Scooters are unique vehicles far too often sold to people with no experience with any motorized bike. They neither handle nor respond to crisis as would an automobile or even a regular motorcycle.
Too many become road fodder as they struggle through trial and error to learn how to be safe while driving a scooter. The “trial” part is scary enough; it’s the “error” part that, with a scooter, comes with significantly greater risk of significant body injury.
Many don’t appreciate that a small scooter is not a bicycle but a motor vehicle and will be treated as such by other drivers, without the largesse of safety usually afforded bicycles.
As a small motorcycle, this caveat emptor applies:
“Because motorcycles require good balance and deft coordination from their riders, some instructors estimate that it is five times more difficult to ride a motorcycle than it is to drive a car. In addition, cars generally don’t fall over or eject the operator (and passenger) if he makes a mistake.”
When scooters have wipe-outs, the driver and passenger often sustain serious leg injuries if they don’t let go of the vehicle – or even if they do. When a scooter rolls onto the asphalt and drags, it is often after the driver has struggled to keep the bike upright and finds his leg pinned before he can draw it up. There are no roll bars as larger motorcycles have so the stay with the bike rule doesn’t necessarily apply. Each situation is different: staying with the bike in one case might prove a fatal error in another. And you can’t practice accidents either: when they happen, it’s a sudden, fast and unforgiving lesson.
A sudden impact can jettison a driver or passenger sliding along the pavement right onto oncoming traffic. With the sole protection of a helmet, a tumbling, disoriented driver or passenger is no match for a 4-ton car or a city bus. In this way, the most simplest of scooter accidents can be fatal. Always give yourself reaction time as where that is taken away, you are left to the mercy of God and how and where he sets you tumbling on the asphalt with traffic whizzing about.
Car drivers have a steel cage all around them. Scooter riders do not.
Because of all this, no scooter can ever drive their vehicle with the same nonchalance, speed or confidence that a car or truck driver can. Scooter drivers must be vigilante to the slightest traffic anomaly.
Always wear a helmet and do not neglect eye protection. Several times a year, I’ll get hit in my facial visor by a wasp, fly, bee or a pebble and remind myself how important they are or what might of happened if I did not have a full facial visor.
Speed is always a contributing factor in scooter accidents. If you’re traveling at zero Km per hour, you will not have any accidents. So on the road with a scooter, never speed. It may be exhilarating but sooner or later, a situation will be thrust upon you and your speed will eliminate most recovery or reaction options.
I assume I’m invisible when I’m out there; constantly, which helps to keep my speed down. In Riding Tips: You And Your Scooter, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation asserts:
".. the majority of crashes between a scooter and a car happen at intersections – the most frequently occurring situation is a vehicle turning left in front of the scooter."
Or this from Motorcycle Accident Reconstruction and Litigation:
“Most motorcycle accidents begin with a motorist who violates the rider’s right-of-way….”
Statistics show that the most common cause of a motorcycle/scooter and automobile accident is the sudden left-turning automobile in front of the scooter. And intersections are the most likely venue for collisions. The car driver may not see the scooter.
Cover your scooter with reflective stick-ons. Most scooters have a small set of factory-applied reflective stick-ons but not enough. Put them on your helmet, on the side, in front and behind, all to make the vehicle more visible for night driving. The weather can make these stick-ons fall off; I usually mix a tiny bit of epoxy glue and using a stir stick, spread a thin layer on the back of the stick-ons. In this way, the reflective patch lasts the life of the bike. Remember: 60% of fatal vehicular accidents occur at night. Make sure your riding jacket is a bright and visible as possible, preferably red or yellow. It is OK to look like a dork; the point is being seen, not flirting.
Scooter turn signal lights are essential to the scooter driver’s safety. Not only do they broadcast your intentions to traffic around, but it also serves to highlight your presence to those who may not of otherwise been observant. Scooters present a smaller profile on the road so are not as readily seen, and even if seen, many drivers do not properly interpret a scooter’s movements. Use your lights and don’t make any sudden turns.
Always keep the front light on. Yesterday, at dusk, I saw a black motorcycle whiz by. The driver had a black leather jacket and black pants and black boots on. His helmet was black. No lights were on. I nicknamed him death wish.
On the same drive at dusk, a red scooter went by on the other side of the road, again with her front light not on. It was dusk and to her, too, I gave that nickname.
