While riding or driving, one of the most important things is safety. This does not only mean our safety but the safety of other people on the road.
We need to be knowledgeable about many things, and one of those things is what distance there needs to be between us and the other motor vehicles on the road.
How far should you stay behind a motorcycle? In good weather conditions, you should stay four seconds behind a motorcycle. In poor and particular bad weather conditions, you should give between four to twelve seconds following distance or stay as far as you can when you are behind a motorcycle. You should stay farther behind a motorcycle than a car.
There a lot of little caveats and intricate details—knowing these will not only keep you safe, but it will make for a more enjoyable experience on the road. Below I will go over all the details you need to know when driving behind a motorcycle.
Table of Contents:
What is considered a safe following distance behind a motorcycle?
On the DMV written test, you will stumble upon one very common question, followed by a few possible answers. The question is, “When you are behind a motorcycle, you should:” and the right answer is “Allow a larger following distance.”
There are a few different schools of thought, however, they all agree that you should allow for a larger following distance while driving behind a motorcycle.
For the best safety, it is recommended to stay at least three to four-second behind the motorcycle.
Motorcycles are just very different than other motor vehicles you will encounter on the road. They maneuver and move differently, and they are also very small.
Drivers are usually taught to follow the two-second rule when driving behind other motor vehicles on the road. However, the fact that you need to keep a larger following distance behind motorcycles is often overlooked.
The proper following distance behind a motorcyclist in seconds is 4 seconds. The proper following distance behind a motorcycle in seconds is twice as much as it is when driving behind other motor vehicles like cars and trucks, which is 2 seconds.
Staying behind or allowing for at least 4 seconds of following distance should not be confused with car lengths or motorcycle lengths.
- If you are driving a car, you should stay three to four seconds behind a motorcycle. Although cars usually should stay about two seconds behind other cars, they should leave for a longer following distance behind the motorcycle.
- If you are riding a motorcycle or a moped, you should stay between three to four seconds behind another motorcycle.
- If you are driving other types of motor vehicles like RVs, trucks, or buses, you should stay at least four seconds behind a motorcycle. In certain weather and road conditions, you may need to stay even further behind the motorcycle.
How far should you stay behind a motorcycle compared to other vehicles?
Another common question that a lot of people get wrong on the DMV written test is about the following distance behind motorcycles compared to other vehicles. the question is, “Your following distance when driving behind a motorcycle should:” and the right answer is “Increase.”
Compared to other vehicles, your following distance behind a motorcycle should be greater.
Motorcycles are just more nimble and can stop, accelerate, and turn more quickly than other vehicles on the road. While you can stay closer behind cars and trucks and still be capable of reacting on time, for example, you will have to stay a lot further when driving behind a motorcycle.
The two vs four-second rule
In dry conditions, it is recommended that drivers leave at least two seconds between them and the vehicle in front of them. Some experts would recommend extending that to three seconds for extra safety as not all people may be able to react at the same time.
However, many different factors can affect your stopping distance. So leaving two seconds following distance may not always be considered safe. Factors that can affect your stopping distance are:
- Water, ice, dirt, rocks, and other debris that may be present on the road.
- The type of vehicle and its air resistance, size, weight, and speed.
- The angle of the road.
- The type of surface.
- The type and condition of the tires and inflation.
- The condition of the brakes and brake effectiveness.
If the road is wet, frosty, covered in snow, dirt, rocks, or you are carrying a heavy load, you should leave more distance between you and the vehicle in front of you. However, when there is a motorcycle in front of you, you should follow the four-second rule instead of the two-second rule, even in good weather.
When it comes to bad weather conditions, it is recommended to even allow for more distance between you and the motorcyclist. Often that can be between 8 and 12 seconds.
How to find how far you should stay behind a motorcycle?
Luckily for us finding the safety distance you should stay behind a motorcycle is not hard to find.
- Choose a marker. While driving behind a motorcycle, choose a marker. When the motorcycle’s rear end passes, the marker start counting the seconds until the front end of your vehicles reaches that same marker.
- Adjust. You want to be able to count to three or four seconds before you reach the marker that the motorcycle has passed. If you have managed to count up to one of two seconds only, slow down and allow for more distance to build up between you. Then choose another marker and do the counting again until you reach an appropriate distance.
- Maintain. You may need to redo that counting every once in a while as traffic changes and shifts, and you may need to adapt.
Why you should stay far behind a motorcycle
The more distance is required by the fact that motorcycles can stop fairly quickly. Since the motorcycle has a smaller frame, the relative change in its size as you are approaching, it will be smaller than if it was a car or a truck.
It is just harder to see and judge how quickly you are approaching the motorcycle. Motorcyclists are just harder to see. (This is one of the reasons why drivers may often cut off motorcyclists on intersections.)
On top of that, motorcycles will not rely and use their brakes when slowing down or coming to a stop on intersections, which may not inform other drivers that the motorcycle is slowing down or stopping.
This means that drivers may need more time to realize the motorcycle is stopping, and keeping more following distance gives you enough time to react.
Allowing for a larger following distance gives more time to react accordingly and keeps you and the motorcyclists safe.
Another reason why you should not stay close behind a motorcycle is that if the motorcyclist falls or drops their motorcycle, you will need extra distance in order to avoid them.
The odds of the motorcyclist falling are greater when it is raining, snowing, on icy roads, and on metal surfaces. Those are also the weather and road conditions that will negatively affect your own brake distance, which means that you may need to keep even larger following distance.
Is staying close to a motorcycle bad?
Leaving less than 4 seconds of following distance when driving behind a motorcycle may be considered driving too close to it (or tailgating).
Staying too close behind a motorcycle is usually not recommended, as this increases the odds of an accident happening. A rear-end accident can cause the motorcyclist to lose balance, fall, or even fly off their motorcycle. In any case, even low-speed rear-end accidents can lead to potentially severe injuries.
In the case of an accident, there can be legal actions taken against the driver or rider that has caused the accident.
What to do if you are driving behind a motorcycle and want to pass?
Another common question that some people get wrong on the DMV test is the one that deals with drivers passing motorcyclists. The question is as follows: “You are driving behind a motorcycle and want to pass. You must:” and the correct answer is “Have your vehicle entirely in the left lane before and during the pass.”
Eventually, you will find yourself behind a motorcycle that you want to pass. This means that you will have to get closer to them. However, try to follow the three to four-second rule while doing so. Always signal your intention to pass the motorcyclist.
As you pass the motorcyclist, make sure your vehicle is in the oncoming lane as much as possible. The oncoming lane can be either the left or the right lane depending on where you live. In addition to that, on multi-lane roads, you may not have to move to the oncoming lane.
However, you need to be in the other lane. Do not try to crowd in the same lane as the motorcycle and allow them to have the full lane.
You want to give the motorcyclists enough space so that you can be far away from them if they happen to fall or do a sudden maneuver.
As you pass them and return to the original lane, do not do it too soon as you may cause the motorcyclist to swerve or have to brake, which can cause them to lose control or balance and crash. Make sure to pay extra attention to and exercise extra caution during the entire time you are approaching and passing the motorcyclist.