Be defensive at all times

By Mike Bright
     I would like to talk about motorcycle safety. I carry no particular credentials in this area other than 44 years of riding. For as long as I have been riding, the motorist who “didn’t see him” seems to be the most dangerous hazard to a motorcyclist. I personally have had a number of near miss incidents involving this situation. For me – it is a part of riding that I accepted many years ago.
     What frightened me the most was on a dark rainy night in Kansas City. My wife, who rides her own bike, was following me in traffic. It was dark but her bike has a unique headlight than I can pick out in the mirror amongst the other lights on the road. As I did my customary scan of my gauges, traffic ahead, side-to-side glances and a check of my mirrors she was suddenly gone. I began to slow and working to determine what had happened to her. I began to work my way to the shoulder of the road to get pulled over. I finally got to a safe location to pull off and began to scan the traffic.
      Did we just get separated or did she go down? Finally, after what seemed like an eternity she emerged from the traffic and we spotted each other. Once we got back together she related to me, an SUV changed lanes. The problem was, the SUV was moving into the space she was occupying. Literally moving over on top of her position!
     Because she is a good defensive driving she was able to take evasive action and kept from being run down. She was okay. For me, for a few frantic moments I thought I had lost my wife to an errant motorist who simply “didn’t see the motorcycle.” They would have felt bad and certainly didn’t intend to harm anyone but it would not have changed the simple fact that my wife could have been seriously injured or worse.
     As a result of that event we plan our trips through most metro areas during off-peak traffic periods and if at all possible we avoid the metro area completely. The other thing we have done is adopt a more conspicuous approach to riding. Much of today’s riding apparel has reflective stripping built into it. We wear the gear! We have added some additional lighting to the bikes. In this situation she was doing everything right but could have still been hurt. It is incumbent on the rider to secure their own safety. A lot of times it feels like the other motorists really don’t care about us!
     A motorcyclist today MUST be on the defensive at all times. Wear the protective gear that enhances conspicuity. Take a rider safety training class. Be physically and mentally fit to ride. What might be a simple fender bender for a car will be a trip to the hospital for us – at the least, a trip to the morgue at the worst!

Mike Bright is the District Four Office Coordinator for the Kansas Department of Transportation


  1. Anonymous9/25/2013

    I, too, have bee in the same situation as your wife. This SUV switched lanes suddenly without signalling intentions. I am defensive and always aware of my surroundings while riding. I firmly believe that is why I have only had a few close calls like this and not actual collisions. As a motorcycle rider, we HAVE to be defensive and aware. I think years of riding has made me a better driver, as well.

  2. Anonymous9/25/2013

    My husband has ridden motorcycles since he was a small boy. I can't tell you the number of incidents he has described to me where he's had to take evasive actions. In today's world of overly distracted drivers I'm afraid we will see more of this happening.

  3. Thanks for your reminders, Mike.
    I ride a bicycle when possible (though not in a metro area), and your comments apply to pedal power, as well. Survival depends on defensive riding!
    Years ago, my flight instructor stated that "the right of way is something you yield. You don't take it; lest your heirs be left to argue about whether you had it or not."

  4. First and foremost, I'm so glad you were able to write a blog where riding defensively saved someone's life - and that Becky was not hurt in this near-miss incident!
    Mike is being a little modest about listing his "credentials." He is a member of a statewide task force, which meets on a regular basis to plan effective communication and education strategies for the promotion of motorcycle safety. The rest of the task force certainly appreciates his input!
    Thanks, Mike!

  5. Thank you for sharing the important message for cyclists and automobile drivers to be aware of the surroundings at all times. I'm glad your story had a happy ending. I hope all of them do!