Drivers often assume they only need to keep an eye out for other passenger vehicles, trucks, and likewise easily noticed vehicles. As a result, many fail to pay due attention to motorcycles. Motorcycles take up considerably less space than larger vehicles and have a different visual profile.
This makes them less noticeable and increases the odds that they will get lost in a passenger vehicle’s blind spot. In other words, a passenger vehicle driver may fail to recognize the profile of the motorcycle on the road, which means they may change lanes into that space without realizing the motorcycle is there.
Sometimes, you may need to pass a motorcycle sharing the road with you. The motorcycle rider may have slowed down due to weather conditions or traffic in their lane, or they might simply opt to travel slower than you are. Follow these tips to ensure that you can safely pass motorcycles sharing the road with you.
What Is the Safest Way to Pass a Motorcycle?
In general, to safely pass a motorcycle, follow these key safety tips.
1. Make sure you know exactly where the motorcycle sits beside your vehicle.
Before passing a motorcycle, as you would before passing any vehicle, make sure you take note of the exact location of the motorcycle. When passing a larger passenger vehicle, you may more easily mark the vehicle's location when moving past. Establishing precisely when you have moved past the motorcycle, on the other hand, can prove more difficult. Take a clear look in your mirrors and check your blind spots to identify the motorcycle’s exact location before attempting to pass or change lanes.
2. Pass at a reasonable rate of speed.
Even if the motorcycle seems to travel at a much lower rate of speed than you, do not pass the motorcycle at high rates of speed. Avoid the urge to speed to pass. If you have to enter a cross-traffic lane to pass, you should only pass if you can do so without speeding. The draft from your passing vehicle, at a high rate of speed, can, in some cases, affect the motorcycle, which could put the motorcycle off-balance.
3. Make sure you have adequate room in making lane changes.
At both the time you exit the lane to pass and the time you re-enter the lane, make sure to leave adequate room between your vehicle and the motorcycle. You should keep at least a few car lengths between your vehicle and the motorcycle. Also, keep adequate room between your vehicle and any vehicles ahead of the motorcycle as you re-enter the lane.
Always use your signals before changing lanes. Your signal notifies drivers around you and the motorcycle rider that you intend to change lanes so that they can adjust their driving accordingly. Often, a motorcycle rider will fall back to leave you with more room to maneuver, which can help decrease the risk of an accident and give you more space to change back into the lane.
5. Keep to your own lane until you have decided to pass.
Often, when trying to pass a motorcycle, drivers try to lane split: a maneuver that, in a passenger vehicle, places the passenger vehicle partly in two lanes. This closes the space between the sides of the passenger vehicle and the motorcycle. When passing a motorcycle safely, however, always leave the motorcycle rider the full width of their lane to maneuver safely. Only once you have passed the motorcycle completely and created enough space behind you should you drift back into the motorcycle rider’s lane at all.
6. Make sure you continue to travel at the same speed as the traffic in your lane.
Once you pass a motorcycle, make sure that you match the speed of drivers ahead. Sometimes, drivers may choose to pass a motorcycle simply to avoid driving behind one. However, if you do not intend to match speed with drivers ahead, and instead slow down, you may find that the motorcycle rider then needs to pass you. Every time someone is passing, the risk of accidents increases, so it is best to minimize passing. Make sure that you continue to stay in line with traffic and keep your speed consistent and predictable.
7. Avoid splitting groups of bikers, when possible.
Often, bikers will head out together for events, whether for a charity ride or a group tour. Biker groups may spread out between one another, especially when navigating a winding stretch of road or pulling out from a stop sign or traffic light. This may make it seem like you can pass one or a few in the group at a time. However, when driving into the middle of a group of bikers, you not only tend to come too close to one or more of the riders, but you may disrupt their flow. Instead, try to pass the entire group at once, without breaking into the line. Signal your lane changes and, whenever possible, wait until you have passed the lead biker in the group before moving your vehicle over.
When Should You Pass a Motorcycle?
Some drivers struggle to safely share the road with motorcycles. You may feel that they behave unpredictably, drive too fast, or that they clog up the road when you need to reach your destination. But motorcycle riders have the same rights to the road as the drivers of passenger vehicles—to safely reach their destination, to use the road, and to have an entire lane to themselves. In general, you should follow the guidelines below when determining whether you should pass a motorcycle.
