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Passive and active defensive riding

Discussion in 'New Riders and Riding Tips' started by smileedude, May 2, 2013.

  1. #1 smileedude, May 2, 2013
    Last edited: May 2, 2013
    I've read a couple of threads recently of near misses that have made me think about my two phases of defensive riding.

    Passive, this is where I come to a potential hazard, cover my brakes (as well as weave and set up escape routes) and pass without slowing down significantly, and

    Active, where I identify a heightened risk do all the stuff I would normally do with passive defensive but apply the brakes and try to slow down a fair amount before reaching the situation and before anyone has done anything stupid. As well I try to exaggerate side to side movement to give me greater visibility.

    I haven't really heard this talked about but I assume most experienced riders do this so I thought I would write something about it for the noobs and see what situations cause other riders to go from passive to active road craft.

    So a few examples; riding along a road and you come across a car waiting to turn from the opposite lane in front of you. Conditions are perfect. Here I will weave, prepare my escape routes and cover my brakes. But wont actually start braking unless the car does something. The risks of them not seeing you are low and there is no point in wasting those few seconds by slowing down.

    But take this same situation and throw a low sun directly behind you. Chances of them not seeing you go from low to moderate. Now I go in to active defensive riding. I exaggerate my side to side motion, I start applying the brakes and am usually well below the speed limit when I pass into the danger zone (Even if kittens were being brutally slaughtered before reaching this point). If they move and I can't avoid them at least any impact will be slower and reduce injuries. But more importantly I'm giving them a longer chance to see me and I'm giving myself a much greater chance of avoiding them.

    Another example, riding along and there is a car coming out a side street. Normally my road craft would be passive. But what if when you look at them there's a telegraph pole on the corner completely obscuring the driver? If they were checking to see if anything was coming at that moment they wouldn't see you. Now I apply the brakes, and also move out to my right to get the telegraph pole out of obstruction.

    I go into active defensive mode when ever there's a clue that the drivers visuals are lower than normal. These include:

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  2. Smileedude,

    Good article, makes people think. Notwithstanding that some of us have ridden since before there were bikes, its always good to have something highlighted to reinforce what most of us do by force of habit.

    I hope it stimulate good, healthy discussion and assist in keeping a few riders safer.
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  3. What did you ride before there were bikes?

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  4. I use active a lot while riding in bus lanes. There's a high probability that cars waiting on side roads to turn left are focussed on the lanes with cars and not paying much attention to an apparently empty bus lane.
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  5. I was a devil on my dinkie!
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  6. With people pulling out from a left lane, looking to go right, the opposite way to you, I've noticed they only give a menial look in your direction as they are more focused on the cars they will be merging with, and are only looking for a small enough gap in your lane for them to nip across.

    Quite a few times I've seen them roll up looking the other way seeing if there's a chance for them to get across without stopping.
  7. I work in an industrial area, and what you said is the norm, often they don't look right until they start pulling out and have their car 1/3 into the lane.

    I have seen these people almost collected by things much bigger than motorcycles, its not a case of SMIDSY but "Sorry mate i didn't bother looking".

    In these situations i am covering the breaks as i see them approach the intersection, when they reach the point where even if they wanted to, they couldn't stop, i'm braking, and creating a buffer. often it is the buffer and reduced speed that prevents a collision.

    then i give the disapproving stare-down and shake of the head.

    I have even had to come to a complete stop and give way and watch as they get a bit of a fright as the turn their head and look into my head light. thats when they cop an ear full from me as they drive past.

    a few cars get cleaned up by trucks each week with this practice, and the council recently lowered the limit to 50
  8. Do you realise that you just invented a new term - SMIDBL? Now go and figure how to pronounce it :) LOL
  9. Like Dodgeball. But Smidbl.
  10. Thanks Bandito,

    This is something I've always remembered doing, but never thought much about and never heard anyone talking about it trying to teach it. I've never even heard it described. I thought giving some names to the practice would help. It has saved my arse on numerous occasions. It is probably pretty obvious to most people riding.
  11. I don't know if I'd characterise the two things you describe as Passive and Active Defensive riding.

    Rather one is active observation the other is positive action in response to what is being observed.
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  12. There are plenty of people out there who are currently teaching the elements you describe in your OP ... the terminology used in actual presentations may not be those you used and do vary a bit but most just call it roadcraft.

    Whether it is obvious to most people riding is debatable ... I've had 'seasoned riders' tell me "it doesn't work" and be extremely dismissive of the concepts even though it is something they probably do on a daily basis.
  13. I guess what I've described is passive and active to emergency procedures (stopping). While you are setting up and preparing with the first you are not actively starting to respond to a SMIDSY. With the later you move from assuming that you will be seen but preparing if they do not see you, to assuming you wont be seen and actively starting emergency procedures.

    But more than happy for other names to be suggested for this.
  14. It's more a continuum of alertness/preparedness than a 2 state duality. Something like the DEFCON scale, except with a sexier name of course.
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  15. True you go from a nudge of the handle bars to give your headlight the slightest flick to coming to a complete stop. It's just risk assessment and determining the appropriate level of action needed.
  17. something worth including>

    cagers can't judge how fast you are approaching. narrow shape, unlike a car does not grow larger on approach.
    so you try to make it easier for them by approaching at a lower speed (like the actual speed limmit), then back to normal pace (with a wheelie)
    it just makes it easier for them to judge your approach. you can seem a long way of and then suddenly apon them. so by slowing down (to the speed limmit) you are in their window of vision for a longer time frame.
    you may have noticed cars often wait even though you are a long way back. it's because they can't judge your speed of approach and they think we all fly around like manics.
    which we do, actually...

    if you exaggerate this too much whilst having a cager in tow, trying to keep up with the motorbike, because he's a hero.
    then he will rear end you. because he's a dickhead in a commodoore.
    so you can't win really ???
    well yeah, you can. kinda.
    just know what's behind you, how close and the pace it's keeping.
    . so first, before anything else, the instant you spot a vehicle ahead about to turn in from an intersecting path, you gauge what's behind you.
  18. #18 Blaise, May 3, 2013
    Last edited: May 3, 2013
    What you're actually describing all falls under the banner of defensive riding but you make the distinction between actually taking evasive action or simply preparing to take evasive action (which I think you accurately categorised as Active & Passive). However, I think that nearly every scenario will have an Active and Passive component. Take a look at the following for examples...

