The Right Side Of The Road!

What is considered the right side of the road or rather the best place on the road to position your vehicle, be it a motorcycle, car, lorry, etc. 

The best position on the road is one that enables the rider to gain the optimum view of the road, in order to manoeuvre the motorcycle safely and to avoid any hazards that may present themselves. 

A motorcyclist has certain advantages over most car drivers as they are able to view the road from an elevated position which gives them the best view ahead, however, a motorcyclist is also susceptible to more destabilising factors which may mean the rider having to constantly alter road position.

If we consider the ‘correct’ road position for a motorcyclist on entry to a right hand bend in the road. For a rider who ‘rides on the left’ e.g. in the UK, that correct position would be to the left hand side of the road lane (away from the centre of the road) which would give the best possible view through and beyond the right hand bend. For a rider who ‘rides on the right’ e.g. in the USA or Europe, that correct position would be to the left hand side of the road lane (towards the centre of the road). The opposite would be applied to a left hand bend.

If we consider the ‘correct’ road position for a motorcyclist on a straight road (without side junctions/intersections), then the best position is one where the rider occupies the centre of the lane or some would say the centre of the road without any oncoming traffic.

If we consider the ‘correct’ road position for a motorcyclist on a straight road ( with side junctions/intersections), then the best position is one where the rider occupies towards the centre of the road; away from the mouth of the junction. This gives the rider the best possible view of traffic approaching and emerging from the side junction but also gives the emerging traffic the best possible view to see the motorcyclist.

There are many other examples of road position according to road type, surrounding environment, road and weather conditions which may be deemed to be the correct road position, but is the ‘correct position always the correct choice?’

The optimum position on the road should provide the rider with the optimum view of the road ahead and potential hazards to facilitate a safe uneventful ride. However, so many motorcycle accidents can be traced back to a ‘wrong’ position on the road with either appropriate or inappropriate speed or traced back to the ‘correct’ side of the road with inappropriate speed or an external factor has meant that the ‘correct’ side was the wrong choice!

The side of the road and to a lesser degree, the middle of the road, is where most debris will accumulate, be that grit, gravel, metal fragments, plant material, etc. This debris is increased with heavy rain and after high winds and more so in the autumn and winter months. Any part of the road surface can start to ‘break away’ due to various factors, be those very hot or cold temperatures, or traffic density and traffic loading, or pollutants or issues with substructure (usually caused by ground movement or by seismic activity). Any rider encountering a sudden change to the road surface may develop a sudden loss of grip or may even suddenly regain of grip which may destabilise the motorcycle. Of course if we factor in, wet roads, fuel and oils, ice, mud/dirt/sand, manhole & drain covers, etc then this may only compound the risk.

Should a rider sacrifice road position to avoid riding over debris that would potentially destabilise the motorcycle or rather maintain road position and retain normal speeds or maintain road position and reduce speed?

Some would argue that a rider should be very reluctant to sacrifice road position because of the reduced view ahead…but riders should also always be looking at the view directly in front! Therefore it becomes a question of speed at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the manoeuvre. The main challenge here for the rider is to complete the manoeuvre successfully, i.e. actually make it through the bend!

Riding over some types of debris or pollutants is still perfectly acceptable but this is largely dependent on the speed and profile (accelerating/decelerating, steering & lean angle, loading, etc.) The motorcycle should be in a more upright and stable reduced speed if riding over debris and this is the decision that the rider should constantly assess. If the debris or break in the road (potholes or cracks) is too large that will substantially destabilise the ride, then the rider should manoeuvre around and change road position up to a certain point.

Many motorcycle accidents that occur are caused by the rider manoeuvring to avoid a potential hazard which coupled with higher speeds actually destabilises the motorcycle further leading to a loss of control or places the motorcycle in the ‘wrong’ position which may lead to an impact with another vehicle.   

All riders should constantly practice and assess road positioning and hone their skills, however, each rider should never rigidly stick with a particular road position and ignore debris and the condition of the road surface directly ahead to the extent it compromises safety. Ultimately it is a judgement call the rider should make and the speed and road position will vary to a certain degree according to the conditions. E.g. on a right hand bend, the rider may occupy the centre of the road lane and stay away from the accumulated debris on the side or middle of the road where applicable.

Many accidents have occurred whereby the rider has maintained the correct position on the road but has not factored in an extra layer of safety or buffer between themselves and an unforeseen hazard that suddenly presents itself that the rider has not been able to avoid, be that another vehicle or animal or object.

If we consider a left hand bend in the UK or a right hand bend in the USA or Europe etc, then the correct road position would be towards the centre of the road in your lane. However, many accidents occur between motorcycles and other vehicles because the rider has rigidly stuck to their position and the other vehicle has also driven towards the centre of the road or even encroached onto the rider’s side and a head on collision or glancing collision has resulted.

The rider should always factor in what may potentially be around the bend, especially if on a blind or obscured bend and adjust entry speed and possibly road position to a certain degree to create the extra buffer.

The choice of options for the rider is vast for an ever changing set of conditions and varying degrees of hazard. A particular road will not necessarily be ridden in the same way or manner every time. All riders should factor in what they can see, what they should see and what they may not see and develop contingencies to assist in a safe ride. Further training and advanced training will provide some skills which will assist the rider, but ultimately it is the rider’s decision making process that may mean the difference between a successful or unsuccessful ride.

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