Safe Riding

Avoiding the NO ZONE

Written by  February 28, 2006

What’s the NO ZONE? Is it the set of one of those ridiculous Capital One commercials with David Spade? How about the area around the loan officer's desk at the bank? Or is it the bar at McKeever’s when none of my pickup lines are working? Maybe, but for the purpose of this safety tip the NO ZONE is a blind spot around another vehicle where you and your motorcycle cannot be seen by its driver. There are NO ZONES around every vehicle, large or small, but the biggest NO ZONES are those around large trucks, buses, and motor homes. It’s not always possible or practical to avoid blind spots completely, but it is of paramount importance to be aware of them and to avoid lingering in them.
One of my my “secrets to survival” in traffic is to act as if I am invisible. Even when I am in plain sight, I expect motorists to behave as they would if I wasn't there. It’s taking defensive driving to the extreme, and it has kept me out of trouble many times. But there are times when your motorcycle, or your car for that matter, really are invisible to other drivers. Large vehicles typically have very large areas around them where the drivers’ direct visibility is blocked, and the rear-view mirrors also do not provide coverage. To hang around in these NO ZONES is to invite trouble. It is important to remember that if you can’t see the driver’s face in the side-view mirror, you are invisible to him or her, and you could be in big trouble if there is a need to swerve or change lanes. It is always dangerous to tailgate, especially on a motorcycle, but the danger is magnified if you are in the NO ZONE behind a semi. Maybe you’ll get better gas mileage by “drafting” a semi, but you could end up underneath if its driver needs to make a sudden stop.

On Saturday, February 25, Kansas City Area bikers had a chance to safely experience the NO ZONE at Blue Springs Harley-Davidson. Greater Kansas City Harley Owners Group’s Safety Officer, Larry Southers, had made arrangements for an 18-wheeler to be parked in front of the dealership with several motorcycles positioned in the blind spots or danger zones around the rig. Visitors were encouraged to climb into the driver’s seat to see what semi drivers see and, more importantly, what they can’t see. It was a eye-opening experience. The bikes in front and to the right of the big Peterbilt could not be seen.
I talked with Larry about the display:

CC: How did you come up with the idea for this display.
Larry: I had heard from several of our club members that they had seen riders get too close to semis and vice versa, and we decided to give people a dramatic demonstration of how this affects the rider, the person that’s driving that rig, and potentially the rider’s family if that rider is involved in an accident as thousands are each year.
CC: In many accidents involving these big rigs, the truck driver is not at fault.
Larry: That’s very true. In many cases, accidents are the result of other drivers carelessness or their unawareness of the visual limitations involved with trucks and their lack of maneuverability.

CC: I understand that this demonstration will be repeated.
Larry: Yes, we’ll set up at Worth Harley-Davidson North on Saturday, March 25. We’ll also bring it back a couple of times during the summer. We want this to be available to as many people as possible, not just motorcycle riders.

CC: What was involved in making the arrangements for this rig to be here?
Larry: That was easy. The owner of the semi is a member of Greater Kansas City H.O.G. Riding safety is a big priority for the dealerships, and they were happy to cooperate.

CC: Thanks, Larry. Your efforts in setting this up are very much appreciated!

Next, I was eager to hear about the NO ZONE from the perspective of Richard Loveall, the man who sits behind the wheel of this 18-wheel behemoth for hours at a time in traffic:
CC: I would like to hear your description of the NO ZONE. How much of the area around your rig is invisible?
Richard: On the passenger side, basically the whole area is a blind spot other than what’s visible in the mirrors. The left side is not such a blind spot, but at the rear of the truck, there is a 60-foot area that the driver cannot see. In front, there is at least 20 feet that can’t be seen from the driver’s seat, depending on the height of the vehicle in front. It’s important not to ride beside a semi for any length of time because if one of those tires blows out, it can kill you! Especially if you’re on a motorcycle, when all of that debris scatters, huge chunks of tread may come flying in your direction. It could knock you right off the bike, and it will kill you!

CC: You’re a motorcyclist and a member of the club so you see both sides of this situation. What advice would you give to riders when operating near big trucks?
Richard: When passing, do it as safely and quickly as possible. Don’t linger at any point around a truck. Plan ahead. There are times when you have to be near a truck. Just be aware that if you can’t see his face in the truck’s mirror, the driver can’t see you.

CC: Please give us a little information about your rig.
Richard: It’s a 2003 Peterbilt with a 53-foot Wabash trailer. It’s a total of 75 feet in length, so it’s difficult to maneuver anywhere, especially in traffic. It’s important to remember that wide right turns are required, meaning that the truck must move far left before turning right in order for the clear the rear of the rig. In spite of turn signals, sometimes people get up into that area to the right, and are unhappy about getting cut off, but there’s really no choice. It’s the only way to make it around the corner in one of these. Just this morning, a driver passed me on the right as I was pulling into the parking lot here at Blue Springs Harley. It was dark, and my turn signals were on, but that didn’t seem to matter.

CC: With a load, what does it take to get stopped?
Richard: It takes over 400 feet. With all of that weight, the momentum is amazing. You can’t stop on a dime, but some people seem to think you can. I try to keep a buffer zone in front of me, but cars regularly change lanes into that zone just because there is a space.

CC: Richard, I enjoyed meeting you. Thanks for the information and for going to the trouble of making your rig available for this display.
Richard: I was glad to do it. If it prevents even one accident, it’s well worth the effort.

I would encourage all readers to become familiar with the vehicles they drive when they are not on their motorcycles. Please ride safely, and don’t hang out in the NO ZONE!

Lead illustration courtesy of Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

Article and Photos by Stripe