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Why do motorcyclist look over shoulder?

Why do motorcyclists often look over their right shoulder just before turning right?

Explanation: If you see a motorcyclist take a quick glance over their shoulder, this could mean they’re about to change direction. Recognising a clue like this helps you to be prepared and take appropriate action, making you safer on the road.

Category: Band 1 road procedure

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Crown Copyright material reproduced under licence from the DVSA (Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency) which does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the reproduction.

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OSM PSL, Lifesaver Checks, Indicating and Observation

Mirrors CBT training

Rear observation refers to a combination of mirror checks and looking behind which ensures you are always fully aware of what is happening behind you.

Before you signal, change direction or speed you must know how your actions will affect following traffic.

You also have to know when traffic is likely to overtake or come alongside you.

Not all motorcycles are fitted with mirrors, and mirrors don’t always give a clear view behind.

Looking behind is important because the view through the mirrors on some motorcycles is restricted, leaving significant blind spots.

There will be times when you need to look round to see the full picture.

Looking behind also warns other drivers that you may be about to signal or alter course.

The motorcycle lifesaver check

The lifesaver is a last check over the shoulder into the blind spot to make sure nothing unexpected is happening before committing yourself to a manoeuvre.

If you are turning, use it to check the blind spot on the side to which you intend to turn.

Use your judgement about when to use it.

In congested urban situations a lifesaver check is normally essential, especially when turning right into a minor road.

During high speed overtaking, when you are certain what is happening behind, it is often safer to keep your eyes on what is happening ahead.

The blind area

The blind area is the area behind and to either side of you which isn’t covered by mirrors. It’s very important to check for traffic in this area before:

  • Moving off
  • Changing direction
  • Changing lane

When should you look behind?

Use judgement in deciding when to look behind.

Obviously when you are looking behind you are not looking ahead. This could be hazardous if, for example, you are close to the vehicle in front or if you are overtaking at speed.

Equally there are situations when it is dangerous not to look behind, such as a right turn into a minor road.

Take rear observation when you about to change position or speed as you approach and negotiate a hazard.

This might be before

  • Moving off
  • Turning left or right
  • Overtaking
  • Changing lanes
  • Slowing or stopping

WARNING – Looking over your shoulder too often or at the wrong moment can be hazardous. In the time it takes to do it you will

  • Lose touch with what’s going on in front
  • Run the risk of veering off course

At high speed or in congested moving traffic yout attention needs to be focused ahead. In these situations time your rearward checks carefully. Combine

  • Regular and sensible use of the mirrors
  • The ‘lifesaver’ glance into the blind area before altering course

The OSM PSL routine

Whenever you approach a hazard such as a junction or roundabout or traffic lights, you will cope with it by going through a routine. Most people call it the OSM PSL routine but some call it “the system”.

OSM stands for

O – Observation – Check the position of following traffic using your mirrors or by looking over your shoulder when it’s safe to do so.
S – Signal – If necessary, signal your intention to change course or speed. Signal clearly and in good time.
M – Manoeuvre – Carry out the manoeuvre – i.e. the change in speed and/or direction – if it’s safe to do so.

The manoeuvre has three parts

P – Position – Get into the correct position in good time. This helps other road users to see what you intend to do.
S – Speed – Slow down as you approach a hazard. Never leave it too late.
L – Look – Keep looking to assess all possible dangers. You need to know the traffic situation behind as well as in front.

Using Indicators

Motorcycle Indicator

Direction indicator lamps are closer together on a motorcycle than on larger vehicles and can be difficult to see.

On some smaller machines the direction indicators don’t show up very well in bright sunlight. If you think this applies to your machine consider giving arm signals.

Position yourself correctly and in good time for the manoeuvre you intend to perform.

Timing of signals

Whether you’re giving arm signals or using direction indicators

  • Give your signal early enough to allow other road users to see and act on it
  • Don’t give a signal so early that its meaning could mislead

Conflicting signals

A signal must have one clear meaning. For example, signalling right to pass a parked vehicle might mislead. Other traffic may think that you intend to turn right or to pull over on the right.

Avoid giving signals which could have two meanings.

Cancelling signals

Very few motorcycles have self-cancelling indicators. It’s very important that you cancel a signal when you’ve completed a manoeuvre. Failure to do so could mislead another road user and cause an accident.


Mirrors must be adjusted to give a clear view behind. They should be kept clean and smear-free.

When you’re riding you might find that your elbows or shoulders obstruct the view behind. To overcome this, adjust your mirrors to the best position. If this problem remains you can solve it by extending the mirrors with longer stems.

