with a passenger more space.

Sometimes, especially when the weather is nice, the windows are down, you’re in familiar territory and there’s a good song on the radio, it’s easy for a driver to tune out a bit and go on autopilot. I know; I’ve been there. But bad things happen when the operator of a fast-moving, multi-ton machine isn’t paying attention.

Drivers, please be aware of your surroundings. When checking traffic at an intersection, try thinking the word “motorcycle” – it could snap your brain out of autopilot. And motorcyclists, remember not every driver is watching for you; ride safely and defensively, and if you haven’t already, take a motorcycle safety course. Both the U.S. Department of Transportation and A.B.A.T.E. of Illinois say motorcycle safety courses are the single most important factor in reducing injuries and fatalities.

Let’s all enjoy the warmer seasons safely and see another winter. Enjoy your MidWeek.

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