I don’t care if you’re a pedestrian, a bicyclist, a motorcyclist, the driver of an automobile, truck, or street sweeper. The key to survival is the ability to overcome those who suffer from chronic distraction. It’s no joke. Your lack of awareness could get me hurt or worse on our local roads and highways, or my lack of same could hurt you. I don’t want to maim or kill you with my 3-ton vehicle simply because I was trying to dial my cell phone even though I have hands free Bluetooth connectivity. Maybe I was just too lazy to activate the voice command function. That one moment of distraction could be a tragic life changer.
We only have a couple of tools at our disposal to combat drivers suffering from momentary distraction on our roads. Those tools include sight and sound. We must snap a distracted driver out of their distraction before they encroach on our space with a visual or audible pulse or blast. One or the other or both. Whatever it takes.
I knew a race engine builder and motorcyclist from Norwich named Jim Fitzgerald who worked on my BMW motorcycle. Jim would always combine tinkering on the bike with little nuggets of wisdom that he had picked up over decades of riding. “Ever had a deer get hypnotized by your headlight when you were riding at night?” he asked. I certainly have had that happen. “Just flick your headlight from high to low beam a bunch of times real quick. That usually snaps ‘em out of it.” Jim was right. Works on humans too.
One time Jim asked, “What do you have for horns on this bike?” I told him it had twin FIAMMS on it. He snapped on the ignition and gave the horns a good long blast that echoed down into the valley. “Yup,” he said. “More than adequate to awaken the dead.” I have no problem with installing a set of 150 or 300 decibel auxilliary horns on any one of my vehicles, two or four-wheeled. My biological Dad just got a super loud train horn for his new Jeep Wrangler. Horns are that second tool that you can use to wake up a distracted driver. I used those FIAMMS to great effect one day on the Pennsylvania turnpike when a loose 8-year-old boy was bouncing around with no seat belt in the back seat of his Mom’s Jeep Grand Wagoneer. He would go from one window to another dumping out water from a cup or some trash to see if he could hit me on my motorcycle. He did. All during this time, his Mom drifted in and out of her lane, completely distracted. I pulled the bike up so I was positioned just behind the driver’s window and I hit a long blast on the twin horns. Mom came up out of her seat like a shot, became aware of junior being loose in the back seat, and screamed at him. Then she took the very next exit.
There’s a form of driver distraction that is of shorter duration and it typically occurs at intersections and side roads. It’s the one where they say “I never saw you.” Statistically, this happens when the driver looks to their left more than to their right. Having daytime running lights helps them to see you. Wearing dayglo colors over your leathers on a motorcycle helps as well. Motorcycles have been required by law to have the headlight on at all times for decades now. I’m especially impressed by flashing LED lights that bicyclists have been employing in recent years, and the tech just gets better all the time for these. Why aren’t more motorcyclists using them to avoid getting rear-ended at intersections? When I’m sitting at a stoplight I flash my brake lights in a non-rhythmical pattern to help drivers see me, but I honestly wish we had third brake lights on our helmets as well.
The sheer number of distracted drivers seems to increase every year, as does the amount of traffic on our roads. It also takes more to break the distraction that drivers fall into. I’m rather partial to mega-decibel air horns, say, from a cruise ship adapted for automotive use. If only they could. I also like halogen driving lights and have had several Hella’s mounted on my vehicles to flash at the brain-dead. You do have a third tool in your arsenal that should always be “on” and that’s your defensive driving skills. Please be aware of how easy it is to become distracted while driving. We’ve all done it and we all need to sharpen our skills and pay better attention.