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Social Factors: Motorist Awareness Table of ContentsHomenhtsa

Motorist Awareness

Insurance Industry Involvement

Enforcement & Adjudication

Traffic Safety Community Attitude


When motorcycles and other vehicles collide, it is usually the other (non-motorcycle) driver who violates the motorcyclist’s right-of-way (NHTSA, 1998). There is a continuing need to help other motorists “think motorcycles” and to educate motorcyclists to be aware of this problem.

Several factors combine to cause drivers of other vehicles to overlook motorcyclists and subsequently violate their right-of-way:

• Motorcycles and their riders are a relatively small component of the total traffic mix. Therefore, their visual recognition is reduced.

• Many drivers do not anticipate routine encounters with motorcyclists in traffic.

• Motorcycles are smaller visual targets and are more likely to be obscured.

Research shows drivers who also ride motorcycles and those with family members or close friends who ride are more likely to observe motorcyclists and less likely to collide with them (Brooks, 1990). This indicates that drivers can see motorcyclists, whom they might otherwise overlook, if they mentally train themselves to do so. The visual problem is compounded by a variety of visual limitations confronting drivers:

• Automobiles have obstructions and blind spots that can obscure or hide a motorcycle and rider. These include door pillars, passengers’ heads, and areas not visible in the mirrors.

• Other conditions affecting the vehicle—such as precipitation, glare, and cargo—can further impair a driver’s view and obscure motorcyclists.

• Objects and environmental factors beyond the vehicle, including other vehicles, roadside objects, and light patterns can make it more difficult for drivers to identify motorcyclists in traffic.

Traditional driver distractions, such as passengers, eating, smoking, reading, shaving, applying make-up, and managing audio systems, continue to be a problem and may be increasing as new distractions emerge. Portable phones and other communication devices, and features such as in-vehicle navigation systems, which divert more attention inside the car, may be increasingly distracting drivers.


Motorists should be aware of motorcycles and take special care to identify and acknowledge their presence. Motorists should avoid distractions and compensate for visual obstructions.

Motorcyclists should compensate for unaware motorists by increasing their conspicuity (see Conspicuity, page 49), lane position, riding with headlights on during daytime, and wearing brightly colored and retro-reflective protective apparel.


Both drivers and motorcyclists need to become more aware of the visibility problem. Educating drivers to become more aware of motorcycles and to consistently consider their presence would appear to be a very promising strategy for improvement in this crucial area. Getting drivers to consider the possible presence of motorcycles and the need to look for motorcyclists, situations where motorcycles may be obscured, and techniques for detecting motorcyclists, would be useful in reducing right-of-way violations by other vehicles.

This problem must be addressed on a number of fronts:

• Further research into why motorists fail to see motorcyclists could supply information on how to educate drivers to expect motorcycles to be present and to detect them.

• Mature driver programs that teach older drivers how to deal with their changing abilities should emphasize that motorcyclists may require an additional effort to detect.

• Rider education and training efforts need to continue to emphasize this problem and stress that the rider must assume the responsibility of avoiding a crash situation caused by another motorist. Initial and recurring rider education and training should continue to emphasize that motorists will frequently fail to observe motorcyclists, even though the motorcyclist is in plain view.

• Rider education and training must continue to include training on strategies and techniques for coping with this conspicuity problem.

• All driver education and training (mature driver programs, high schools, remedial programs) should include a component on motorcycle awareness.

• Expand avenues to promote motorists’ awareness of motorcyclists through billboards, visitor centers, media, motor vehicle departments, bill statements, banks, grocery stores, gas pumps, etc., where there are “captive audiences.”


• Educate operators of other vehicles to be more conscious of the presence of motorcyclists.

• Remind motorcyclists that they may be overlooked and provide defensive strategies for overcoming this situation.

• Include questions regarding motorcyclists on driver’s license tests and include information in driving manuals.

• Include the completion of a motorcyclist awareness class in sanctions against motorists found guilty of violating a motorcyclist’s right-of-way.

• Adequate funding needs to be devoted to the development and implementation of motorist awareness issues.

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