Motorcycle Survival in 3 Seconds

Motorcycle SurvivalThere are lots of different motorcycles. And at the rate manufacturers keep developing bikes for more and more and narrower niches, it won’t be too long before you’ll need to hire a consultant just to figure out whether you are best suited on a cruiser, dual-purpose, sport bike, tourer, sport tourer, standard, dirt bike, super moto, or adventure tourer – let alone which specific bike would best suit you in your niche category! (Or course the ideal solution is a big enough garage to fit lots of motorcycles).

All the different categories of motorcycles make for different opinions on what is the best bike. Regardless of all the differences riders may express about motorcycles, one thing that most EXPERIENCED riders will agree on, is that long-term motorcycle enjoyment relies on your riding skills and awareness of exercising good riding judgment and techniques.

Having said that, what’s a simple way to boost your safety margin for long-term motorcycle enjoyment?

How about counting to three?

More specifically, three seconds.

That’s the time/safety cushion you should maintain between yourself and the vehicle in front of you.

You can mentally note the time/safety cushion by observing the vehicle in front of you pass some roadside object, such as a sign or telephone pole. Start counting (begin with “zero”) when the forward vehicle crosses the mark, and count how long it takes for you to pass the same mark. A good time/safety cushion will be at least three seconds.

The time/safety cushion works, regardless of different speeds. The faster you are going, the more space you need between you and the vehicle in front of you. Of course three seconds at a spirited riding pace will encompass a greater physical distance than three seconds at a mellow pace.

Although you, personally, may be an alert rider and able to quickly react to swerve or brake at the last instant to avoid a collision, why not just make your whole job a lot easier by keeping at least a three-second time/safety cushion in front of you? This will give most riders enough time to react urgently and safely when the vehicle in front suddenly brakes due to something in their way that you cannot see yet.

Develop a personal riding habit of counting to three to better orient yourself to the time/safety cushion you normally give yourself. You may be surprised to find that you do not give yourself a generous enough margin (and don’t cheat by counting to three too fast!).

Whether you are riding fast or slow, giving yourself a buffer of three seconds between you and the motorist in front of you will ensure you have a large enough time/safety cushion to boost your long-term riding enjoyment.

Ride safely!

40 thoughts on “Motorcycle Survival in 3 Seconds

  • Especially a tractor trailer! My God! What were you thinking. I don’t care if your 6 sec, behind or more. You should always be scanning far in front of you for that matter 360 degrees around you at all times. That is if you want to stay alive ok.

  • First off, Mike I do the exact same thing. when someone is sitting in the other lane about to turn, I will start telling them not to do it, as if they could hear me right?

    Now in regards to the three second rule, sometimes that can be impossible. If you are in a high-traffic situation, people will be more apt to cut you off that way. Four lane highways are horrible about that.

  • Sorry guys I don’t agree the three second rules works in some circumstances but not all. It is more to do with your correct road position. Good road position allows best viability and allows you always to take evasive action for the unexpected, should it be required.
    I am a Brit who has ridden almost every day for the last 35 years, I am now riding in the Middle east and China, now there’s a challenge! Enjoy your riding!!!

  • I belong to HOG (Harley Owners Group) although I ride a Burgman 650 motorscooter. When we ride in formation we ride stagerd and maintain a two second distance behind the bike directly in front of us and one second distance from the bike diagonally in front of us. I have been riding thousands of miles this way and have never seen an accident with our group.

    When riding by myself I DO keep a longer space. After seeing a bike rear ended on the freeway from an overhead camera on a bridge I’m paranoid about being rear ended. I purchased an ambulance LED flashing stop light. It really works keeping traffic away from me. It is so bright I can see it reflecting in the grill of the car behind me in broad daylight!
    I also installed a modulating headlight. Cars seem to either go slower or get out of my may. But what is more important cars see me from side streets and left turners.

    An interestng true story:
    While coming up to a stop light with my car I saw a croch rocket in front of me. His bike was black and was wearing a black tee shirt, no helmet, black hair and the smallest stoplight I have ever seen. The car in front of him was also black. If it wasn’t for seeing his white skin at the back bottom of his tee shirt when he leaned over I might have hit him. Can you immagine if it was ar night and he was a black man! I thought of flaging him down to talk to him but you know how croch rockets like to take off.

