On the road, you’ll need to use signals to let other road users know what you’re planning to do. It’s important that you understand the signals both so you know how to use them and so you know what to do when you see someone else using them.
You must use signals to tell other road users when you’re changing course or direction, stopping or moving off. However, you won’t always need to use signals: if there are no other road users around you (eg if you’re riding late at night), it’s not essential to signal when you’re turning or using a roundabout. If you’re not sure whether you need to signal, it’s best to give a signal just in case.
Signals for turning
If your motorbike has direction indicator lights, you must use these to show when you’re going to turn. If you don’t have indicators or if you want to emphasise your signal, use arm signals. Hold out your arm on the side that you’re going to turn.
Controlling your motorbike while you’re using arm signals takes some practice. Sometimes, such as if you’re travelling fast, it’s best to rely on your direction indicators because giving an arm signal can upset your stability.
- Be careful to use your indicators in good time to warn other road users what you’re going to do, but not so early that it could confuse others.
- Make sure your indicators are cancelled as soon as possible after you’ve turned.
Other road users, especially cyclists and horse riders, may also use arm signals to show that they’re going to turn, slow down or stop.
Your position on the road will also help road users to understand what you’re doing: move to the correct position on the road in good time, eg moving towards the centre of the road if you’re going to turn right, at the same time as using your indicators. Make sure you use the OSM/PSL routine.
To show you’re slowing down or stopping using an arm signal, hold out your right arm and move it up and down. Do not try to do this when you are braking suddenly because you’ll need both hands on the handlebars to keep the motorbike stable.
You must only use the horn when your motorbike is moving and you need to warn other road users that you’re there.
Unless another vehicle is putting you in danger, you mustn’t use your horn
- while your motorbike isn’t moving
- when you’re riding in a built-up area between 11.00 pm and 7.00 am.
You can also flash your headlights to warn other road users that you’re there: this can be useful where the horn might not be heard or at a time when the horn shouldn’t be used.
Drivers might sound their horn or use flashing headlights to give other messages, such as thanking you for letting them pass or warning you of a fault on your motorbike.
If someone uses a signal incorrectly, before you act on the signal
- think carefully about what the signal could mean
- decide whether the signal was meant for you.
Use hazard warning lights to warn road users when you’re obstructing traffic, such as
- when you’ve broken down
- if you have to slow down quickly on a motorway or dual carriageway because of a hazard ahead – only use them long enough to warn the driver behind you.
You mustn’t use hazard warning lights to excuse stopping in a restricted area, such as on double yellow lines.
See The Highway Code for information on signals used by other road users.
The roads in the UK’s towns and cities can be very busy so it’s vital to cooperate with other road users to help keep traffic flowing and to avoid incidents. Always scan the road ahead to gather information about your route.
Remember that not all road users have to follow the same rules: drivers of large vehicles or vulnerable road users such as cyclists will do some things differently to motorcyclists. For example, when turning left, a large vehicle may first swing out to the right-hand side of the road to make the turn. Allow these road users plenty of space.
Look out for other road users and try to predict what they’re likely to do. This is especially important for vulnerable road users, such as
- other motorcyclists and cyclists, who may look over their shoulder, showing they might be about to move out or turn
- children, who may run into the road
- the elderly, who may not be aware of approaching traffic because of poor eyesight or hearing.
Many incidents involving riders are caused by drivers not seeing them. You need to use your observation and skills to keep you safe.
While you’re riding in a stream of traffic,
- remember to keep checking the traffic ahead of you, behind you and, if necessary, beside you
- keep a safe separation distance between you and the vehicle in front
- anticipate problems so that you can slow down in good time.
Riding without care, attention and consideration for other road users is an offence for which you could be given penalty points, which could lead to you losing your licence. See GOV.UK for more information on penalty points given for driving offences.
One of the most effective ways of keeping yourself and other road users safe is to keep a safe separation distance between you and the vehicle in front: this will allow you to stop in time if the vehicle in front stops suddenly.
Your stopping distance depends on lots of factors, including
- the speed at which you’re travelling
- the road and weather conditions
- the condition of your motorbike’s brakes and tyres.
See the stopping distances guide in The Highway Code and try our stopping distances game here.
In good, dry conditions, leave a two-second gap between you and the vehicle in front.
Traffic and weather conditions can affect other road users so be especially aware of others when traffic is heavy or the weather is bad. For example,
- it might be harder for you to see cyclists and motorcyclists in bad weather or heavy traffic, and for other road users to see you
- windy weather might blow you or them off course.
Allow them extra space in these conditions.
If you hear or see an emergency vehicle, try to keep out of its way so it can get past you safely. Check where it’s coming from and see where it’s going; take any reasonable action you can to help it get through, but you mustn’t break the law.
Watch this video for more information about helping emergency vehicles get past.
Filtering through traffic
When you’re in stationary or slow-moving traffic, you may be able to filter through the traffic. This means you can ride slowly between the queues of traffic, but you must remember that other road users might not see you coming towards them. Watch out for
- vehicles suddenly changing lane
- doors opening
- pedestrians and cyclists passing between the cars
- vehicles emerging or turning at junctions
- pedestrian crossings
- road markings or studs that could upset your balance.
