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Tips to avoid fall foliage driving failures

Leaf on the road

The burst of fall foliage might be one of the most spectacular times of the year to ride a motorcycle. Crisp, clear autumn air, milder temperatures, and the incredibly colorful show that nature paints on every hill and dale—it all combines into an almost intoxicating experience. For many riders, it’s especially wonderful to get out and ride this time of year, since fall is the last hurrah before the gray days of winter arrive. It’s the time to harvest the last riding memories of this year, storing them to nourish our motorcycle spirit until spring arrives.

Remember, fall foliage has a similar effect on a lot of other people, and not just motorcyclists. What does that mean? The roads through many scenic areas will be filled with vehicles of every description. In some places, annual daily traffic peaks on the same weekends that fall colors reach their peak.

Today’s roads are filled with drivers distracted by their phones and other in-vehicle non-driving activities. The spectacle of fall foliage can compound the level of driver distraction, further reducing their awareness of other road users, including motorcycles.

So, we should be on guard when riding. Here are a few tips to cope with leaf-looking drivers when hitting the road:

  • Pay attention: Notice where drivers’ heads are facing. If they are clearly looking at the trees, they probably don’t see you or your motorcycle.
  • Notice wanderers: Vehicles that are wandering in their lane of travel might indicate the driver is not looking at the road.
  • Watch for speed variations: When following other vehicles, their random slowing and speeding up is another sign of leaf-looking distraction. 
  • Observe license plates: Drivers from other states are less likely to be familiar with the local roads and might make unexpected maneuvers. 
  • Watch mirrors: Keep track of what’s around you, especially when slowing, stopping, changing lanes, or turning. The driver behind you might be keeping pace with you, and paying only partial attention to your position while they focus on the scenery.
  • Be aware of drifters: When encountering long lines of dense traffic moving in the opposite direction, watch out for vehicles that drift over the centerline. Some drivers frustrated by slow-moving traffic on scenic roads make ill-advised and sometimes illegal passes.
  • Plan ahead: Consider touring popular fall foliage areas during the middle of the week. You’ll find less traffic on the roads. As an added bonus, restaurants will be less crowded and lodging might be more available and less expensive.

Lastly, remember as a rider you, too, can suffer from leaf-looker syndrome. Stop and enjoy the beauty of the fall foliage at scenic pull-outs and overlooks. When you’re back on the motorcycle, focus on the road and traffic, and avoid the foliage follies.

Till next time, ride safe!