Intersections- “The Death Zone”

Posted on January 23, 2010 with 0 Comments

The Death Zone? Sorry, I know that sounds harsh. Those of us who rock and mountain climb, are familiar with the term “Coffin Zone”. This is commonly known as any time you are 50 feet off the ground. A fall from that height or higher will most likely be fatal.

The are many parallels between climbing and riding when it comes to safety. Not least of which, is the burden of responsibility for ones own well being. Like it or not, Your survival falls to you as the biker. “It was the other guy’s fault” does not do much for you when they are reading your eulogy. Treat any potential accident like it is your fault, and you’ll live a  much longer life.

The harsh reality, is that intersections are the “Death Zone” for us on two wheels. Studies have shown that a hefty percentage of car verses motorcycle accidents, happen at intersections. The major cause? The other driver simply did not see the motorcyclist. Commonly “the other guy”  makes a left turn and crosses the path of and oncoming bike, causing head-on or a T-bone accident.  So it is YOUR responsibly to be seen, if you want to live to see another day.

There are many tactics for safety while entering an intersection. Here are a few of mine.

First, always ride with your headlight on. I recommend  using your high beam during the day. This is a major weapon towards getting a driver’s attention.

Unlike some recommendations I have seen , I recommend  that when entering a multi lane intersection,  you do so in the lane closet to the yellow line. This has two benefits: first you take the “right on red” guy out of the equation. Second this enables you to get a clear shot of your headlight beam on that guy waiting to take that left turn. Your focus is on him. Get and keep his attention. Get nervous? Use your horn.

One of the most important tools, is your own acknowledgment that you are entering the “Death Zone”. This mindfulness and sense of awareness is your best ally. Setting yourself up before the intersection is also key . Use hand signals always. Get that guy off your butt, before you enter the intersection. A gentle “slow down” hand signal will help here. If you must stop quick, raise your hand all the way up then drop it down again making the slow down hand signal by moving your hand in an up in down motion towards the ground. Make sure that your saddle bags are not blocking the view of your hand signal.

When entering the intersection, try to use a car on your right side as a shield. A car is much less likely to cross in front of another car or truck. Simple primal instincts are in play here. A bike is simply not much of a visceral threat to the driver of a car. While entering the intersection get that headlight beam on the guy waiting to turn in front of you. Sit up straight and be aware. You are “running with the bulls” here. It is up to you to keep the clear of the bulls and at the very least keep their attention.

Finally if you do enter an intersection in the right lane  be careful of ” the Hook”. The hook is when the guy waiting to make that left turn hooks directly behind the car in the left lane to slip through traffic. The problem is that if you are slightly behind the car to your left, he will take you out, having never seen you. Try to keep that blocker car directly beside you and watch for the right on red car.

If you have an accident, there is a good chance it will happen in the Death Zone. Intersections are a powerful convergence of steel and mass with humans on their individual speedway through time and space. It is up to you to make sure the distracted stressed out drivers see you and yield. If they do not, the price paid is ultimately yours. Would you climb a several thousand foot cliff face, without taking your personal safety into your own hands. Not unless your looking to cash in that life insurance policy.

Lee Sutherburg AKA Mad Max


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