Be ready to brake and/or use the horn if you think a driver hasn’t seen you.
Overtaking on the left
You shouldn’t overtake other vehicles on the left unless the traffic is moving in queues and the queue on your right is moving more slowly than the queue you’re in.
Being prepared for hazards will help you to spot them early and take action in good time to keep you and other road users safe.
Getting a clear view
While you’re riding, it’s important to keep scanning the road ahead and around you so you can spot potential hazards in good time: the sooner you spot a hazard, the easier it is to take action and avoid an incident.
There may be things along the road that limit what you can see, such as parked cars or overhanging trees. If you can’t see clearly ahead, slow down so you can deal with any hazards that appear from behind the obstruction.
Wearing a helmet and visor will restrict your peripheral vision – that is, what you can see at the edge of your vision. Because of this, you’ll need to move your head to check all around you.
Reading the road ahead
By looking well ahead of where you’re riding, you can anticipate problems. For example, if you see a parade of shops ahead you should be ready for vehicles stopping or pulling out; there are also likely to be pedestrians who may want to cross the road.
Different environments pose different hazards – on rural roads you might find slow-moving tractors or mud on the road; in cities, there are lots of different road users close together so you need to be careful to give others enough space.
Vulnerable road users
There are times and conditions in which other road users can be vulnerable, such as
- other motorcyclists, cyclists, vehicles towing caravans and high-sided vehicles in windy conditions
- learner drivers and newly qualified drivers
- drivers overtaking you
- disabled people using powered vehicles
- older drivers.
Watch out for these road users and allow them extra space when necessary.
Aquaplaning and skidding
The road conditions can cause particular hazards, particularly in wet weather. Remember to change your riding to suit the conditions.
When there’s a build-up of water between a motorbike’s tyres and the road surface, the tyres can lose contact with the road and your motorbike slides on a thin film of water: this is called aquaplaning. It’s a particular risk when you’re riding at speed in very wet weather.
To avoid aquaplaning, keep your speed down and avoid riding through water pooling on the road surface, if you can do so safely.
If your motorbike begins to aquaplane, slow down by easing off the throttle. Don’t try to brake or change direction until there’s grip again.
Conditions that can cause skidding
Skidding is caused by a number of factors but it’s more likely to happen on slippery road surfaces such as where there’s
- loose gravel
- oil or diesel
- ice or packed snow
- frost in shady places
- wet mud or leaves
- metal drain covers
- painted road markings
- tar banding
- patched areas.
If you’re riding in these conditions, keep your speed down. See the Steering and manoeuvring section for more information about why skids happen and how to control your motorbike in a skid.
While you’re riding, there are often things that pull your concentration away from the road such as talking to a pillion passenger, using a satellite-navigation system or listening to music.
Losing your concentration, or even just taking your eyes off the road briefly, can quickly cause an incident. It’s up to you as the rider to keep your concentration on riding.
To help you do this,
- programme your satellite-navigation system before you start your journey
- if you have a passenger, remind him or her to sit quietly
- don’t play music loudly.
It’s illegal to use a hand-held mobile phone while you’re riding: being distracted by your phone could cause a serious incident. Although you can use a hands-free kit to speak on the phone, it’s still best to avoid using a phone at all.
- Turn your phone off or put it on voicemail before you start your journey.
- Wait until you’re safely and legally parked before you use it at all.
Defensive riding – sometimes called planned riding – is about using observation, anticipation and control to help you be prepared for the unexpected.
Make sure you are always in control of your motorbike and ride
- at the correct speed
- in the correct gear
- in the correct position on the road.
You should also drive with
- consideration and courtesy.
Keeping a safe separation distance between you and the vehicle in front will give you time to stop safely if you need to. See Cooperating with other road users for more information on separation distances.
When you’re riding, your safety is mainly in your control so it’s important to ride assertively: take a clear position on the road and make sure other road users can see and understand what you’re doing.
However, this doesn’t mean being aggressive. Your riding shouldn’t upset other road users or create dangerous situations. Always try to show patience and anticipation.
As you gain more riding experience, your ability to ride safely and responsibly should improve. Remember to keep checking what’s covered in DSA’s riding standards to see how you’re improving and where you may need more practice or instruction.
Ecosafe riding is not only about riding in a way that reduces the effects of your journey on the environment: it’s also about making your journeys more comfortable and reducing your fuel bills.
The factors that affect your motorbike’s fuel consumption the most are
- how you brake
- how you accelerate
- the speed at which you ride
- the weight of your motorbike.
Although it’s good to save fuel and ride in an ecosafe way, riding safely must always take priority. There will be times when you’ll need to change the way you ride to make sure you and other road users are kept safe instead of riding as efficiently as you might.
Braking and accelerating
Scanning what is happening on the road ahead of you will help you to be aware of potential hazards so you can take action in good time: this will help you avoid having to brake sharply. Always try to brake and accelerate smoothly because this will use much less fuel that sudden braking or accelerating.
