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Road safety tips as you motorcycle through the orange barrel season.

Added June 20, 2019
Line of orange road constructions barrels on a highway

As the weather warms each year, motorcycle riders across the nation hit the roads to enjoy another season of motorcycling. Well-maintained roads make for great riding, but keeping them in good shape requires road construction. Going through work zones safely can be a challenge for motorcycle riders. We have some tips to help.

Road construction hazards and motorcycles

Every construction zone is different, yet they share some common hazards you can expect to encounter. Whether your chosen route travels through a major road project or areas where routine maintenance is underway, here are some hazards to be aware of: 

  • Rough or grooved surfaces: Repaving a road surface requires milling away the old top layer and grooving it for proper bonding of the new asphalt. Grooved pavement will make your motorcycle want to wander with the grooves. Be wary of any especially deep grooves that can act like edge traps.
  • Uneven pavement: Multi-lane roads are normally milled section by section before repaving begins. The repaving is usually completed one lane at a time in the work zone. The newly paved lane will be a few inches higher than the grooved lane, creating an edge trap.
  • Cones and barrels: Cones of several sizes and shapes, along with large plastic barrels, are used to route traffic in construction zones. These are sometimes hit by large trucks and cars, which can move them into your lane of travel. The large, black weights used to hold them in place can also be sent into the lane and be hard to see—especially at night.
  • Trucks entering highway: There are usually warning signs about trucks entering the highway in busy construction zones. However, even in roadwork zones without the warning signs, always be aware vehicles can enter the road from unexpected places.
  • Sudden traffic stops: Sudden stops are very common in road construction zones. As traffic congestion increases, the likelihood of sudden slow-downs or stops also increases.
  • Unmarked new pavement: Painting lane markings is the last step in repaving and there’s often a period of time when the new road surface is unmarked. The fog line, lane markers, centerlines, and striping that indicate passing zones are vital guides for drivers. Without them, traffic can do unexpected things.
  • Fresh paint: Newly painted road markings can be slippery. If reflective beads have been applied to the new paint, the excess beads that haven’t stuck to the paint can be as slippery as sand on the road.
  • New intersection road markings: Travel direction arrows and crosswalk markings at intersections create large areas of paint that are very slippery when wet. Some new road markings are now made with thermoplastics that are heat-fused to the road surface. These can be slippery at any time, reducing your traction—particularly when braking, turning, or accelerating across them.

Tactics to manage road construction hazards

Since riding through road construction is almost unavoidable, you need to have a plan to safely handle any hazards encountered. Here are some tactics and techniques to help you better manage your journey through road construction:

  • Scan for hazards: The primary tool for avoiding hazards while riding is scanning. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation has a great system, it’s called S.E.E.: 
    • Search for potential hazards
    • Evaluate possible hazards
    • Execute proper action to avoid the hazard
  • Increase following distance: Two seconds is often considered a safe following distance. Busy construction zones require more space. By increasing the following distance between you and the vehicle in front, you gain several benefits:
    • Increased view of surface hazards ahead
    • More time to react to any hazard
    • Increased braking distance during slow-downs or sudden stops
  • Manage steering and handling on grooved pavement: Grooved pavement can make your motorcycle’s steering feel very different. It’s especially unnerving to new riders the first few times you encounter it. But you can safely navigate it by:
    • Keeping a firm grip on the handlebars
    • Not trying to wrestle the front tire
    • Slowing down
    • Watching for deep grooves and avoiding them
    • Not target fixating on grooves
    • Smoothly operating the throttle and brakes
    • Allowing your motorcycle to ride through the grooves
  • Choose a proper lane: When you approach a construction zone on a multi-lane highway, it’s best to choose your lane before entering the work zone. Consider:
    • Choosing the newly paved lane that’s better than the grooved lane
    • Selecting a multiple-lane route when the highway divides instead of a single-lane route
    • Riding another road to avoid the construction
  • Change lanes carefully: In many construction zones, changing lanes is prohibited for safety. If it’s allowed, use caution and:
    • Always use turn signals or hand signals to help alert other drivers
    • Don’t move into a very tight gap in traffic in the new lane
    • If moving from grooved pavement up onto new pavement, try to roll over it at as sharp an angle as safely possible to avoid getting caught in an edge trap
  • Maintain an escape route: Maintaining an escape route while riding in traffic is always a good idea. It’s even more important in work areas. Be sure to:
    • Scan for hazards and pathways to avoid them
    • Choose a lane with a paved shoulder
    • Keep a safe following distance
    • Watch out for tailgaters
    • Take the next exit if traffic is too heavy

Planning tools to avoid road construction

While you may not be able to avoid all roadwork, technology can help you plan your route away from construction zones. Here are a few tech tools to consider:

  • Web-based maps and routing tools
  • Smartphone navigation apps
  • Dedicated GPS with live traffic updates

With some knowledge and a plan, you’ll be better able to manage the hazards that wait beyond the “Road work ahead” signs.
Till next time, ride safe!

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