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Before you overtake, do you...?

...check for junctions on the left? Whenever I'm giving one of my Survival Skills presentations about avoiding overtaking collisions, it takes a few minutes to work through all the places we have to look out for. Most riders are aware of the hazards posed by junctions and other openings to the right, where the vehicle we're overtaking might turn right, or another in the side turning might emerge from. But way down the list is the fact that a junction or driveway on the left is just as much of a hazard. Why?

Here's what often happens. We see a vehicle ahead slow, and indicate left. "Good, that'll make it easier to pass" we think. And so we do all our other checks, swing wide and commit to the pass.

But as always with the Survival Skills approach to advanced riding, let's not assume things will go right, but think about what might go wrong.

What if the driver swings out to the right to make the turn easy? It's highly likely if the vehicle we're trying to pass is an articulated lorry or a bus, but cars do it too, and not always because the driver's being lazy, as we're all too quick to assume. The manoeuvre might be very awkward, maybe because the entrance is narrow or because it turns right back on itself.

What if there's a second vehicle actually in the side turning waiting to turn right? What's the driver of that vehicle likely to do as he sees the approaching car slowing with the left indicator on? There's a significant risk he will pull out, straight into our path and now we're set up for a head-on collision. Why does the driver go? Because he's seen the same as us, that there's nothing coming from his left (that's why we're overtaking), but he also thinks it's clear from his right, because of our position. Wide out to the right, we're blindsided by the car we're moving out to pass. We might well be able to see over the roof of the slowing car, but from where the driver is sat, all that's likely to be visible is the top of our helmet.

Or maybe that second vehicle plans on turning left. Exactly the same line-of-sight problem applies, only this time the driver pulls out and turns in the same direction we're headed. And maybe that takes away the gap we were planning on moving back into before encountering oncoming traffic.

So even if we back out of the overtake, what if the driver turning left cannot complete the turn? What if he's turning into a single track road and there's a vehicle coming the other way? Will the turning vehicle have to stop? And can we stop before we run into the back of it? A surprising number of crashes at junctions on fast roads happen when motorcycles collide with the back of vehicles that have slowed or stopped to make a turn.

And of course, there may be more than one vehicle involved. We may look at a pair of cars travelling relatively slowly, and decide we can hop into the gap between them. And then we realise the leading vehicle is slowing to turning left (or right). What will the vehicle we are passing do? The chances are the driver will be braking but aiming to slow or halt just behind the turning vehicle, bunching up close together. Where is our 'out' from the overtake now? It's probably vanished.

All these scenarios we should be able to spot developing, even if we haven't spotted where the vehicle will turn. We should see slowing vehicles, brake lights and probably indicators. We should be able to put two and two together and figure out what's happening.

But there's a final Worst Case Scenario which is not nearly so easy to detect. And that's when the vehicle we're about to overtake is NOT turning left but going straight on, but there's also a second vehicle waiting in the junction ahead, intending to turn right. Here's what happens. The driver looks left, sees the road is clear (our ahead - which is why we're about to overtake too), and pulls out across the vehicle we're just moving out to pass, straight into our path. The problem is that the emerging car doesn't need a big gap - the driver just needs enough space to get across the centre line and into the other lane.

That led to one of the very few genuine brown trouser moments I've had on a training course. The trainee set up an overtake past an HGV well. He's spotted we were about to exit a left-hand bend onto a long clear straight, moved wide to take a final check ahead, then started to accelerate...

...just as a Ferrari pulled out from the left, right in front of the truck and nailed it towards him. Fortunately, he wasn't totally committed and was able to hit the brakes and bail out of the overtake. But it was a scary moment.

Of course, it's not always easy to spot junctions and entrances on the left, but sometimes it's a simple failure of observation. One of the problems with overtaking is that it's such a complex speed / distance computation that we can get fixated on whether the road ahead is clear, and totally forget the job of scanning laterally for hazards. I've made this mistake myself, most recently on a BikeSafe assessment - I only spotted the entranceway after moving wide.

But very often, the most dangerous locations are flagged up good and early for us, but we still miss the warnings; a hazard line, triangular warning signs, road direction signs, finger posts, traffic islands and cross-hatched right-turn refuges, white paint in the throat of the junction, dropped kerbs, openings in hedges, gaps in lines of parked cars, even the roof of a cottage visible over the hedge - it WILL have a drive.

[A few days after I originally wrote this article, I added the following first-hand experience.]

Well... deja vu moment or what...

