Safety on two wheels: 4 simple steps motor officers can take to reduce crashes

Motor cops have one of the most dangerous jobs in one of the most dangerous professions. Proactive measures can help mitigate those dangers


When we think about staying safe from crashes, most police motorcycle operators think about evasive maneuvers.

Evasion is a necessary skill but, as the saying goes, the best offense is a good defense. Preventative measures can decrease the need for these evasive maneuvers.

Here are four ways to prevent a crash before you even get on the motorcycle.

Preventative measures can decrease the need for evasive maneuvers.
Preventative measures can decrease the need for evasive maneuvers. (Photo/Mike Richey)

1. Develop a fitness regimen

Believe it or not,  exercise may help us prevent accidents before they occur. A Columbia University study found that aerobic exercise led to improvements in basic brain operations like processing speed, response speed and working memory – all necessary things for motorcycle operations. What’s more, researchers discovered that the benefits of aerobic exercise increased with age. As us motorcycle officers get older, it becomes more important to exercise to stay on our game.

2. Turn on your brights

Before you even hit the streets, you need to make sure your motorcycle is set up for safe riding. That means visibility. Most motorcycle crashes occur when cars pull out in front of motor cops, violating their right-of-way.

These days it’s harder to notice motorcycles, even in the light of day. When my generation started driving in the 1980s, motorcyclists stood out from other daytime traffic because they were the only motorists running headlights. Now, many cars use daytime headlights too, making it easy for motor cops to get lost in the sea of headlights. Here are a few ways to stay visible:

  • Drive with high beams during daytime and fork-mounted driving lights. Extra lighting can make motorcycles stand out and be an effective countermeasure for crashes involving right-of-way violations. [1]
  • Partner riding can also increase visibility because it gives motor cops two headlights (the same profile as a car). That makes it easier for other motorists to judge distance and closing speed.
Police motorcycle operations may be the most dangerous job in a dangerous profession. But we can mitigate some of that risk by being proactive with our riding tactics and preparation.
Police motorcycle operations may be the most dangerous job in a dangerous profession. But we can mitigate some of that risk by being proactive with our riding tactics and preparation. (Photo/Mike Richey)

3. Give drivers a chance to see you

Have you used a large vehicle to hide behind when looking for violations? It allows you to see other vehicles and occupants, sometimes before they see you. This is a great option for traffic enforcement, but it’s not the safest tactic.

Instead, vary your lane position according to oncoming vehicles to make yourself more visible. This reduces the chances of another vehicle violating your right-of-way. If you have an oncoming vehicle, move to the left side of your lane with a suitable following distance behind the vehicle ahead of you. This should allow the oncoming vehicle an opportunity to see you and hopefully prevent them from turning left into you. If there is a threat ahead to the right, move to the right side of the roadway to give the driver a chance to see you.

4. Stay situationally aware

In a motor cop’s world, situational awareness means recognizing objects in our surroundings, categorizing them as moveable or immovable, and predicting their location in relation to you. Several strategies can help raise your situational awareness:

  • Ride a little faster than the traffic around you. This does not mean risky speeding. Traveling just a few miles faster lets you control where other vehicles are located by passing them. If you have to make an immediate lane change, you will know where you can move because you have constantly been passing other traffic. Traveling faster than others also helps prevent intentional vehicular threats because it makes it difficult for another vehicle to approach unnoticed (leaving rear radar on helps too).
  • Limit sensory overload. Talking on the phone through helmet-mounted Bluetooth and police radios can be too distracting. Listening and language comprehension draws up to 37% of brain resources away from driving, according to a study at Carnegie Mellon University. [2] Talking on a hands-free phone can reduce visual attention, [3] decrease your field of view of the roadway [4] and slow reaction time [5]. Motor cops likely won’t be able to eliminate these distractions completely. Communication is an important part of the job. But as long as we recognize that the radio and phone are dangerous distractions, we can be intentional about maintaining situational awareness.

Stay safe out there

Police motorcycle operations may be the most dangerous job in a dangerous profession. But we can mitigate some of that risk by being proactive with our riding tactics and preparation. Staying fit, visible and alert will go a long way in keeping you safe on two wheels. These actions will help prevent motorists from violating our right of way, thereby reducing the need for accident-avoidance maneuvers. Action beats reaction, especially for safe police motorcycle operations.

NEXT: Ballistic testing on a BMW R 1200 RT-P

References

1. Jenness JW, Huey RW, McCloskey S, Singer J, Walrath J, Lubar E, Lerner ND. Motorcycle Conspicuity and the Effect of Auxiliary Forward Lighting. NHTSA DOT HS 811 507. November 2011.

2. Wehbe L, Murphy B, Talukdar P, Fysche A, Ramdas A, Mitchell T. (2014). Simultaneously Uncovering the Patterns of Brain Regions Involved in Different Story Reading Subprocesses. PLOS ONE 10:3.

3. Strayer DL, Drews FA, Johnston WA. (2003). Cell phone-induced failures of visual attention during simulated driving. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 9(1):23-32.

4. Noy YI. Human Factors Issues Related to Driver Distraction From In-Vehicle Systems.

5. Bellinger DB, Budde BM, Machida M, Richardson GB, Berg WP. (2009). The effect of cellular telephone conversation and music listening on response time in braking. Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, 6(12):441-451.

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