Every year motorcycle riders are killed in motorcycle accidents because vehicles could not see the motorcycle rider or cars were not paying attention. Understanding how different lane positions can help motorcycle riders see better and help vehicles see motorcycle riders.
What is lane position?
A motorcycle can be in three-lane positions of a single roadway lane—the outside, middle, and inside. The outside lane position would be closer to the shoulder. The inside lane position would be closer to the center of the road. Is there a specific lane position that works for every situation? Absolutely not. Your lane position will change based on the circumstances. So the biggest question most riders have is, "What is the best lane position?" You want to be in the lane position that allows you to see and be seen. Here are some ideas to consider in different situations.
Intersections are the most dangerous place for motorcycle riders and make up 51% of all motorcycle fatalities. An intersection can be two roadways intersecting, an on-ramp to a freeway, alleyway connecting to the main road. When you're approaching an intersection, the closer you can be to the center of the street, the more likely you are to be seen and allow you to see cars on the connecting road.
Here are some things to consider when choosing a lane position. If there are three lanes of traffic in one direction, get in the number one lane or the lane closest to the center of the road. When you get in the number one lane, you have to slow down less, and usually you don't have vehicles making quick lane changes into your lane. When it comes to choosing a lane position, the middle lane position may be the best option because it shows you have no intention of going anywhere but straight, and it can make you look bigger than you are. The only issue with the middle lane position is that the oil and other liquids vehicles drop in the roadway which could cause a motorcycle accident. The inside lane position may tell other cars on the road that you want to change lanes into a left turn lane. The outside lane position may tell other vehicles on the road that you want to change lanes into the number two lane or the middle lane.
When you must stop at an intersection, it is better to be in the outside or inside lane position to avoid all the fluids that vehicles like to drop on the roadway, like oil and water coolant. You also want to avoid putting your foot in any liquids, which could cause your foot to slip and cause your motorcycle to fall over. If you place your foot in oil and put your foot back on your foot peg, it could cause your foot to slip off of the foot peg as you start riding again.
Two-lane Roads and Rural Roads
A two-lane road has one lane of traffic in each direction. Picking a lane position for a two-lane roadway can be difficult. I prefer to stay closer to the outside or the middle position if no intersections are coming up. I do this because if someone tries to pass another vehicle in my lane, I can go off the road or try to get as close as possible to the shoulder. In the middle lane position, you can take up the whole lane, and it does help you look bigger and more visible. The inside lane position requires you to pay close attention to what's going on and will require you to constantly change your position, especially if big rigs are going in the opposite direction.
Multi-Lane roadways can be hazardous for riders no matter how much experience you have on a motorcycle. Multi-Lane streets will usually have many vehicles on the road and cars constantly changing lanes. Vehicles will be slowing down and speeding up. Cars will be entering and exiting the roadway. If you are not planning to turn anytime soon on a multi-lane highway, I would suggest being in the far-left lane and staying in the middle position to allow you to be better seen and see better. If you do have to turn soon, it would be better to be in the lane position closest to whichever direction you will be turning. I see many riders who try to wait until the last minute to change lanes to prepare for the turn, which can cause extra stress on a rider. It's always better to plan your route and give yourself plenty of time to make your turns. If you wait until the last minute to choose your lane position and lane, it could cause a motorcycle accident.
For newer riders, freeways can be one of the scariest places. Vehicles are traveling 80 plus miles per hour; cars are constantly changing lanes and lots of semi-trucks. Choosing the proper lane and lane position can become extremely important when on the freeway to help you see down the freeway better. Most of the freeways in California will usually have at least 2-3 lanes in each direction and sometimes will have a carpool lane. Some freeways can have 5-6 lanes plus a carpool lane. When you are a new rider, you may not feel comfortable riding in the fast lane or carpool lane. Staying in the right lane has its challenges, especially in California.
California requires semi-trucks to drive in the right lane, which means you would be riding with the semi-trucks.
If you are going to ride in the right lane, you want to make sure that you give yourself plenty of space between you and the semi-trucks. Something that a semi-truck runs over may not be a big deal for the semi-truck but could cause you severe problems and possibly cause a motorcycle accident. If you are going to ride in the right lane, give yourself plenty of space, and choosing a lane position will require you to evaluate your situation. The inside lane position may tell other vehicles that you want to change lane positions but allows you to see around cars.
I prefer either the outside or inside lane position because it allows me to change lanes or avoid obstacles if needed. The outside lane position will enable you to see around the vehicle in front of you, but it makes it harder for cars to see you, and you could have a vehicle change lanes into your lane, which could cause a motorcycle accident. The middle lane position allows you to look bigger, but you may not see debris on the roadway until it is too late.
If you are more comfortable on a bike, you may want to be in the far-left lane or carpool lane. If I am riding in the far-left lane, I prefer to be in the middle lane position or inside lane position. Being in the middle lane allows you to see and be seen. If you are in the inside position or closest to the center median, it will give you more time to react to cars changing lanes toward you. You still want to create space between you and the vehicles in front of you just in case there is debris on the road. It will give you more time to react to debris and situations. If you decide to ride in the outside lane position, cars may think you are trying to split lanes when you have no intention of splitting lanes. You may have cars driving on the shoulder kicking up debris when you don't want to pass.
I hope this gives you some ideas and different things to think about no matter what type of road you are on. Your lane and lane position will change constantly. There will never be a permanent lane or lane position that will cover all situations.
In the end, it comes down to having fun and surviving the ride so you can do it again. The more miles you put on a motorcycle, the easier it will get to choose a lane and lane position to stay safe on the road.