1. The motorcycle has dropped well below the speed limit and/or the natural flow of traffic in your lane.
Most roads have maximum speed limits and many have minimum speed limits. In any case, the vehicles on a given road tend to establish a certain flow of traffic, which can help decrease the risk of accidents. If you notice that a motorcycle has dropped well below the speed limit or well below the flow of traffic, look for the reasons.
Sometimes, a motorcycle rider may need to drop speed due to poor road or weather conditions; in such a case, it may be hazardous to pass them, especially if the conditions are already creating stability problems. If you do not note an obvious reason for a change of speed, and it appears they are voluntarily going slower, you can proceed with a safe lane change or pass the motorcycle.
2. You have a clear lane in which to pass the motorcycle.
Before changing lanes to pass a motorcycle, you need to make sure that you have adequate room to pass safely. Take a look at the other lane of traffic. When passing, you should either have two lanes of traffic traveling in the same direction or a broken centerline indicating that you can pass slow-moving traffic in your lane.
If you do not have that clear lane of traffic, you need to wait until a clear space emerges to pass safely. When passing using a cross-traffic lane, be sure you have ample space between you and any oncoming vehicles while you need to use their lane. Never pass on a double yellow line or attempt to pass when you would need to speed to pass in time to avoid oncoming traffic.
3. You can pass without exceeding the speed limit or the current flow of traffic.
In general, you should only pass a motorcycle or any other vehicle when you can safely pass without exceeding the speed limit. The posted speed limit is the fastest speed that you can safely travel and usually is based on ideal weather conditions. At night or during bad weather, you may need to drop your rate of speed to pass safely, or it may be unsafe to pass at all. If you cannot pass the motorcycle rider without exceeding the speed limit or going too fast for conditions, do not attempt to pass.
4. You can pass in the left lane.
In general, slower traffic should always stay to the right. And you should always pass a vehicle on a lane to their left, not their right. If you cannot pass without using a right lane, you should remain behind the motorcycle until a lane to the motorcycle's left opens. This includes cases where the motorcycle lingers in the left lane. Using the right lane to rapidly pass or swerve around a motorcycle or any other vehicle increases the chances of an accident, as this is generally unpredictable driving behavior.
5. You have adequate visibility to ensure that you can pass safely.
Most of the time, motorcycle riders do not ride in dangerous weather. Falling rain hits motorcycle riders hard when they lack adequate protection. It can easily disorient a rider. Most of the time, motorcycle riders will try to pull off the road if they get caught in bad weather conditions. Unfortunately, sometimes, they remain on the road. Motorcycle riders may also end up stuck on the road under foggy conditions or late at night, as visibility drops considerably. In inclement weather or dark conditions, make sure you have adequate visibility before trying to pass a motorcycle. On curvy roads, when visibility drops substantially, or when you have a hard time tracking the movement of the motorcycle beside you, avoid changing lanes until you have a straight stretch of road, long enough to be able to pass safely.
When Should You Avoid Passing a Motorcycle?
In many cases, it is best to avoid passing a motorcycle, even if the motorcycle rider has slowed more than your liking. Be patient and, if necessary, take a detour instead of dangerously or illegally passing a motorcycle. The following are scenarios in which you should avoid trying to pass a motorcycle.
1. You need to pass on a two-lane road with a solid double yellow line.
The solid yellow line down the center indicates that it is unsafe to pass, and you should not attempt the maneuver for any reason.
2. You would need to exceed the speed limit to pass the motorcycle.
Do not break the law simply to pass. Instead, wait until you can safely move away from the motorcycle.
3. You do not have adequate visibility to complete the passing maneuver.
If you cannot clearly see everything you need to see to pass safely, you should never attempt to change lanes or pass a motorcycle. Sometimes, the motorcycle rider might speed up unexpectedly, especially if they do not realize that you intended to pass them. If you cannot see a rider clearly, you cannot pass safely.
4. You would have to pass swiftly and abruptly to get back into the lane, for any reason.
You should not pass a motorcycle if, for example, you notice that you are approaching a double yellow line on a two-lane road and you do not have adequate room to complete the maneuver before the double-line, or if you know that you need to exit or change lanes soon and will have to complete your passing maneuver quickly to make your next move.
When sharing the road with a motorcycle, as when sharing the road with any other vehicle, you must exercise appropriate caution when passing, changing lanes, or managing your speed. You must take greater care around a motorcycle in many ways than other passenger vehicles.