The SEE System: Increasing Your Visibility

by Jeff on May 7, 2009

This article is also posted on’s home page this week. My safety articles have been posted there over a month now, and I’ll have a different one each week there for a while longer now. – Jeff

SEE: Search, Evaluate and Execute.

By Jeff Cobb
Motorcycle Safety News

If there were ever a need to be proactive, assertive and in control, it is while riding a motorcycle. Motorcyclists and scooter riders are arguably the most vulnerable motor vehicle operators on the road.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), when compared to operators of a passenger vehicle, motorcyclists on American highways in 2006 had a 35 times greater chance of being killed per vehicle mile traveled.

Studies show that because motorcycles are much smaller, they may not be “seen” or fully, consciously registered in the minds of other motorists.

And in today’s increasingly dense traffic, even when motorists do see riders, some may not demonstrate sufficient respect for them for one reason or another. It may be conscious or unconscious on their part, but either way, your life and welfare could depend on it.

Because of these and other realities, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) has evolved a system for managing the many risks riders face. The system is based on the premise that you are the one most responsible for your own safety. As a rider, it is your job to look out for yourself, and not fully trust others any more than you have to. No one has your best interests at heart more than you.

The word “SEE” is an acronym for a learned process of seeing, assessing and responding to traffic, the road, and more. It stands for “Search, Evaluate, and Execute.”


Whether riding an interstate highway, suburban street or backcountry road, your goal is to visually recognize anything that could affect your control and safety. The idea is to consciously recognize not only what’s right in front of you, but to also look 12 seconds ahead, and be aware of what’s 360 degrees around you as well.

You do this partly by scanning your mirrors, looking side to side, and doing “head checks” as needed to monitor blind spots, or when changing lanes. Some mirrors are convex, and do not accurately portray distances. Looking directly where you are going or at what is coming your way is safest.

The categories of things you continually look for are:

1. Traffic control devices and markings
2. Road characteristics and surface conditions,
3. Other roadway users.


You need to effectively process the visual information you are continually taking in. The MSF recommends, “To get the best results, predict the worst possible outcome.” This does not mean you ought to be paranoid, but it does mean anticipate and be ready.

For example, if you are going through a four-way stop, and a car in the road perpendicular to you is about to cross your path, realize the car might run its stop sign through without stopping. Or if someone is tailgating you, assume they could rear-end you if you fall or have to hit the brakes. And if you are taking a blind curve, you might anticipate fallen gravel or a driveway with a car backing out just around the bend.

For these and innumerable other potential scenarios, the SEE system advocates you “evaluate” the three main categories you recognized in your “search,” as follows:

Traffic control devices and markings – Remember the car blowing through a stop sign example? Motorcyclists need to be extra aware that just because there are traffic control devices or markings on the road, it does not mean every one will obey them. What are the potential hazards that you might therefore have to deal with in a moment’s notice?

Road characteristics and surface conditions – Is the road hilly, curvy, two-lane, four-lane, lined with driveways, or likely to have wildlife like deer darting out in front of you? Further, “reading” the pavement quality is an essential learned skill. Is the road gravelly or smooth? Is it full of patches and potholes? Are there tar covered cracks? Is the road asphalt or concrete? Are there rain grooves in it? Are there signs, posts, guardrails, or other objects that you could crash into?

Other roadway users – Becoming “street smart” on a motorcycle means learning to anticipate and be ready to compensate for other drivers’ potential errors in judgment.

Overall, “evaluating” is about developing excellent on-the-fly judgment. In doing this, you must take into consideration your own bike handling skills, your bike’s capabilities and limitations, and the big picture on roadway or traffic conditions.

Always think of having a safety cushion in time and space. In other words, give yourself enough physical distance, and time to react.


Here’s where being “assertive and proactive” come into play. As you “search,” you may “evaluate” a risk. Maybe it’s someone on a cell phone not looking and turning left in front of you at an intersection. What do you do?

You may have less than a second to do whatever it is, so being decisive is key.

Three possibilities:

Communicate – You could honk your horn, or even wave if possible. This is your most passive option because you are hoping someone else will respond to you.

Adjust speed – Can you stop in time? If so, is someone riding your tail? Could you accelerate through and beat the driver?