Using the gears correctly will also help reduce the amount of fuel you use: see Using the gears to find out about ‘block’ gear changing, which can reduce the amount of time when you’re accelerating and so reduce fuel consumption. To use the engine as efficiently as possible, try to use the highest gear possible without making the engine struggle.
Engine braking will help to reduce fuel use too. This is when you use the resistance of the engine to help slow the motorbike. Anticipating when you’ll need to slow down and choosing the correct gear will allow you to use engine braking rather than relying completely on the brakes.
Keeping your motorbike working efficiently
Your motorbike will use more fuel when it’s carrying an extra load so avoid carrying more weight than is necessary.
It’s important to look after your motorbike to keep it working efficiently. A badly tuned engine will use more fuel and emit more exhaust fumes than a well-tuned engine.
Check the oil, fluid levels and tyres regularly and fix any problems as soon as you find them. See Maintenance checks on your motorbike for more information.
Technologies such as catalytic converters, new fuels and engine improvements are helping to reduce the amount of pollution created by vehicles. Find out more about the environmental effects of different fuels in the Planning for a bike journey section.
Knowing what to do if your motorbike breaks down is important to help keep you and other road users safe, and to help get your motorbike recovered as soon as possible.
If you’re riding when your motorbike breaks down or suffers a punctured tyre, hold the handlebars firmly and gently roll to a stop at the side of the road.
Use the engine cut-off switch to stop the engine quickly if necessary, eg if the motorbike is falling over.
Breakdowns on motorways
Use the hard shoulder on a motorway or dual carriageway if your motorbike breaks down and you can’t make it to the next exit or service area. Stop your motorbike as far to the left as you can, away from the traffic.
While you’re waiting for help,
- turn on the hazard lights, if your motorbike has them
- turn on your parking lights if visibility is poor or at night
- telephone the emergency services
- don’t try to make any repairs to the motorbike.
It’s best to use a roadside emergency telephone to call for help: the number on the phone box will make it easier for the services to understand where you are and get to you quickly.
If you can’t use an emergency telephone, you can use a mobile phone to call for help. You’ll need to give precise details about where you are: use the numbers given on the nearest marker post on the hard shoulder to help the services identify your location.
When you’ve finished using the telephone, wait on the bank near your motorbike so you can see the emergency services coming. Don’t wait close to your motorbike in case a vehicle drives into it while it’s parked.
Warning other road users
Use the hazard warning lights (if your motorbike has them) to warn other road users that your motorbike is blocking the road or is in a dangerous position.
Even the most careful riders can find themselves involved in a collision – or you might be the first person to arrive at the scene of an incident. It’s very important to make sure there’s no further injury or damage.
Move any uninjured passengers, animals and passers-by to a safe place away from the vehicles involved in the incident.
- Don’t move anyone who’s injured unless they’re in danger.
- Don’t remove a motorcyclist’s helmet unless it’s essential (eg if they’re having breathing difficulties).
Warn other road users as quickly as possible
- turn on hazard warning lights or other lights
- display a warning triangle (unless you’re on a motorway).
Switch off your engine and warn others to do the same. Put out cigarettes or other fire hazards and call the emergency services if necessary.
Before you call emergency services, make sure you can give exact details about where you are and the casualties involved. If you’re on a motorway, use the location details given on the marker posts to help the emergency services get to you quickly.
When the ambulance arrives, give the crew as many facts as you can about the condition of the casualties so they can help those most in need first.
If you can, gather and record information about the scene of the incident: this might involve taking photographs, drawing a map or noting details such as the weather and road conditions, damage and/or injuries caused and details of the vehicles involved. This will help the police work out what has happened. The sooner you can do this after the event, the clearer and more accurate the information will be.
What to do if you’re involved in an incident
If you’re involved in a road traffic incident, you must stop. You must call the police if you’ve damaged someone else’s property but can’t find them to tell them, or if a person or animal has been injured.
You’ll need to give the following details to anyone who has good reason for needing them
- your name and address
- the name and address of the vehicle’s owner
- the vehicle’s registration number.
If you can’t do this straight away, you must report the incident to the police within 24 hours (in Northern Ireland you must report it immediately).
You’ll also have to give your insurance details to the police if there’s been an injury. If you can’t show the insurance documents when you report the incident, you must produce them at a police station within seven days.
The police may ask you for a statement. Remember you don’t have to make a statement straight away. It might be better to wait a while so you can reflect clearly on what happened. Write your statement carefully and keep a copy.
Giving first aid
First aid is just that: help that you can quickly give to help people who are injured until the emergency services arrive. If you’re able to give first aid, do so; however, if you’re not confident about giving first aid, leave it to others. You may be able to help by sitting with a casualty to talk to them, keep them calm and watch them until an ambulance arrives.
If you don’t have any first aid training, it’s a good idea to look at the information provided by St John Ambulance, British Red Cross or other first aid organisations about how to give first aid or, if possible, take a course.