  • When I ride, I say to myself “What am I missing?” Kind of a guessing game.

    Sometimes it’s a tree-shrouded cross-street where I can’t see any approaching cars, sometimes it’s a change in the flow of traffic a block away, sometimes a a very old driver or very banged up car next to me. . .it’s a bit of a game, but a potentially life-saving one, I think.

  • Often when riding, I will see someone inching out into the intersection or gauging whether they have time to turn into my path and I say aloud (inside my full face helmet), “Don’t even think about it” or “You better not…” What I realize, and think is worth sharing, is that the other driver isn’t trying to kill me but he/she can’t fathom how their decision endangers me. So, I have to assume my safety is up to me. Therefore, I always ride like I am invisible, even though I wear hi-viz gear and avoid riding on blind spots. Ride safe.

  • Most people who think safety advice, rules etc. are overhill simply haven’t had the experience of a good ass busting accident – but there’s usually one in their future!

  • Good idea when practical but, regarding the comments about trucks, here in the heat in Florida make your exposure to them as short as possible. Their damn, cheap retreaded tires are constantly shredding and letting fly with large pieces of tread that can weigh up to 40 or so pounds. At 70 mph they hit hard! I just stay well back until everything is clear beside and ahead of them and then go WOT to pass them as quickly as possible.

    I wish AAA and the other safety nazi lobby outfits would get serious about having these retreads banned but they tell me the truckers unions fight them every time they try. Saving money on tires is more important than safety in political eyes I guess.

  • 3 seconds bull do 3 seconds in fla at 70mph and there will be some dumb ass on a cell phone sliding in from the next lane to get 15 ft ahead of where he was before. try i-4 orlando some time do 3 seconds space and you will be going 30 ft foward 10 ft backwards. to readjust for the next 3 seconds space….theres book rideing and theres real life riding…the book sure its great/safe . real life with all the fools driving. 3 seconds ya right

  • Many of the bikers I see in rush-hour traffic don’t read sites like this one.
    Never mind a 3 second rule. They are lucky if they leave 3 yards between themselves and the tractor trailer they are tailgating at 65 mph (105 kph).
    If they did it to save gas by drafting maybe there is a cost benefit equation involved, however, it is usually simply to allow for “sling-shotting” past one trailer only to take up position 3 years behind the trailer in line ahead.

  • This can not be emphasized enough ! Just had an incident this past July. Oncoming motorcyclist was following the trike in front of him too closely. He grabbed his front brake and the bike dropped like a ton of bricks – of course. Blood was flying everywhere. It even hit my windshield, my tank, and my clothing.

    It is so simple but soooooo important !!

    Thanks for bringing it up again.

  • Thanks for reminding once again the effectiveness of this simple rule. Very effective on speeding highways while you have to trail that car which could brake instantly & usually would have the non-caring guy behind the wheels; thus providing no room for your drums/disks to bring you to zero.

    Even while in packed Indian roads where every driver / rider is eager to cover any available space in front (in his lane or my lane), I would keep that 3 seconds gap between my front wheel & the tail of that Government bus ahead. And while the guy in the cage behind me would honk, I would smile inside my head gear & think “Hmmmm”

  • You never know what is driving in front of you. Sometimes 3 seconds is too short. Imagine a luxury car bestowed with potent ABS brakes and other unnamed safety controls and you behind on your old rear drum brakes and single disc front. one…or the air brakes in the unloaded trailer you have been blindly following for the last half an hour.

    Calculate 3 seconds is difficult and you never feel is enough. It’s much easier to say on loud voice: One thousand one, One thousand two- It will never be too short.

    shouldn´t there be 3 seconds distance to the car behind you too?

  • The three seconds rule is an excelent idea, I´d rather go 5 to 6 seconds behind, but the most important thing here is practice, yes, practice stopping your bike at high speed without falling to the ground, doesn´t matter how far you ride from the guy in front of you if you will brake and slip or loose control.
    good luck all and safe riding.

  • They recommend 3 seconds for cars. In a car you are on four (4) wheels with really good balance and a cage around you. On a bike you are on two (2) wheels with little balance in an emergence and no cage. I think often you are going to be looking for a place to go rather that stopping at 70+ MPH. Give yourself 5 or 6 seconds between you and the guy in front of you and don’t worry about the guy sliding in your lane in front of you. Let him in and back off a bit to that 5 or 6 seconds and grow to be an old biker.

