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Thread: Two "4 second rules"

  1. #1
    Kbiker BCKRider's Avatar
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    Two "4 second rules"

    This post comes from my last re-reading of "Stayin' Safe," a book of columns by the late Lawrence Grodsky for "Rider" magazine. I would highly recommend the book, but what follows are my interpretations.

    1. What is unfolding 4 seconds ahead of you requires your fullest attention and often immediate action. (12 seconds ahead is what you would like to see and often can't.) So are you aware of everything 4 seconds ahead of and off to the side of your bike? And since you probably don't have a second hand mounted on your faceshield, try counting. (One thousand one, one thousand two... or One Mississipi...) This is a very good reality check.

    2. If you are really safety conscious, you want to be able to stop in any "blind" situation, whether that is a curve or a hill. Grodsky's informal tests seemed to indicate 4 seconds was the time needed for good experienced riders to stop in a curve when there were not any road surface problems. Cresting a hill can be a more insidious problem unless you take into account the possibility of a hidden driveway to your right or a vehicle crossing the centerline. Again, count the seconds to what you can see.

    There are many riders who violate the second rule - and some of them have been doing it for many miles and years. I don't understand why they are still alive. Maybe they can tell us how Larry and I are wrong. At any rate, I am not telling YOU how to ride. Just offering some thoughts which make sense to me.
    Doug
    1992 K100RS

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    The 4 second rule is a conservative theory useful for teaching risks but no rider can have a full 4 second peripheral view in many circumstances.
    So if the point is that one will often travel through risk zones created by violating the 4 second principle- sure. Best one can do then is understand what might be lurking unseen, not be pushing the envelop, and be ready to react with effective skill. To me, the key here has always been to avoid distractions while riding- no music, no fiddling with gadgets, etc.
    I'm not one for blitzing blind corners- that's a sure recipe for eventually getting hurt here in NC. The only place I know where I can get that full 4 seconds all the time is on a track- thanks to the presence of the corner workers there for my safety- they can see ahead where I can't and that yellow flag provides all the warning needed.

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    I've been teaching the MSF program now for over 20 years, and one thing that IS very effective is increasing your following distance. WAY too many riders of every brand, style, age and (lack of) ability follow WAY TOO CLOSE. It is my biggest peeve about other riders. And usually the ones following way to close aren't properly geared up, riding with their feet on the highway pegs, just cruising along like their crossing South Dakota instead of on a busy four lane urban road with loads of traffic.

    It took me some time, and years, to finally get to the point that I have an automatic sensory feeling of being too close, and I have to say I rarely have traffic issues. I see so many thing develop before its an issue for me, I see so many dumb driver moves before I get there, others see me better, I see road hazards early enough to plan and adjust, it simply has made my riding MUCH lower stress and easier to determine where I need to be and what I need to do. Now, I'm not saying I am some expert traffic strategist that never makes a mistake or misses something, but I have found that increasing your following distance and ACTIVELY maintaining space around you has PROFOUND results in your riding.

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    One big Oaff brewmeister's Avatar
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    My 4 second rule is how long the food is on the floor before I won't eat it anymore!
    81 R100RT

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    While in general its good to allow plenty of following distance, there is a downside. There is a certain per cent of aggressive drivers who will regularly pull out in front of you even if you have enough lights to disintegrate a small planet- simply because they do not see a small motorcycle as an serioud threat to their safety.
    4 second rule or not, one always has to be alert to what is closer and may become a potential problem.

    My "floor" rule is 5 second, unless it lands in beer...

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    A "downside" to increased following distance? Umm,...no.

    I think your point is that even though increased following distance and enhanced visibility reduces your risks, it is still and always up to the rider first to be diligent and responsible about your safety. Never assume, that just because you have increased your following distance, that just because you do everything to increase your visibility, never assume or expect they see you.

    That applies for aggressive drivers and for blue hairs in Buicks.

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    Kbiker BCKRider's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by racer7 View Post
    The 4 second rule is a conservative theory useful for teaching risks but no rider can have a full 4 second peripheral view in many circumstances.
    So if the point is that one will often travel through risk zones created by violating the 4 second principle- sure. Best one can do then is understand what might be lurking unseen, not be pushing the envelop, and be ready to react with effective skill. To me, the key here has always been to avoid distractions while riding- no music, no fiddling with gadgets, etc.
    I'm not one for blitzing blind corners- that's a sure recipe for eventually getting hurt here in NC. The only place I know where I can get that full 4 seconds all the time is on a track- thanks to the presence of the corner workers there for my safety- they can see ahead where I can't and that yellow flag provides all the warning needed.
    I believe Grodsky's point was that if you cannot see four seconds ahead in a blind corner or over a hill, YOU ARE "pushing the envelop." Just wondered if you and others who are "quick in the twisties" have tried that 4-second rule and followed it or found you can actually stop in less than four seconds on dry pavement? I believe counting seconds, whether that is the distance you can see or following distance from a vehicle ahead of you can be a valuable tool in keeping oneself out of trouble. I've tried counting seconds (but not making a quick stop in a blind corner) and believe the speed for a 4-second sight line is a LOT less than my frequent speed, never mind that of the better (and faster) riders I've ridden with.

