Making a decision in regard to the safety / danger of motorcycling
August 28, 2017 6:41 AM   Subscribe

I commute 2hrs and a half every day, via public transportation mainly. My SO's office is exactly opposite to mine in relation to where we live. He commutes to work on a motorcycle and it takes him roughly 25-30 minutes one way. I would like to shorten my work commute and therefore move closer to my workplace. I found some districts that would work well for both of us in terms of distance but the thing is : instead of driving at a max 50 km / h across the city my SO would drive at 70 km / h on a three lane highway (with a lot of trucks).

For reasons that don't belong to this question I will be the only one to pay for the new flat rental and my SO doesn't want me to take my decision based on the potential safety of his commute. He says he'll follow me no matter what, as long as his commute distance is reasonable. To him, driving across the town is less dangerous but more tiring whereas driving on the highway is less tiring but more dangerous.

My SO loves motorcycling and he is experienced / doesn't take risks so I trust him on his skills but I don't trust the car / truck drivers :( I don't know if it is twisted thinking but I feel I would be responsible if anything happened to my SO on the highway and I really don't know how to decide.

I need your help on how to make a decision about this.

Thank you in advance!
posted by Ifite to Human Relations (12 answers total)
YMMV of course, but I get super stressed out having to drive in highway traffic for my commute, and much preferred the lower-key motorcycle commute through town. But I am not a speedster by any stretch. (My motorcycle was just a 250cc, too, so it loved the lower speeds by design. If I had a big-engined bike, I think the slower commute might have felt underwhelming.)
posted by jillithd at 6:59 AM on August 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

I was a motorcycle commuter in Columbus, Ohio, USA for 2 years. It's not a big city, but it's got a lot of truck traffic and rush hour is no joke. I vastly preferred to avoid the highway whenever possible, and I would take a 30 minute surface street ride over a 10 minute highway blast any day. But in Columbus, the highway is 70+ mph; by comparison 70km/h is downright stately. That's actually right in the sweet spot for riding enjoyment, imo (although I am not a speed junkie by any stretch).

I think it really comes down to the type of highway you're talking about for how safe he will be. If it's a protected on/off, then really only the merging will be dangerous. If it's what we would call a country highway, with regular crossroads, that's quite different: oncoming traffic likes to turn across opposite lanes without looking for motorcycles, and if there's even mild traffic he'll have to stay alert at all times.

I also think a 2.5 hour public transit commute is horrendous and I wouldn't think twice about moving, fwiw.
posted by dbx at 7:03 AM on August 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

My colleague had a relatively long highway motorcycle commute in the U.K. and was perfectly fine with it, safety-wise, saying that the nature of the roads was friendlier to motorcyclists than it was in the USA, where I think he regarded a long highway motorcycle commute as crazy. Plus, at 70 km/h, his commute will be fairly relaxed.
posted by deanc at 7:30 AM on August 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Just a lil' bit of threadsitting : we live in Paris, France. I don't know how French drivers compare to English or American ones. We're not the worst (I've driven in Napoli, Italy...) but I don't think we're the friendliest either when it comes to sharing the road... and Paris is very often congested so you never drive crazy fast.
posted by Ifite at 7:37 AM on August 28, 2017

I commute by motorcycle every day, about 50/50 highway and regular streets. I have to say, the city streets, or the rural streets at the other end, are far more dangerous than the highway section in the middle. Every intersection and driveway is a danger zone, and people drive super erratically on the streets. The highway has less of these danger points, and most people keep to a constant speed in a straight line. I'm in Canada, but I have rode a motorcycle in France, and while some things are different (roundabouts vs stop lights) I'd say the experience was broadly similar.
posted by rodlymight at 7:48 AM on August 28, 2017 [4 favorites]

I think that's a relevant point because drivers on the road may be much more used to motorbikes than many drivers in the US. Is it possible for you to have your SO practice the commute as it would be from your strongest preference so they can really see if they are comfortable with it?
posted by Night_owl at 7:51 AM on August 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

It's important to draw a distinction between how safe you feel, and how safe you are. I don't ride a motorcycle, but I do ride a bicycle, and I see a lot of people on bicycles making decisions about how to ride based on the fact that they feel safer, when statistically, they are actually increasing their risk.