  • Should the motorcycle been to the left of the trailer at stop?
    Then the the motorcyclist could of had an escape from this tragedy.
    Also should the motorcyclist been gripping hard and looking into his mirrors at stop and
    be at least one or two car lengths behind the trailer for an emergency
    and be thinking about escape from being injured or killed.

  • I use an aviation mantra that was drummed into me when learning to taxi entering circuit etc.
    Say in your mind whilst looking and CONFIRMING – “clear right, clear left”. Takes about 3 secs. Use at all traffic lights, intersections etc.

    Full noise = fully awake.

  • Another time to use the 3 second rule is when stopped at a red light. After it turns green wait 3 seconds before starting out to avoid those vehicles running “yellow” lights. It might tick off the guy behind you, but it could save your life….

  • The 3 second guide works well and is excellent advice. However it does require you to take your mind of the job in hand, calculate when to start counting, look for a reference object on the roadside etc. and at best you can only update your position every 3 seconds. Another method that was drummed into me when I was wee kaka was to keep one car length distance for every 10kph. It becomes an instant reference with real time visual updating and is roughly the same distance as 3 seconds. Oh that’s right, you Americans still use some archaic speed measurement unit left over from the horse and cart age, that’s o.k. you’re cars are bigger / longer……

    Ride like the invisable man.


  • Hello Mums and Dads
    The way i see it ?When you buy a bike you should do all you can to act in a safe manner.however When you ride a bike it becomes a useless exercise to pursue same.
    Lets look at the issue,you dont buy a bike for its safety aspects everything about them screams risk and danger.Generalising we buy them because they are overpowered,unstable hard to see (especially for those who have no desire to look) Road adhesion is at best tenuous and they are so highly specialised that even a few pounds to little or to much air can bring mishap and thats before we delve into power characteristics,suspension and a doze other mechanical issues.
    Then we approach the person riding the bike.All the training in the world and all the inherent skills pale into insignificance when compared to “where your mind is” at any given moment when out riding
    Let me put it this way i see riders wombling about with their heads a million miles away,thinking about getting where they wish to go ,the lovely young thing in the skimpy they were screwed over by so and so at work and all the things that take out minds to other places,Now lets look at the other side.Most of us have played or do play computer/video games,compare that state of mind to the previous and to simplify it we have total dedication ,concentration at a level we find nowhere elseheart rate and breathing that leaves us euphoric .
    Have we made the connection yet?..You want safe?Its all in your head but not your imagination

  • rule of 3 is great, cept in traffic, cause they (cages) will take the safety spot you have left ever time……………..

    ride like there is no tomorrow, cause if your wrong, they go to court and you to your resting place.

    Not a road rage or swearing thing, just be aware…..

    they will live to do it again, we may not.

  • Here is NZ we used to have ads by the Aussie race driver Peter Brock: “only a feuuwl breaks the two second reeuwl”, so only 66% as good as your advice.

    There’s a UTube scooter online with rear facing flamethrower – maybe a pump action on a sling and a front mounted mini gun might garner a leetle more respect??

  • The three second rule is a great idea. I first learned about it five years ago while taking the MSF basic rider training course. It is easy to incorporate it into your everyday riding and is just another way of staying focused.

  • Here in the mountains of North Carolina, You have to learn to Ride the twisties, up or down in a defensive manner, The nuts out there still do not know how to stay right of the yellow center line. Speed is the killer, in these turns, because you cannot see the other side. Recently I had to hard brake in a sharpie. Three Black Bears were awaiting my arrival. Lots of flatlanders in cages and bikes lose their lives every summer because they refuse to slow down. Expect to hard-brake in every turn.

  • Three seconds is a good idea but it is not always practical. Often times if you leave that much space then another vehicle will fill the space.

    Pay attention. As another poster stated: “360” Do not let another vehicle take away your cushion.


  • Good idea,but in Malta its a differant story as your keeping an eye on the pot holes,crazy drivers,speed cameras and every were you see an opening sombody is coming strait at you regardless that your on a bike,so my idea is to overtake and not be overtaken by cars,trucks etc.

