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Motorcycle and bicycle accidents: 10 tips for delivery drivers

Noticing more bikes on the road? That’s because there are. According to a February 2, 2022 report by the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC), new-model motorcycle sales for on-highway, off-highway, dual-purpose and scooters in 2021 were up by double digits compared to the same period just a year before. This marks the second consecutive year the 14 major manufacturers and distributors have seen strong sales growth.

Maybe it’s the warm weather, perhaps surging gas prices, or possibly that a long 18 months of being cooped up inside finally pushed people to pursue their dream of owning a hot rod. Either way, your delivery drivers are being asked to share the road with more two-wheeling motorists.

As a franchisee, there’s not much you can do to reduce the number of bicycles, eBikes or motorcycles within your delivery radius. But what you can do is help your team understand the severity and frequency of automobile-to-cyclist incidents, and equip them with the skills and knowledge to prevent a tragedy.

Dangers of delivering with motorcycles on the road

According to the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) most recent study, in 2020, motorcyclist deaths rose by 11%, and bicyclist deaths rose by 9.2% in traffic accidents compared to 2019. Combined, that accounts for 17% of total highway deaths that year. The increase in motorcyclist deaths is the highest since The NHTSA first collected data in 1975.

Unfortunately for delivery operators, incidents occurred most frequently during peak delivery times. Over 45% of all incidents involving motorcycles happened between 3pm and 9pm. During weekdays, the incidents most frequently occurred during rush hour (3pm to 6pm) and on the weekends, between 6pm and 9pm.

In a study that outlines motorcycle crash facts and statistics, the NHTSA estimated that in 2019 nearly 30% of all riders out on the road weren’t wearing a DOT-compliant helmet. Considering there were 8,596,314 registered riders then, the math shakes out to 2,578,894 people taking a serious risk by not protecting their noggins. While we’ve not found any data to suggest a correlation between those who wear helmets and the likelihood of being involved in a crash, we do know that DOT-compliant helmets are about 37% more effective in preventing fatalities when worn properly. So, for every 100 motorcyclists that were killed in crash while not wearing a helmet, 37 of those could have been saved if they would have been wearing the recommended protection.

New riders, inexperienced riders

Going back to the MIC report on motorcycle sales: year-to-date (2022) sales of dual-purpose motorcycles in 2021 were up by 18.6%, which is on top of the 2020 mindboggling increase of 46.2% compared to 2019. Off-highway sales for the past two years combined hit 42.9%. Scooter sales rose 19.6%. And on-highway motorcycle sales increased by 12.9%. While we couldn’t find how many of these buyers were first-time riders, we assume there’s well, at least a few. That’s why education on bike safety is more important now than ever.

It is important to regularly remind your team that there is no such thing as a “fender bender” when a passenger vehicle collides with a 2-wheeled, open air vehicle – injuries are often severe and the burden for all involved is long-lasting.

Knowing what to anticipate from a cyclist (motor or pedal-powered) before hitting the road is the best way to reduce the odds of being involved in an accident. So teaching your team what to anticipate, how to remain alert, how to assess a situation and respond quickly and correctly can significantly decrease the chances of a crash.

10 safety tips for delivery drivers sharing the road with cyclists:

  1. 1. Double-check blind spots

    The NHTSA states the majority of multi-vehicle motorcycle crashes are generally caused when the other driver simply doesn’t see the motorcyclist. Smaller vehicles can be hard to see in side-view mirrors if you’re not explicitly looking for them, especially if it’s dark outside. Check them once; check them twice. Maybe check them three times because the simple task of taking an additional look at your blind spots before turning or changing lanes could quite literally save a life.

  2. 2. Signal in advance

    Let everyone know what you’re going to do well in advance of doing it. Of course, this means drivers need to understand and know their route in advance of leaving the parking lot. Don’t let turns sneak up, and don’t change lanes rapidly. Most states recommend signaling 100 feet before a turn, and for 5 seconds before making a lane change. While this is a generally a good practice no matter the driving situation, it’s especially important if you notice a bicycle or motorcycle coming up behind you. You’ve probably experienced some sort of cyclist pulling up next to your vehicle at an intersection. Signaling well in advance will inform the driver of your intentions and hopefully influence theirs.

  3. 3. Keep your distance

    Stay at least four seconds behind a motorcycle at all times in order to give yourself enough time to react to whatever they do. And, the faster you’re going, the more time you should allow. Do not rely on brake lights to know when to slow down. Motorcycles and scooters are smaller and lighter than passenger vehicles. It takes less time for them to come to a complete stop than it does a full-size car – so they may wait longer to brake. Additionally, a motorcyclist may relax the throttle or downshift to reduce their speed without needing to use the brake.

    Last note on lights:

    Many older motorcycles do not have self-canceling turn signals. This means they could be driving down the highway with a signal on with zero intention of changing lanes. Or perhaps they left their right turn signal on, but are actually turning right. Again, give plenty of distance so you’re ready when the rider eventually does make a turn.