If your mirrors vibrate your view will be distorted. Your motorcycle dealer will be able to offer advice on how to reduce the vibration.

Using the mirrors

Glancing regularly into your mirrors will keep you up to date with the traffic situation behind. Use your mirrors before

  • Signalling
  • Changing direction
  • Overtaking
  • Changing lanes
  • Slowing down or stopping

Use your mirrors together with looking behind, when necessary.

Just looking isn’t enough!

Whether you look in your mirrors or over your shoulder

  • You must act on what you see
  • Think about how your actions will affect following traffic

How Do Most Motorcycle Accidents Happen?

Luke Krolak

If you drive a motorcycle long enough, the unfortunate reality is that there’s a high likelihood that you’ll eventually lay down your bike. For some riders, it’s not a matter of if but when—and, in many cases, the rider is not the at-fault party.

Regardless of fault, if an accident does occur, more than 80% of the time it will end in serious injury or fatality. Even though they only represent 3% of all vehicles on the road, motorcycles account for 10% of all traffic fatalities. 1

Put simply, riding a motorcycle is risky business.

However, if you can answer the question “how do most motorcycle accidents happen?,” you can take the proper precautions to control that which is in your power to control.

#1 Intersections (Left-Hand Turns)

When do most motorcycle accidents occur? In most cases, there’s no place more dangerous for a motorcyclist than an intersection. According to the National Highway and Traffic Administration (HTSA), anywhere between 35-45% of all motorcycle crashes occur because a driver coming from the opposite direction crossed into the rider’s path during a left-hand turn in a failed attempt to beat oncoming traffic. 2

Typically, a motorcyclist will be struck head-on by an oncoming car that turned in front of them while making a left.

Some of the reasons why this is so common is because the car’s driver:

  • Fails to see the smaller motorcycle
  • Misjudges the rider’s speed and proximity
  • Is driving distracted
  • Is driving under the influence

These types of motorcycle accidents happen frequently for cars as well, but they’re not nearly as dangerous for the motorists involved because, well, physics.

What Can You Do To Avoid the Left-Hand Turn Problem?

Whenever you approach an intersection, you must be vigilant of potential road hazards.

Assume that the other driver of the passenger vehicle doesn’t see you, and make eye contact, if possible. Drive defensively and anticipate others will do the unexpected. You should never attempt to pass or overtake a car as you reach or cross the intersection, especially if that involves lane switching.

Finally, knowing that left-hand turns are dangerous for both the person turning and the driver passing straight through the interaction, here’s how you can safely make a left:

  • Yield the right of way to oncoming traffic
  • Signal for the turn at least 150 feet before you reach the intersection
  • Remain vigilant for pedestrians, vehicles, bikes or other motorcycles
  • Don’t cut corners
  • Give yourself plenty of time to make the turn without forcing the oncoming driver of a passenger vehicle to slow down

#2 Lane Splitting

Lane splitting occurs when a motorcycle rides between two lanes of stopped or slowly-moving vehicles. This can happen at a light or in traffic congestion.

In every state besides California, lane splitting is illegal because stuck cars may neither expect nor see the oncoming motorcycle. 3 As a result, the motor vehicle driver may try to switch lanes, or even just reposition the vehicle closer to the line, only to suddenly block the path of the fast-traveling motorcycle.

What Can You Do About Lane Splitting?

If you’re in any state besides California, simply don’t do it. Lane splitting is dangerous and can result in a costly fine (if not an accident).

However, if you are in California, be careful as you lane split and consider these tips:

  • Account for the environment, including the width of lanes, size of surrounding vehicles, and weather and road conditions
  • Slow down to a reasonable speed if traffic is grounded to a halt—danger increases at higher speed differentials
  • Don’t ride on the shoulder
  • Remember driver’s blind spots
  • Rev your engine as you go through traffic to alert motorists

#3 Lane Switching

The running theme of motorcycle accidents caused by a car is that the driver simply didn’t see the smaller, faster bike. Plus, to make matters worse, they often don’t expect or even look for a motorcycle since they may only account for a small percentage of motor vehicles on the road.

As a result, a major cause of motor vehicle accidents occurs when a driver attempts to switch lanes without realizing that they have a motorcyclist in their blind spot. As a result, they merge and then either run into the motorcycle or cause the rider to swerve or lay down their bike.

How to Prepare for Lane Switching

While this issue is often out of your control, there are some steps you can take to mitigate the chances of another motorist merging into your occupied lane.

For starters, pay attention to the driver’s blind spots. If you can’t see the driver’s face in the mirror, they likely won’t be able to see you. And the bigger the vehicle, the bigger the blind spot. So, be extra cautious when passing or riding next to semi-trucks, SUVs, vans, and pickups.