  • Hi Anthony C

    I will agree its never a good ider to take both hands off your handle bars. Having said that. I think your missing the point. here. You should never ride behind any vehicle that you can’t see whats beyond him or her. Especially a tractor trailer! My God! What were you thinking. I don’t care if your 6 sec, behind or more. You should always be scanning far in front of you for that matter 360 degrees around you at all times. That is if you want to stay alive!
    You can’t do that if you can’t see beyond the cage in front of you.

    Please reflect!

    Stay safe!


  • I was riding from NJ to South Dakota, to attend the 69th anniversary of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. I was cruising west on Route 90 through the state of Iowa, in the right lane, behind an 18 wheeler, keeping a safe distance (probably 3 seconds behind but I wasn’t verifying the distant between us). I decided to take a drink of water from my water bottle which was in a holder on my handlebars. I turned on the cruise control, let go of the handlebars, grabbed the water bottle with my right hand, unscrewed the cap with my left hand & took a drink. All of a sudden the tractor trailer in front of me braked hard & my following distance quickly diminished. I quickly let go of the water bottle & reached for the hand grips, attempting to disengage the cruise control, hit the brakes & down shift. I decided to pull into the shoulder to reduce the risk of rear ending the trailer. I safely stopped in the shoulder but was right on the rear bumper of a state trooper (with his dome lights flashing) who had stopped a motorist (probably for speeding). Either the truck in front of me or someone in front of him saw the trooper’s flashing lights & panicked and hit their brakes, which forced me to slow down unexpectedly. I learned a good lesson from this experience. Never tie up your hands with a water bottle or anything else while driving (i.e. keep your hands at the handlebar controls at all times. If you need to take a drink while driving, carry a hydration backpack which has a water feed tube that you can place in your mouth & drink from without the use of your hands. Save the water bottle for when your bike is stopped.

  • I live on the Algarve in southern Portugal (formaly from southern California) and ride a 94 Daytona 1200. The local drivers here (as driving in general is basicly new to this generation) feel that with a religious ornament on the dash, a cigarette in one hand a mobil phone in the other will protect from all mishaps. Observation and assimilation of data is paramount for a rider’s survival here. The 3 second rule is great, as all it takes is time of a heart beat to die

  • Great advice, In Southern California, I wish the tailgating soccer moms and cocky young drivers would do the same. Especially since we can stop in less than half of the distance.

  • Here in Phoenix AZ, the average driver, housed in six thousand pounds of chrome-plated plastic Escalade bling and armed with the I.Q. of a fencepost, can always be trusted to maintain an average distance of three feet behind you, at the average local speed of NASCAR. Chain rear-end collisions around here are predictably frequent, and the cretins who are involved can always be counted on to act surprised and wave their hands in the air, as if they thought God had given special dispensation for the laws of physics to be suspended on their behalf.

    Geez, if I can manage to keep a safe distance most of the time on a Hayabusa, anyone in a cage should be easily able to. {grumble}


  • I guess one beauty of eastern Oklahoma ( I am no Sooner fan!! GO USC!!) is that the traffic is light go and coming from work. I can use the “rule of 3” as written about above…but in this case its is 3 minutes between vehicles…good stuff! But coming from southern California and the traffic there it is essential. I used to try to keep three second separation in any direction…not realistic but desirable. There are a thousand things to be aware of when riding and this is a great tip! Good thing we have the most powerful computer sitting right on our shoulders…use it!!!
    Thanks…as always!!

  • Excellent advice – when attention is riveted (lots of merging traffic, semis, curves with traffic blocking line of sight) 3 seconds may seem a long distance but with blind spots and cagers trying to dodge in and out it is even MORE important. And when things are spread out, cruising smooth, etc the glances at scenery make 3 seconds plus even more essential!!

    Love these little reminders/reminiscing prompts, especially during the icy roads non-season.

  • You,re correct, found myself twice this year going off the road because I was waving at somebody, and second, to avoid the person behind me that didn,t see the person in front of me making a right turn. Thanx again, but you are correct, front and behind. happened a week apart, 2nd year riding my ’85 goldwing, which I love.I have about 6k under my belt and 3 bikes.Ride daily.

  • I could not agree with you more. This is such good advice.
    One simple step which will improve our survival chances in all situations.

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