    Many two-wheeling operators will use hand signals to communicate turns, lane changes, and stopping/slowing. Learn them:

    Human figure on a bike displaying a stop hand signal with an orange arm in a 90-degree angle pointed toward the ground Bicycle Hand Signal: Stop
    Human figure on a bike displaying a left-hand signal with an orange arm held out straight in the left direction Bicycle Hand Signal: Left
    Human figure on a bike displaying a right-hand signal with an orange arm in a 90-degree angle pointed toward the sky Bicycle Hand Signal: Right
    Human figure on a bike displaying a right-hand signal with an orange arm held out straight in the right direction Bicycle Hand Signal: Right
  4. 4. Turn with caution

    Always assume that there’s a hazard before turning, especially left. Intersections can be danger zones. According to driving-tests.org, the largest independent driver education provider in the US, many accidents involving cars and motorcycles occur at intersections, particularly blind ones. As stated in the last bullet, it’s easy to misjudge a motorcyclist’s speed and distance – give them plenty of time and space to get through the intersection before you turn. It’s better to wait those few extra seconds. Are you noticing a theme yet?

  5. 5. Music

    Keep it down. Even if your eyes don’t detect a motorcycle, your ears can help you if you give them a chance. While we don’t want to kill your vibe, your stereo volume (especially while on the job) should be set low enough so you can easily hear horns, sirens, and other sounds that will keep you aware of road hazards.

  6. 6. Keep your head on a swivel

    Check all around you before pulling forward and backward. Assume bicyclists, motorcyclists, pedestrians and more are in the crosswalk, bike lane, sidewalk, or in general, around your vehicle. After a delivery, make sure to take the time to physically turn your head and look side-to-side to check if anyone is coming. If there is, make eye contact and be certain it’s safe to proceed. Make sure to give the other person the right of way, even if technically they don’t have it – better for you to watch them get out of your path than to hope they’ll wait for you.

  7. 7. Be considerate when passing

    It often feels like motorcycles are doing most of the passing. But in the event you’re planning to make a move around them, leave a couple of extra feet of space between you and the cyclist than you would with a regular passenger car. Be aware that they may have to downshift and weave to avoid bumps and hazards on the road. Before passing, double-check to see that there isn’t anything possibly obstructing their path that will force them to divert their course to the left. And, know that your speed could result in a gust of wind that could cause them to become unstable or blow the rider off the road. Make sure to give them a heads up by signaling before passing to prepare the cyclist properly.

  8. 8. Stay calm

    It can sometimes be frustrating to drive behind a cyclist that you can’t pass, especially if you’re behind schedule. Take a couple of deep breaths. Be courteous. You do not want to put pressure on the rider and stress them out; that’s when accidents happen. Yes, the driver, the franchise, the franchise operator, and the customer all care about speed of delivery…but they all care more about the safety of employees, bystanders, and the brand’s reputation of responsibility within the communities they serve.

  9. 9. Be aware of weather

    If bad weather conditions occur, be extra wary and hyper-vigilant of riders on the road. Rain and wind can make it difficult for a rider to keep control of their vehicle. It’s also much harder to spot them. Since summer storms tend to pop up at a moment’s notice, a biker or motorcyclist could be dealing with an unexpected and unpleasant situation. If you encounter a rider in bad weather, expect that they will drive unpredictably. It would be best to keep your distance.

    Don’t forget, this doesn’t mean delivery drivers should skimp on safety during a beautiful blue-bird day. The NHTSA reported that 97% of deaths occurred on a clear/cloudy day. So, no matter the weather always be on high alert. 

  10. 10. Watch out for lane-splitters

    Lane splitting is when a motorist rides between the lanes (on the white dashed line). This can be dangerous if a car is switching lanes and isn’t paying close attention to what’s going on around them. Lane splitting is technically illegal in all states except California. However, in many states, it’s either not mentioned and not specifically prohibited, has a modified version legalized, or is considering becoming legal.

    Map of the U.S. identifying each states motorcycle lane splitting legislation laws with a key to refer to
    Why? Because in some cases, it can promote safety. Riders use lane splitting to mitigate the risk of getting hit by moving out of the driver’s blind spot or by getting out of the way to avoid a rear-end collision. If the rider can justify this maneuver in the name of safety, they likely will not be held at fault in a collision situation.

    Finally, let’s be honest – not all the bikers out there are operating their vehicles as safely as possible. Let them do their thing, stay calm and steer clear – everyone will be safer if that motorcycle that’s speeding and weaving in and out of traffic gets out of your way and down the road.

Enjoy a safe summer season!

Larry Warshaw

Larry has been in the insurance industry in many capacities for well over 20 years including as broker, TPA manager, carrier claims manager, and insurance defense attorney. When he’s not doing insurance, Larry enjoys performing magic, working out, refereeing soccer, hanging out with his wife and adult children, and avoiding their cats.