    Scenario One: Approaching a LH side street on a divided road with 3 lanes (left lane being a bus lane and therefore devoid of traffic) with the other 2 lanes with heavy traffic and stopped. The "stopped" lanes have kindly followed common sense and left the intersection free so vehicles wishing to turn right (from the other direction) can do so without impediment. You're merrily using the bus lane at the speed limit, see the stopped traffic but cannot see if any vehicle is turning right into the side street. Beside slowing down to a manageable speed prior to the intersection "gap", I'll cover my brakes in preparation for such a situation - combination of Active & Passive.

    Scenario Two: Pacific Hwy & Ryde Rd intersection, Pymble - coming from Mona Vale Rd, you pass under the Pacific Hwy via a tunnel onto Ryde Rd. Vehicles turn off the Pacific Hwy onto Ryde Rd via a ramp and although they have their own lane, they often jump out into the middle lane with a brief glance to see if anyone is approaching (if at all). I make sure I'm in the RH lane before the intersect where they're likely move into the middle lane BUT I'll be ready for any muppet who decides to dart across to the far RH lane and check following vehicles (in case of being rear-ended if I have to emergency brake) - again, a combination of Active & Passive.

    Scenario Three: This one occurred when I was teaching my g/friend to drive and graphically illustrated the point of defensive driving. 3 lanes but merging into 2 a short distance up the road BUT prior to the merge, a cage is parked in the LH lane. A couple of P-platers (obviously locals who knew the merge is going to happen) are speeding along the LH lane to pass traffic but were oblivious to the parked cage. I could see what was going to unfold telling my g/friend to slow down and prepare for the carnage to unfold a safe distance ahead. Yup; at the last moment these two drivers noticed the parked car, braked wildly and pulled out into the adjacent lane. End result was a 5 car collision and we simply rolled to a stop a couple of hundred metres short of the carnage. Passive (prepared for the situation) and Active (braking to a stop safely well short of the incident).

    Regarding Scenario Three, substitute vehicles travelling the RH lane approaching an intersection where a vehicle turning right. Same outcome is possible if the muppet fails to notice the turning vehicle in time (and this does happen) and forces their way into the middle lane.

    In summary, I think the only defensive driving situations which will only contain an Active component are where the other party does something totally unexpected (say, jumps into your lane for no apparent reason) or when you're not observant enough to notice what may occur in the first place. Early in your driving/riding career, both Passive and Active defensive driving/riding to be consciously managed but should become second nature (an unconscious effort) as you gain more experience.

    Without being rude, a lot of "near miss" videos posted in this forum show a lack of observational fortitude for reading the traffic. Many could be completely avoided if the rider had simply taken a defensive riding stance in the first place. I'm not saying you'll second guess every situation but you can for the most part.

  19. This is the primary reason I posted this, while obvious to some, the benefits of discussing defensive riding should always help others. Many videos get posted where you think "why didn't you do that?" and thankfully it often gets said with a fair degree of tact. You also see on the road many riders not doing the most basic of defensive practices.

    The scenarios you have described are what I would call situations where risk has gone from low to moderate and hence where you should begin braking before the situation arrives. There is some good stuff in there that I'd left out of my original post. The first 2 situations describe situations where there are visual obstacles, but they are also both situations where you are in a position where for what ever reasons someone might not expect a vehicle to be there. This is another reason why you should also expect a heightened risk level and increase your preparation or as tony said your DEFCON level.

    A situation I get every day is on my own driveway. I live in a massive strata complex. The entrance to the complex is 75m or so from a dead end. However they were friendly enough to keep the dead end open to motorcycles (not legal but it saves me several minutes going around). Whenever I approach my driveway and there is a vehicle coming out, even though there is no visual obstructions, I go in to a very high state of active road craft. Why, because people come and go from here every day and never expect anyone to be coming from the dead end, some people roll through without a glance. Any situation where you are in a quiet back street, any situation where your motorcycle has put you in a place where a car won't normally be (filtering and bus lanes especially), or any situation where there are almost no cars around, should all send you into a state of active preparation.
  20. Some good tips in there.

    (I don't really differentiate between the two, stage one, stage two really.)

    Other simple things are:

    Making eye contact - If you don't, they haven't seen you. (If you have, they probably still haven't seen you ;))

    If someone glances at you, then turns away & doesn't look back, they are going to pull out in front of you, no question. "I can't see you, you don't matter", happens mostly on left hand intersections.

    Watch the wheels - they are the first thing to move!

    On the subject of completely passive riding, I find myself doing that a lot on the pushbike, ie positioning myself in a place where I can be seen, but there is another cars or cars between me & a potential hazard.

    This needs to be carefully balanced with visibility, ie not putting your self in a place where you can't been seen, even if someone looks for you, but it is very effective, even for motorcycles.

    As always, assume you're invisible.
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