Hazard Awareness

Hazard PerceptionThere are loads of different definitions of a hazard. The dictionary has a definition, the Police RidersHandbook (Roadcraft) has a definition, we probably all have a definition of a hazard but what does it really mean to us as motorcyclists?

Well, it’s anything that puts us at risk, be it an actual or potential risk. The fact that a risk does not materialise is unimportant. When riding around we should be concentrating on assessing the road ahead for both real hazards and potential hazards or to put it plainly, things that may hurt us. If we see something that poses a risk then we need to formulate a plan for dealing with it. I can tell you from personal experience that most crashes are avoidable, that has nothing to do with who is in the right or the wrong, ‘it does not hurt less because you are in the right’.

So you are riding your bike and keeping your vision up and looking for those hazards when you see what you think may be a situation developing ahead that could cause you some harm. What should you do?

1. Consider your position on the road. Can you see all you need to and can those that need to see you do so? Remember we are all blessed with a brain that is designed to work at a relatively low speed. We have a maximum design speed of less than 20mph. In reality, human beings are designed to operate at a speed of the fastest we can run, so asking a human being to operate at high speeds is pushing the limit of design specification. Another feature of being human and using a mechanical analogy, is that when our brains were designed our designers made us react better to big things, things that have the potential to cause us harm. In a Neanderthal way, that means things that may eat us, that are a serious threat, so how does this relate to the road? A driver looks up the road from the inside of his safe, secure and protected environment. What do you think would have the greatest impact on their senses, an articulated lorry or a motorcycle? The lorry is the elephant of the motoring world yet the motorcycle is more like the mouse. The driver is clearly more likely to see the lorry over the motorcycle. Harping back to our beginnings the elephant would do us more harm than the mouse.

Most of us will have heard of the green cross code, (look right look left then right again) Drivers tend to do the samebut if they did not see you the first time, then unless the scene changes, the driver is unlikely to see you the second. This is where our position on the road can make a difference. By moving our position on the road we can improve our ability to see more and having changed the scene the driver gets ‘another chance’. Don’t think that just because a driver is looking in your direction they have seen you.

2. Have regard for your speed. Whilst speed is not always the direct cause of a crash it definitely makes any crash hurt more. It is not the crashing itself that tends to cause serious injuries, it is the sudden stopping. This is demonstrated at almost every motorcycle race meeting; racers crash on a track at tremendous speed and generally walk away without serious injury. Try that on the road where there are lamp posts, fences, telephone boxes etc and the outcome is often very different. So, back to our hazard, high on the list of reactions to a hazard must be to consider reducing speed.

3. Consider the use of the horn. Motorcyclists do not, in my opinion, use the horn enough. It is there to warn other road users of our presence. We often get a negative reaction from others if we use the horn. Hand gestures and colourful language can sometimes be the response. But, what does that response tell us? It tells me that the driver, pedestrian, cyclist etc has seen me and that is exactly what my intention was when I chose the horn option.

4. Be prepared to stop. Try to always be at a speed and in a position to stop in the distance you can see to be clear. That is actually easier said than done but with good observation and anticipation you can ride at an appropriate speed and still get where you are going in good time.

Finally, if you are riding up the road and in your mind is the question, ‘What’s going on up there’. Until that question is answered then be prepared to stop. Be proactive in your reactions and be pessimistic about the possible outcome. We tend to do the same or similar journeys day in and day out, especially if you are a commuter, and that familiarity will breed contempt. Because we have been through a particular junction or section of road a hundred times before we tend to feel ‘safe’ and that makes us switch off. A good deal of crashes happens within a few miles of home or our frequent destinations. Don’t allow familiarity to reduce your levels of concentration.

I could go on forever but for more advice and some practical examples come and do a BikeSafe day!

I cannot take full credit for the psychology advice above, that was stolen from Dr Chris Burgess of Exeter University, a fascinating man when it comes to how the human brain deals with what we see as drivers.

Sgt Mick Cheeseman, BikeSafe-London