    No disagreement with you about avoiding distractions, anticipating possible bad stuff (a tree across the road or a driver halfway in your lane) and being ready to brake. Are you saying, given these things, you DON'T need to see four seconds ahead? I'm honestly curious; not putting anyone down.
    Doug
    1992 K100RS

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    Kbiker BCKRider's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ANDYVH View Post
    I've been teaching the MSF program now for over 20 years, and one thing that IS very effective is increasing your following distance. WAY too many riders of every brand, style, age and (lack of) ability follow WAY TOO CLOSE. It is my biggest peeve about other riders. And usually the ones following way to close aren't properly geared up, riding with their feet on the highway pegs, just cruising along like their crossing South Dakota instead of on a busy four lane urban road with loads of traffic.

    It took me some time, and years, to finally get to the point that I have an automatic sensory feeling of being too close, and I have to say I rarely have traffic issues. I see so many thing develop before its an issue for me, I see so many dumb driver moves before I get there, others see me better, I see road hazards early enough to plan and adjust, it simply has made my riding MUCH lower stress and easier to determine where I need to be and what I need to do. Now, I'm not saying I am some expert traffic strategist that never makes a mistake or misses something, but I have found that increasing your following distance and ACTIVELY maintaining space around you has PROFOUND results in your riding.
    ANDYVH, you also failed to comment on my OP. I respect you for being a MSF coach and think the questions I raised are EXACTLY ones which MSF coaches should be able to answer - in fact it should be part of the instruction given at both beginning and more advanced levels. Do you agree? Would love to hear your response to the original questions.

    BTW, I'm in total agreement with you about extending following distance to more than 2 seconds whenever possible. Yesterday (in the car) I came home over the Coquihalla highway - no rain or snow, light traffic; should have been totally stress free. Posted limit is 110 kph and most vehicles were going 118 to 125. I passed a slow truck going uphill, then found it gaining on me when doing 120 downhill. 125 kept him well behind me until the next uphill where I slowed down a bit - passing and then being passed is not a good way to go if you can avoid it. Then I saw about 12 cars in my mirrors - both lanes. Some guy/gal doing probably 120 had failed to move to the right - dumb. But then there were SEVERAL vehicles in the passing lane, brake lights on, no more than a vehicle length between them. I'm in the right lane, brakes on, to get out of the way when somebody does something stupid.

    No deer ran out in front of the first car. Nobody did anything ELSE stupid, and I guess we all made it to our destinations. Whatever was going through those driver's heads was certainly not what was going through mine!

    Hey, I think I hijacked my own thread. Anyone else feel like getting back on the origina "4-second rules" topic?
    Doug
    1992 K100RS

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    Registered User natrab's Avatar
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    I feel like a blanket "4 second" rule can lead to oversimplifying safety measures.

    For example, I had a bit of a scare last night on my way home from work (I commute home at 3am, so it's typically uninteresting). I was fairly tired and cruising on Highway 101 in the fast lane at about 75-80mph. Traffic was very sparse, maybe 5-6 cars in my visible vicinity. Now there's a small car in the #2 lane, which I had approximately a 4 second gap on (mind you this is at 80mph, so more would have been better). This car appeared to change lanes into my lane at about the same speed I was going, this perked up my senses a little and I began to let off the throttle. The car then went past the left shoulder line and into the cement dividing wall with enough force to lift both right wheels a good foot off the ground. At this point my heart was thudding and I was getting the full adrenaline rush. Thankfully I was also decelerating while checking my right mirror and beginning to swerve into the right lane almost immediately. Amazingly, the car bounced back into the lane and just kept driving. I paced behind with a bit of distance and my emergency blinkers on until the guy got over into the slow lane and I passed. One thing was clear to me; if I had nowhere to go and had to threshold break to a stop, I'm not sure that four seconds would have been enough time, especially counting the time it takes to recognize the situation and the need to stop.

    If I had been right up on the bumper or less than 3-4 seconds behind him, I could have very easily been involved in an accident. The point was well taken for me that awareness, a safe buffer zone and proper reactions are all huge parts of staying safe and it's all relative to your speed and braking ability.

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    Kbiker BCKRider's Avatar
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    natrab, what a scary storey! Most logical explanation (given the hour) is that the guy fell asleep. Both of you were lucky. Him to have not only not killed himself but still have driveable car; you to have distanced yourself from a truly unpredictable situation. I guess what we can take from both our stories is that even in light traffic on freeways, people can do some really dumb things and we better be prepared for them.

