The most common motorcycle accidents do not involve other vehicles. But of the accidents involving another vehicle, the car turning left into an oncoming motorcycle is the most common.
Recently, Ted Laturnus, writer for the Globe and Mail was struck just in this manner. Ted is not a novice motorcyclist, and had written about this type of accident a few years before it happened to him.
If we want to reduce this type of accident what can we do about it? Many approaches have been suggested.
Stiffer penalties for car drivers. Motorcyclists wear bright colours, leave headlights lights on. Public awareness campaigns. Advising motorcyclists to drive as though nobody can see you. Some motorcyclists have the idea that loud exhaust pipes will overcome the "blindness" of car drivers.
In my opinion the key to ever solving a problem like this is to understand what causes it, and I'm not sure anyone has correctly identified the cause of this problem yet. I am not convinced it is simply carelessness, or selective blindness. What if this is not because the car driver did not see the motorcycle, but that it is because the car drivers' brain has not process the information coming from the eye fast enough. Think of it this way. The human brain can process "normal" visual inputs (I'm talking about seeing other cars as being "normal") very quickly, but abnormal inputs (Motorcycles) require a bit of extra thought - which delays the reaction time a half second or so. I have no scientific data on the amount of delay (if there is a delay), but it should be easy for scientists to rig up experiments to measure it. If there is a delay of even half a second, it can be the difference between life and death.
If this hypothesis proves correct, there may be ways to solve the problem. But in the meantime, here is what I think could help.
- Brighter colours on the motorcyclist will help the car driver spot them sooner, and hence give a little extra time for the brain to kick into gear. This has already been suggested.
- If the motorcyclist travels at a lower speed, this will also give a little extra mental processing time to the car driver. I am sure travelling over the speed limit makes it worse!
- Driving on the right side of the lane while passing an oncoming car may give a bit more time. (This tactic has been proven statistically, but I don't remember where I read about it.)
- When I'm worried about someone turning left in front of me, I weave the bike a little to make myself more obvious earlier.
- Sticking to divided limited access highways obviously is safer than travelling busy side streets, because it eliminates the possibility of this type of accident altogether. This is not really a "solution", but it acknowledges that we cannot solve the problem by threatening car drivers with stiff penalties.
I personally don't think the loud pipes count for anything, the car driver does not usually hear the exhaust, or pay any attention to it, or even knows where it comes from if it is heard.
Banning cell phone use would help, as this practice is making a bad situation worse, by slowing even further the reaction times.