The ability to anticipate danger on the road is an important driving skill in a car or truck, but becomes a much more crucial skill for those who ride motorcycles. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Basic Rider Course, which I completed about two years ago, emphasized the importance of visually scanning the road ahead for potential traffic dangers.
Sometimes, there is an unseen, or "sixth" sense that helps us riders anticipate trouble, which Canajun, a fellow motorcycle blogger, wrote about in his recent post titled, "Listen to that voice in your ear ...." Even while driving my cage, there have been many times that I 'sensed' another driver was about to cut into my lane, several seconds before they actually did. Maybe they seemed jumpy or fidgety, and I sensed they were about to make an abrupt lane change. Whatever the case, my being ready for such a possibility, by slowing down or changing lanes, has averted many close calls, if not accidents.
Riding under the influence of alcohol greatly increases the chances of an accident, but there are other factors that can impair one's ability to ride safely, such as hypothermia, being dehydrated or being tired.
But one factor is often overlooked - the emotional factor. My MSF handbook includes emotions as an impairment. "It is not easy to determine the personal effects of emotions on riding, but experts recognize that feeling angry, troubled or stressed makes safe, responsible riding more difficult," the handbook states. "Any emotion that distracts your attention away from being fully attentive ... will increase risk."
In his most recent blog entry, Canajun wrote that our sixth sense or "little voice" inside our heads that can keep us out of trouble is fragile. "The slightest impairment, whether caused by exhaustion, stress, alcohol, drugs, or even an overabundance of testosterone, will see it shut down and go into hibernation, leaving the rider without that most important yet usually over-looked defence."
His blog, posted on Tuesday, was timely, because the day before that, I had a wake-up call that drove that point home. I thank God I didn't have to learn the hard way, as I am still here typing on my keyboard.
I had a very frustrating day at work, the kind of day that, in the past, I would have downed a 12-pack of beer to drown my frustration (fortunately, I didn't ride back then). But, having been sober for nearly a year and a half, drinking my stress away is no longer an option.
Now that I ride, I have another option to cope with a stressful day. But, perhaps, I was a little TOO stressed to be on my motorcycle. I went riding around 4 p.m., when the afternoon rush was peaking and there were still school buses. Tired of riding at 25 mph, I sought a road with higher speed limits, Route 2. I rode on Route 2 North through South Kingstown and Exeter, and life was good, until I stopped for a red light at the intersection with Route 102. I waited and waited and waited for the light to turn green so I could turn left, but the light did not change. Apparently, my bike would not trigger whatever sensor or mechanism that makes the light change, and there were no cars behind me to trigger it either. My frustration began to mount and I had to get moving, so I decided to make a right turn on red onto Route 102 South. But, I did it at nearly full-throttle. Now, that is bad enough, but there was a long line of traffic heading north on 102, approaching that intersection, plus a convenience store.
Somehow, I barely made out the top of the roof of a car that was attempting to pull out of the convenience store, sneak through two lanes of backed-up traffic on the nortbound side, and pull into the southbound lanes, where I was rapidly accelerating. I am guessing I was going between 50 and 60 mph before I let off the throttle and jammed on my brakes. The young female driver of that car had not yet pulled out onto my lane, but - if she had been less cautious and did pull out ahead of me - chances are very good I would not be typing this now, but in a hospital bed or worse. It wasn't technically a close call or a near-miss, but it could very easily have turned into a tragedy, and my "overabundance of testosterone," as Canajun puts it, was solely to blame.