Adjust position – Can you steer around the turning car? (You could do this while accelerating, but this is an on-the-spot judgment call).


Training courses or track day riding schools are ideal places to practice the SEE techniques.Training courses or track day riding schools are ideal places to practice the SEE techniques.

Studies show that intersections are consistently the most likely places to have a collision, particularly with a vehicle turning left in front of a rider, violating the motorcyclist’s right of way.

Researchers have also observed that people can operate motor vehicles almost on autopilot, as it were. That is, they may be less than fully conscious and still make it to where they are going.

While this is common, it is a bad idea for motorcyclists. The potential consequences are greater, so you decide. Would you like to be in greater control, safer, and ultimately have more of a reason to enjoy the experience of riding?

While the SEE system is broken out into steps, in real life your focus and resulting action should be fluid. To become proficient, these steps need to be practiced, and integrated into your mind.

A word to the wise: do not out ride your skill set, or the capabilities of your machine. Do not over or underestimate what you can do.

If you have not taken a training course that teaches these techniques, you would be smart to consider one. If you are experienced, refresher courses or advanced courses are available. If possible, a track day or track riding school are also great for developing skills that can add to your control on the street.

Jeff Cobb is the editor and publisher of Motorcycle Safety News. Comments, and questions can be directed to

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Mack Harrell 05.28.09 at 4:02 pm


I use “SEE” all of the time. Only I don’t think it increases my visibility. I try to do that by wearing visible gear (with lots of bright yellow in it), using high beams and auxiliary lighting in daylight as well. I would have liked to hear more of your methods for increasing the likelihood that other motorists will see you.



Jeff 05.28.09 at 7:30 pm

Hi Mack,

You are right about SEE not increasing your visibility. The title was given to me, and I confess I did not catch it. Good catch (as we used to say while editing in the newsroom on deadline nights).

As for increasing your visibility, my guess is I don’t have a lot to add to what you already know. I do believe white is a better night time color, and certainly reflectivity is important.

You can go to the limit trying to increase your visibility, but my personal strategy (and I ride 15-20,000 miles a year, all year round), is not to trust motorists anyway.

Heck, even when they do see you, they will tailgate you (here in the east coast, anyway).

One thing I might add is, my older R1 has twin lights that both light all the time (not like the newer ones with only one light on for low beam).

I read Japanese safety engineers designed this purposely to make the twin lights look like eyes – a human like face on the road.

At the very least, they are closer to resembling a car’s lights.

I always thought the early R1s looked like wasps, and they do attract attention from head on. I would think any bike or scooter with twin lights in a fairing jump out at on coming drivers more than a single light.

My experience approaching intersections with opposing cars waiting to turn left, I have been fine so far. I think they see me. (Knock on wood).

I also do NOT regularly use my high beams in daytime – only selectively in cases where I suspect people need the extra help seeing me.

I have extra bright PIAA H4s (and may upgrade to HIDs). Even the upgraded halogens blind people, and I get flashed, so I don’t use them unless I feel I have to, to be polite, and because most people are obviously seeing me with low beams on anyway.

And all this said, my real strategy, as I started to say earlier, is to use the SEE system (or my own 28+ years experience, what ever you call it), to see THEM before they see me.

I used to say I “don’t trust car drivers any further than I can throw them,” (which no doubt dates me).

Bottom line, I see them, and have developed counter strategies over time to not give car drivers the chance to take me out if at all possible.

Of course this does not account for sudden unpredictable moves by drivers, but everyone else, I see.

I’ve learned the hard way having dumb drivers try to kill me many times over, and each time I added new insights and caution to my arsenal of street survival.

Again, this does not guarantee I’m good forever, but my senses are now where I see everyone, give none the benefit of the doubt, and have a healthy disdain for the average American driver – talking on their cellphones, semi-conscious, either too timid or too aggressive, and in most cases, not really in control.

I try to carve out a space, and stay out of their way. If necessary, I’ll weave in and around and past (not recklessly, but proactively), and otherwise try not to worry about them looking out for me. I look out more for myself, which is maybe 75% of the game.


kfz versicherung vergleich 10.29.10 at 2:03 am

Very enlightening and beneficial to someone whose been out of the circuit for a long time.

- Kris

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