I am not au courant on French, so I did some searching on US motorcycle crash statistics. This document (pdf) breaks down motorcycle fatalities by "roadway function class" on the 3rd page. Interstates and non-interstate expressways collectively are where 17% of motorcycle fatalities occur (nothing about non-fatal accidents that I could find, but I imagine they're on par). That's pretty low, and jibes with rodlymight's point about intersections being danger zones (which I'd agree with based on my cycling experience).
posted by adamrice at 8:37 AM on August 28, 2017 [4 favorites]

Intersections and direction changes are where things are most dangerous in traffic. Motorcyclists are most likely to be put at risk in situations where a driver doesn't see them, and puts their car in the path of the motorcycle. This is much less likely to happen on a highway, and if it does, will tend to happen less suddenly, and with more margin for corrective action.

His new commute will probably not be appreciably more dangerous than his old one, except inasmuch as it will involve more time riding, and therefore more opportunities for accident.

I would gently suggest that this worry should not be a significant factor in your decision making.

If you want to make a suggestion regarding his well-being, remind him to wear earplugs under his helmet when he rides on the highway. Hearing damage from regular exposure to wind noise is a reality.

(Anecdotally, in case it makes you feel better: I commuted on a motorcycle—on highways —in the United States for many years without incident.)
posted by Sokka shot first at 10:41 AM on August 28, 2017 [7 favorites]

Whatever else, I feel like his safety on his commute is his responsibility, not yours. Your moving farther from his work does not abrogate his responsibility to make informed decisions regarding his own safety, nor would it make you at fault should something bad happen. He's a grownup. He's said that he's comfortable with either style of commute, so that's on him. That was his decision.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 1:36 PM on August 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Intersections and direction changes are where things are most dangerous in traffic.
Seconding this. The vast majority of (bad/fatal) motorcycle accidents happen on country roads (more intersections in built up areas, but lower speeds). Motorways by comparison are relatively safe. Tho as jillithd says up top, it will be more tiring and stressful for him.

I feel like his safety on his commute is his responsibility
That's not how it works tho. Motorcyclists usually feel more confident/cavalier about their own safety than their loved ones (e.g. my mum is against my getting a motorbike again, not because she feels responsible for me, but because she worries more about it than I do).
posted by ClarissaWAM at 1:43 PM on August 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

A few thoughts. Reading your question, I think you may be overestimating the risk trucks pose to a motorcycle compared to other vehicles. Trucks are generally considered more dangerous because they are so much larger than passenger cars. But every vehicle is huge compared to a motorcycle, and every one is quite capable of crushing you to bits.

Also nthing what has been said above about intersections, and here are some European stats to peruse. Your SO may feel safer on the city streets, but that's not necessarily accurate.

You also mentioned that he finds the highway route less tiring than the city route. Being tired on a motorcycle can be a dangerous thing too. If he's comfortable and relaxed on the highway route, then he's more likely to stay alert, which goes a long way towards keeping you safe.

And anecdotally, in case it makes you feel better: My husband and I have both commuted by motorcycle in Chicago, although I mostly don't anymore. His route takes the many-laned highway-type road, my route takes/took city streets. He's carried on without incident for years. I made it one summer of daily commuting before a car ran me over. On a boring surface street, at an intersection.
posted by gueneverey at 8:16 PM on August 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thank you everybody for your answers, it was really helpful.
Special mention to Sokka shot first about the earplugs. I am deaf and I don't want my SO to be! I wouldn't have guessed that the noise (especially from the wind) while on a motorcycle would be so harmful.
posted by Ifite at 5:58 AM on August 30, 2017

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