    Sorry we seem to have run out of respondents on the OP. I'd hoped more folk would take the "4-second" test, especially on blind curves and cresting hills, and post their opinion. I don't believe those quicker riders (at least the ones with many years and miles) have just been lucky. They are doing several things right. Perhaps Grodsky (and I as his interpreter) have it wrong. What do us less experienced folk need to learn?
    Doug
    1992 K100RS

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    Registered User RINTY's Avatar
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    Whatever was going through these drivers' heads was certainly notwhat was going through mine....BCKrider
    Well, we're enthusiasts here, and we're interested in riding, and driving, safely. But most people aren't interested in how they operate their motor vehicles, and many people don't guard against being distracted, and their driving reflects it.

    Perhaps Grodsky (and I as his interpreter) have it wrong...
    Maybe the 4 second rule is just a good baseline, for all riders, to start from, in determining speed and following distances. From there, the rider's experience in assessing his environment from moment to moment, would determine speed and following distance.

    I don't believe those quicker riders...have just been lucky...
    I think luck has a lot to do with it. Grodsky himself was killed while riding after sunset; the deer jumped out at the wrong place, at the wrong time.

    Riding motorcycles is a dangerous activity, and even if you're a Grodsky or a Hough, you can get hurt.

    But, this is all JMO
    Rinty

    "When you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there."

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    Registered User AKsuited's Avatar
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    I studied MC accident studies and used the results to put together a motorcycle awareness module for our defensive driving course at work. The Hurt Report and MAIDS Report are in agreement that most car/bike accidents are caused by the car driver (about 2/3rds), that low conspicuity of the motorcycle/rider plays a part, and that obstructed vision is another extremely important factor. Obstructed vision of a driver, who then pulls out into traffic anyway, is an important factor in accident causation. I don't believe that defensive driving courses in general point this out, or emphasize it enough.

    In other words, don't just scan for obvious hazards, scan for situations (obstructed vision) that produce accidents. If you are driving through town, for example, and there is a car at an intersecting road whose driver probably can't see you because his vision is obstructed, then you need to slow down and be prepared to stop or swerve.

    Harry
    2003 R1150RT - Silver

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    Just for clarification- certainly don't disagree with as much time as one can reasonably get. But to get 4 seconds on blind curves in the mountains here I can think of plenty of places where you'd need to practically crawling- well under 30 mph... So neither you nor any other traffic will have that much in some places. You don't need to blitzing public road curves to violate that 4 second zone..as I said, I'm not one for doing that- it is a sure recipe for trouble sooner or later, no matter your skill level...

    Andy- aggressive drivers who pull out do indeed get tempted by seeing what they think is adequate space- though it may not be or may simply be very tight for the rider's safety. A couple times every month, despite the photon blasters and LED running lights on mine, I flash the highs to discourage those that look like they're ready to jump out and race though their perceived opening. The rider is often not going to have enough warning to drop back to 5 or 6 seconds or whatever might restore comfortable margin and these "racers" are in fact discouraged by openings they think are too small - so there are times when closing up a bit at slower traffic speeds might actually decrease the chance of one of the most common accident types. I live in the small city with by far the highest accident rate in my state (visual clutter, younger drivers, tourists, etc)- most of these issues are young drivers- surprisingly, most seem to be female, often driving crossovers or SUVs...Of course, one can get "too close" and increase risk instead- for example, by effectively hiding behind the vehicle in front of you..

    I also agree that I often see riders who should know better following a lot more closely than I think is reasonable.

    I guess I'm not one for hard and fast rules. Most "ideal" choices come from balancing possibilities..Like the OP, I have always taught about having "adequate" space though. I guess once in a while. folks actually listen- I got a surprise a few weeks ago when my own sister quoted my words back to me- nearly 50 years after I talked to her about that when she was first learning to drive- it was one of the first things I learned about riding safety back in the days long before courses, special motorcycle licenses, helmet laws, and all the other modern stuff...

    Another example that could lead to discussion is under what circumstances you might use a bikes accel or manuevering capability to get out of a building train of slow traffic to avoid aggressive drivers getting increasingly itchy and tempted to do something stupid which you might not be able to avoid. Some such choices can indeed place one inside a danger zone for a few tenths of a second to a couple seconds so do you choose the tradeoff to restore your safety space or not..??

    I find close traffic on a race track surprisingly relaxing compared to close street traffic that makes me tense. At the track, your competitors have skill and while they might do something dangerous accidentally and will make an aggressive move in a predictable spot, are unlikely to do anything blatantly stupid....And we're all going the same direction with maximum protective gear and those corner workers watching out for our safety..

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    Registered User AKsuited's Avatar
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    The sign says it all

    Here's an appropriate sign to go with this thread:
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    2003 R1150RT - Silver

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    Registered User miairhead's Avatar
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    Rules are ment to be

    I think all riding rules are guides, a standard rule of 4 seconds might lead to aggressive drives using the space as a way to weave in and out of the lanes. By itself the rule might be good, but sometimes it causes you to find a tailgater way too close in some traffic situations.

    You must judge each situation, and adapt to the best way to ride. In a traffic jam where every ass is trying to get to the next bar, you might find a large space only brings more danger.

    Not all drives or out to kill you, but sometimes it seems that way. A big metal box around give people false sense of safety.
    Tom
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