Two Wheels vs. 18 Wheels

By on January 1, 2008
motorcycle

Independent trucker Dave didn’t think there was much he could learn about sharing the road with bikes when he signed up for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s (MSF) basic rider course. A 30-year OTR driver, Dave had about every state Department of Transportation endorsement possible. In class, he was the wisecracker, joking about how easy the practice exercises were.

But motorcycle instructor and former trucker Jim Van Den Elzen of the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College rider training program in Green Bay, Wis., has seen arrogant truckers and bikers in class before. “They assume they know everything,’’ says Van Den Elzen. “They sometimes don’t listen to you.”

But motorcycle training can test a professional driver’s coordination, eyesight and knowledge of road rules, as well as provide them with perspective about what motorcyclists face on the highways, Van Den Elzen says. And many truckers who enjoy switching from 18 to two wheels in their leisure time find the training helps them fix bad riding habits.

“We think it’s important to continually retrain ourselves and to have a way to measure our abilities,” Van Den Elzen says.

A number of the MSF study questions offer a good refresher course for truckers, whether or not they ride a Harley. While everyone on the road shares equal responsibility for safe driving, understanding each other’s situation can help big rig drivers and two-wheelers share the road safely.

What’s the most common cause of crashes?

Taking a curve too wide accounts for 37 percent of fatal motorcycle crashes. Motorcyclists should exercise caution on curves, and truck drivers should allow the maximum safety margin.

How should you respond to a tailgating driver?

Motorcyclists should increase their following distance from the vehicle ahead, flash their brake light, and maintain lane position to discourage sharing the lane. Truckers can help by allowing suitable following distance and keeping in mind that motorcycles, with a high horsepower to weight ratio, accelerate quickly in traffic.

What can you do to see and be seen on a motorcycle?

Use lane positioning and your headlight to see and warn drivers of your presence. Wear light-colored and reflective gear.

When is pavement the most slippery?

Motorcyclists should use caution at the beginning of a rainstorm as oil and dirt on the surface combine with water and make the road surface slippery. Other slippery spots are on worn pavement, loose surfaces with debris, crack sealant and tar strips, rain grooves and bridge gratings. Truckers face the same risks and should slow down to protect themselves and motorcyclists they encounter.

What is overriding the headlight?

During night driving, this is when the total stopping distance required exceeds sight distance. Both truckers and motorcycle riders should watch their speed and use high beam lights when possible.

Back to School

The MSF basic rider course started about 25 years ago and is offered at many technical colleges and motorcycle dealerships nationwide. The course has been streamlined from 20 to 15 hours and has shifted from a heavy classroom component to more skills training on the practice range. Many states waive the driving portion of the motorcycle license test for students who pass the course. The course costs about $200.

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