Many scooters now have a front light that stays on all the time. In the daytime, I keep my high beam on all the time. I’ve never had any complaints and I know it dramatically increases other driver’s awareness of me.
When turning, it is my practice to stay in my lane until I turn and to never move to one edge. It takes nerve to be patient as many car drivers believe that the courteous thing to do would be for the scooter to move over so other cars can pass while the scooter awaits a chance to cross the oncoming lane and complete his or her turn. But squeezing over will inevitably invite impatient and careless drivers behind you to try to squeeze through or even whiz by coming mere inches from your vehicle or you will find yourself nudged or, worse, unexpectedly bumped into oncoming traffic.
What a car or truck can drive over safely can wipe out a scooter or even a motorcycle. For example, a branch, a 2 x 4 piece of wood, a discarded bicycle seat, a small pot hole, a tree branch – any debris that can destabilize the front wheel, can force the scooter down.
Another hazard particular to the scooter is the small sand pile. Often, leftovers from sand unloading is left behind, sometimes right on a curve. Those are hard to see and can take out either wheel, causing the scooter to fall out from under the driver.
Even when dry, but especially when wet, be wary of repair tar poured into seams the asphalt. When dry, they appear as dark, shiny stripes snaking up and across the road. But when the surface is wet, the repair strips are very slippery. If you turn tightly and your front or back wheel just happens to be fall on a wide tar strip, either wheel could very likely give out. Avoid them as much as possible and especially on turns.
Similarly, zebra stripes when wet can be like ice under a scooter’s wheels. I once stopped on a striped pedestrian crossing bar and when I gave a bit of gas to proceed from a stop, the back wheel slipped right out from under me and I just barely managed to hold the scooter up. I learned then to hold on for dear life and keep as upright as possible when traversing zebra pedestrian crossings under wet conditions.
Beware the tailgater. Tail-gating or following too closely, happens to scooters all the time. Car drivers are unaware or careless as to the focus a scooter driver must bring to his or her drive and wariness of traffic anomalies. Most cars behind can see past the scooter or do not realize how close they are to the scooter. Scooters also do not have the get up and go that cars do – especially older scooters. Many car drivers tail-gate as a way of pressuring the scooter to speed up. Scooters take evasive maneuvers a car would not have to. Having a tail-gater means that you have to be aware of hazards in front and the possibility of being rammed from behind. A flash of your brake light might point out to the tail-gater how close they are but I’ve seen this also antagonize a tail-gater into road rage. It is a very difficult issue to which the best response may be to move over and let the most aggressive tail-gater by. It’s not a surrender: it is a battle you can’t afford to fight. A second response is to choose the lessor of two evils: conscientiously ignore the headlights in your rear view mirror and just focus on maintaining your normal safe driving.
Many motorcycle drivers tail-gate themselves which is a time-bomb of personal injury. Sooner or later, the car before them will ride over a piece of debris, or a pot hole, which will fit under the car but will, because of much smaller wheels, take out the motorcycle or scooter. A few years ago, while approaching Salt Lake City on the highway, the car before me suddenly swerved to miss a tire that had broken away from another vehicle. I hit the tire at 60 miles per hour and it went under my vehicle and seriously damaged my undercarriage. If I had of been on a motorcycle, I’d not be here today.
Generally, ride the scooter in the left wheel run of your roadway lane. That means slightly to the left. Riding between the ruts can be hazardous if the asphalt is old and has sagged, leaving the median between the ruts elevated. Riding to the right means approaching traffic sees you a millisecond later. It also sets you up for being spooked by a driver or rear passenger of a parked car opening up their door into traffic. Riding in the left rut helps the driver in front of you to see you in his rear view mirror.
For some reason, scooter horns are timid little blares, barely audible, almost like a child’s toy. If anybody needs a horn, it is a scooter. In my opinion, failing to equip a scooter with a proper horn, as loud as that of a car, is manufacturer negligence but it’s what they do. In any event, it’s all you have so use it if necessary but be prepared fort it to go unheard as the little squeak may not penetrate the windows of other vehicles to warn the driver you are trying to reach.
And of course, always drive defensively. Expect that car up ahead about to turn out onto your lane to turn out onto your lane. Keep a running set of what if’s moving through your head.
Finally, slow down.