Having written this, there I was, zipping down a nice bit of road, slower car ahead, good straight coming up just around the next right-hand corner... I open up the view, it's clear... but...

I catch a glimpse of something silver to the left just as I move out to start the pass... and abort...

Just as well, because right in front of the car I was about to pass, out pulls a driver in a powerful Mercedes from a well-hedged driveway. He turns right and accelerates hard into what would have been my path had I continued with the manoeuvre.

I'm glad I was out of the way!

Kevin Williams
Survival Skills Rider Training

...because it's a jungle out there


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What is Survival Skills all about?

How are Survival Skills Courses put together and taught?
The Making of a Good Instructor - musings on my Driver Education course

Would a National Standard for advanced training be appropriate?
Writing a riding tip - what detail is necessary?
What to do if you've had an accident
Accident Statistics - dispelling some myths

Improver or advanced, pragmatism or perfection?
Piling on the miles
Compartmentalisation & Practice -  the key to learning new skills
Countersteering - Question and Answer

Braking Rules and Tips
Over-confidence and Riding at the Limit
Practice makes Perfect
The Danger of Misunderstanding
Learning from your Mistakes
A Moment of Inattention
Staying Warm
Staying Awake
Don't just ride for yourself, ride for others
Filtering - what's legal and how to do it
Cornering Problems 1 - Lean or Brake?
Springing into Summer - polishing off the winter rust
Group Riding - Rules and Tips
Awareness of Risk and Risk Management
Cornering Problems 4 - Stability and the "Point and Squirt" technique
Cornering Problems 3 - Staying out of trouble! Pro-active Braking or Acceleration Sense?
Cornering Problems 2 - Staying out of trouble
What is Risk?
Avoiding Diesel
The Vanishing Point - is it enough?
Posture - the key to smoother riding
When the Two Second Rule is not enough
Riding in the Dark
Roundabouts - straight lines, stability and safety
Slow Speed Control
Aquaplaning - what it is and how to deal with it
Rear Observation - when to & when not to!
Staying upright on icy roads
KISS - 'Keep it simple, Stupid' or Low Effort Biking
Overtaking Safety - avoiding vehicles turning right
Proactive versus Reactive Riding
Living with  Lifesavers
Which Foot? The Hendon Shuffle - Question and Answer
Carrying a passenger - Question and Answer
Riding in the rain
Riding in strong winds
Sorry Mate, I didn't see you - an analysis of SMIDSY accidents
Ever gone into a corner too hot and had it tighten up on you?
The Point & Squirt approach to corners
A time to live...
Target Fixation - Question and Answer
The Lurker, the Drifter and the Trimmer
The five most important things I learned as a courier
Overtaking - Questions and Answers
Precision riding - or keeping it simple?
Wide lines, tight lines, right lines - the law of Diminishing Returns
Surface Attraction
Euphoria - when your riding is just too good to be true
Straight line -vs- trail braking
Sit back, close your eyes, relax... and hope for the best
Before you overtake, do you...?
Do you need to blip the throttle on a downshift?
Holiday Riding Tips 1 - Dealing with hairpins (a new occasional series)
Holiday Riding Tips 2 - The (drive on the) Right Stuff
Why SMIDSYs happen
Avoiding dehydration - riding in hot weather
Riding errors - and avoiding them
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness - riding in fog
Where does Point and Squirt come from?
Overtaking - lifesavers and following distances
Offsiding - what is it, and why you should think before you do it!
Anger Management - dealing with "red mist" and "road rage"
That indefinable gloss
Overtaking on left-handers - experts only or best avoided?
Apex or Exit - what's important when cornering?

Developing 'Spidy Sense'

Armchair Riding - how to improve summer skills in winter

Working towards a BTEC in post-test instruction part 1

Working towards a BTEC in post-test instruction part 2

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IMPORTANT: The information on the Survival Skills website is for your general information and personal use and should be taken as a guide only. Survival Skills Rider Training provides no warranty or guarantee as to the accuracy, timeliness, performance, completeness, clarity, fitness or suitability of the information and materials found or offered on this website for any particular purpose and we expressly exclude liability for any such inaccuracies or errors to the fullest extent permitted by law. It shall be your own responsibility to ensure that any products, services or information available through this website meet your specific requirements and you acknowledge use of any information and materials is entirely at your own risk, and that neither Kevin Williams nor Survival Skills can accept responsibility for your interpretation or use of this information or materials. The content of these pages is subject to change without notice. 

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