Have you learned to predict the future?
This doesn’t mean things that will happen tomorrow. It means something that might happen in the next few seconds. Small things that might have a significant effect on your safety. Expecting the unexpected. About learning to anticipate those seemingly random events that can happen on the road and put you at risk as a motorcyclist.
Fortunately, there’s a process you can learn. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) calls it ‘S.E.E.,’ or ‘Search,’ ‘Evaluate’ and ‘Execute.’ And it can help foretell just enough to make you a safer rider.
Where do your eyes go when you ride?
Do they linger on the fluffy white clouds in the beautiful blue sky? Do they fixate on squirrels scampering in the trees?
Your answer may start with ‘it depends.’ A wide-open, two-lane rural road in good weather requires a different level of attention than a crowded urban thoroughfare. And being able to notice and appreciate the sky, the people and the wildlife while you ride is one of the joys of motorcycling.
The key is not to linger on any of these sights but to continuously redirect your gaze to soak in as much information as possible. The S.E.E. method asks you to look as far ahead as 12 seconds. That’s a guideline; don’t distract yourself by counting the seconds. Just look as far ahead as is practical under the circumstances.
If something catches your attention half a mile up the road, make a mental note. And remember that not everything in your future is ahead of you. Check your mirrors frequently, as well. A car up ahead is swerving now and then. Another one has its indicator on but doesn’t seem to be turning. There’s a ‘School Zone Ahead’ sign. A car in your mirror is gaining.
A junction is coming up – is anybody preparing to turn? Squirrel!
To ‘Search’ means to gather as much information as possible about everything going on around you to provide clues about what might be about to happen. That’s where Step 2, ‘Evaluate,’ comes in.
The school zone. The swerving car. The junction. The car in your mirror. All of these are clues – even the squirrel. And as you ‘Search,’ you should also simultaneously and continuously ‘Evaluate’ what it all means. That is, use those visual cues to predict the future.
A swerving car is never a good sign. It could be somebody who’s been drinking. It could be a texter. Or someone having a fight with the person in the passenger seat. You don’t know, and you shouldn’t care. You should know that car is probably more likely than others to drift into your lane without signaling or suddenly swerve to make an exit.
What does the school zone sign tell you? Again, it depends. Is it a school day, during school hours, when children are present? If so, it probably means a lower speed limit. It might mean a school crossing is coming up. Even if it’s not a school day, the school probably has a playground, which can attract children on off days. Children are notoriously unpredictable, known to dart into the street without warning. Are any cars parked along the curb – cars that can block such children from your sight?
That oncoming car signaling to turn in front of you: can you see the driver? Can he/she see you? Do they seem to be paying attention? Can you make eye contact? Are there cars near you traveling in your direction, or are you all by yourself? Does the crossing signal show a green or red light to pedestrians? All these things can help you predict what that driver might be about to do.
That squirrel: is it getting ready to dart in front of you? Is it being chased by a band of bully squirrels? And what if it wasn’t a squirrel you saw, but a deer?
What’s a threat and what’s not? What might happen in the next few seconds to put you in danger? This is what you ‘Evaluate’ to determine what actions to ‘Execute.’
Now that you know what might happen, what do you do about it? In most instances, it comes down to what you’re ready to do.
That swerving car – stay clear, give it plenty of space. This might mean dropping back to provide it with extra following distance. Or it might mean looking for an opportunity to pass and put it far behind you. When neither option is available in heavy traffic, it might mean just keeping an extra-close eye on it while you cover the brakes and the clutch (keep your hands on them without squeezing), preparing for the worst.
In the school zone, lower your speed (especially when the law requires it!) and keep an extra close eye out for small humans.
That squirrel? The truth is, in many instances, when a squirrel darts into your path, the best thing to do is brace for impact. No one wants to hit a squirrel, but better one squirrel is sacrificed than swerving and losing control, causing a one-bike or multi-vehicle accident.
If it’s a deer, slow down and be prepared to stop. Deer aren’t vehicle-savvy and can dart into your path without warning. And remember that when you see one deer cross the road, there’s a good chance another (or several) will be close behind.
That turning driver may or may not see you. Making eye contact is always a good thing. If he or she seems inattentive, prepare for the worst. Yes, you have the right of way, but asserting that right is not worth your life. If necessary, slow down to make sure you’re seen. You’re especially vulnerable if there are no cars behind you or next to you. And if that light is about to turn amber, the driver might be in more of a hurry to make that turn whether the intersection is clear or not.
And remember, while you’re doing all of this, you’re still ‘Searching’ and ‘Evaluating’ as well. It’s a simultaneous process – not a ‘1-2-3, repeat’ kind of thing.
As always, experience is the best teacher. Every ride is a chance to learn something new. Over time, you can learn to recognize trends and patterns to help you predict the future with greater accuracy – and react more effectively.
At the same time, avoid a sense of complacency when you ride familiar roads. Most unplanned incidents happen within a mile or two of home, and we suspect that’s at least in part because riders tend to drop their guard in familiar territory. ‘Been there, done that’ can be a detriment to safe riding.
Think about it – when are you most alert on a motorcycle? It is likely when you’re riding in traffic in an unfamiliar place. That’s when your biker radar is operating at peak efficiency. ‘Searching,’ ‘Evaluating,’ and ‘Executing’ at a furious pace, keenly aware of everything going on around you.
Some riders might think: “Wow, that’s a lot of work,” and ask: “Do I have to do all this stuff all the time?” Well, no, you don’t have to. But then, you don’t have to be as safe as possible, either. Every rider makes a personal decision every time they take to the road about how much risk they will assume.
The point here is not to draw attention to every example of what might happen to you on the road and tell you how to respond. That would be impossible. Instead, the point is to encourage you to practice the ‘art of anticipation’ – to always ride not just in the ‘now’ but in the ‘few seconds from now.’
The future is out there, right in front of you, all the time. You can’t always see it. But you can learn to anticipate it and become a better rider in the process.