Also, be on the lookout for the signs of an impending lane change, such as:

  • Turn signals
  • Wheels turning
  • A driver checking their mirrors and looking over their shoulder
  • The vehicle drifting towards your lane

#4 Speeding

Speeding is one of the leading causes of motorcycle accidents.

According to NHTSA, 34% of all motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes in 2020 were linked to speed. 4 The crash can be categorized as such “if the motorcycle driver was charged with a speeding-related offense or if an investigating police officer indicated that racing, driving too fast for conditions, or exceeding the posted speed limit was a contributing factor in the crash.” 5

While all motorcycles can be fast and nimble, high-performance sport bikes like Ducati and Ninja have been found to be disproportionately involved in fatal crashes. In fact, accidents with super-sport motorcycles result in fatalities at a 400% higher rate than those involving conventional cruisers. 6

Tips for Driving Safely

So, wondering how to avoid motorcycle accidents? Drivers don’t often expect motorcyclists, have trouble seeing them, and can find it challenging to judge their speed. This becomes an even greater issue when a motorcyclist drives at speeds that far exceed the legal speed limit.

Your safest bet is simply not to speed. If you do, it should be as close to the legal limit as possible. The higher the speed and the greater the speed disparity between you and the flow of traffic (or an unexpected obstacle), the more likely a fatal motorcycle accident will occur.

#5 Drugs and Alcohol

As stated by the NHTSA, “43 percent of all fatal motorcycle crashes involve alcohol.” 7 In other words, there’s a good reason why driving under the influence is both illegal and frowned upon. It’s dangerous not only for the motorcycle driver but everyone else on the road as well.

Drugs and alcohol can impair a motorist’s judgment, reflexes, and driving behavior. And since motorcycles already require greater skill, attention, and coordination to operate than an average car, the impacts of inebriation on handling will be even greater.

How to Avoid Substance-Related Accidents

The best advice you can receive is to never drink and drive or operate a motorcycle under the influence. If you have been drinking, call a friend or family member, or hail a ride. The risks of inebriated driving are simply too great to be ignored.

#6 Lack of Experience and Licensing

As mentioned, motorcycles—especially super-sport bikes—are powerful yet delicate machines. Far too many accidents are caused by inexperienced riders who lack the proper training.

For example, they may accelerate too aggressively, take a corner too sharply, or brake improperly. Often, the only way to avoid an impending collision or motorcycle crash is with a split-second readjustment—but mastering such maneuvers takes time, practice, and feel.

Along these lines, the NHTSA estimates that nearly one in three motorcycle operators killed in a crash are either not licensed or improperly licensed. 8 Although licensing doesn’t guarantee that a person will be capable of operating the motorcycle in all conditions, it at least ensures that the operator has some of the baseline knowledge and skills needed to drive safely.

Practice Makes Perfect

Don’t ever get on the road without being properly licensed. Should an accident occur while you are unlicensed—even if you’re not at-fault—you will likely be held legally liable.

Additionally, you should spend time learning how to handle and maneuver the bike in a safe area before you start going for a spin. Ideally, you should enlist the help of an experienced rider who can act as your teacher and guide.

Once you have accrued the necessary hours to feel comfortable on the bike, you can start taking it on the roads. Then, after enough time has passed, you can graduate to the highways.

Furthermore, remember to always wear the proper safety gear, including:

  • Helmet
  • Eye protection
  • Over-the-ankle footwear with non-slip soles
  • Long pants
  • A high-quality jacket
  • Full-fingered gloves

Mighty: Your Source For Holistic Support When Accidents Strike

There’s no denying that riding a motorcycle is a risk, especially when compared to other means of transport. However, by knowing the most common causes for accidents, you can stay alert and take proper precautions to reduce the likelihood of a fatal crash occurring.

If you do get into a crash and are asking: how long does a motorcycle accident lawsuit take or what is the average payout for a motorcycle accident, Mighty can help. We’re not just a legal service, we’re an all-in-one support team that can help you with everything you need to get your life back on track after a motorcycle accident happens.

Whether you need legal, medical, or financial support, Mighty is committed to your full recovery.

  1. III. Facts + Statistics: Motorcycle crashes.
  2. NHTSA. Motorcycles.
  3. CHP. California Motorcyclist Safety.
  4. NHTSA. Motorcycles.
  5. NHTSA. Motorcycles.
  6. NHTSA. Motorcycles.
  7. NHTSA. The Anatomy of a Motorcycle Crash.
  8. NHTSA. Motorcycles.
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