Why would a rider SIPDE? The Gold Wing riders who have taken the Motorcycle Rider Course from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation learn about an observation skill called SIPDE. SIPDE is a technique that develops the requisite parts of the observation task, elegantly breaking the skill into smaller parts. Each portion of the observation skill can be looked at, and dealt with developing a stronger technique for the rider to use. Observation of the environment that a rider travels through is the only method available that allows proactive management of risk. So, what is SIPDE?

“S” is for search. A rider is constantly looking out through the fog of his own mental processes. I think every rider/driver has driven down the road, and realized they have lost the last few miles in a trance of awake, but not alert. Alert is the key to search, and that search has to be an active scan of the entire environment. Motorcycles allow riders to travel through the environment and interact with that environment, and we all attempt to keep that interaction as positive as possible. All of the senses can be used to perceive what is occurring around you, but the primary consideration here will be for visual cue’s as to what will happen next. Observation of the vehicles operating around you will give you clues as to their future actions, and pedestrian’s behaviors such as not looking where they are going or reading a book will help determine whether they will see you. The actual environment from inner-city urban to high-desert savanna will also determine the level of vigilance required of the rider.

“I” is for Identify. You have searched your environment, your mirrors, you looked a good twelve seconds ahead in your path of travel, and three seconds ahead of you is a car about to turn out of a driveway into your lane. Mentally the rider should reclassify that vehicle moving it from the benign to a higher level of risk. A rider having perceived a risk such as the car pulling out has identified the particular agent of risk. The riders job is to manage that risk appropriately. The process of identification seems to be the easiest until you start dealing with the possible permutations. The amount of possible agents, or subjects in the environment capable of causing risk or harm are staggering. The job of the rider is to identify other road users, pedestrians, debris, animals, and anything else capable of affecting the motorcycle. Just about everything. The rider mentally classifies the hazards in the environment by how much risk they pose, and attempts to figure out what is going to happen next.

“P” is for predict. This kind of prediction is not the kind where you cloister in a darkened room around a crystal ball attempting to figure next weeks lotto numbers. This is the type of prediction where you weigh all of the evidence presented by your senses, past experiences, and gut feelings. You searched your environment for factors of risk, identified those factors, and now you have to predict where they will be in the immediate future so you won’t be there. That car about to pull out into the street earlier is either going to get in you way or not. Your job is to predict the possible choices of what could happen by playing the “What if?” game with yourself, and protect against the negative effects. Predict the worst case scenario, and what will happen so you can guard against that occurring. After predicting what could happen a rider should choose a specific skill or technique to implement a strategy.

“D” is for decide. Decide what to do. You have predicted the negative effect of impacting the rear bumper of a blind driver about to pull out in front of you, and now you need to implement a strategy that will change that outcome. The choice of what you will use may be a basic technique such as swerve, brake, or lane-change. The technique may be as simple as communication by the use of your horn or lights. Particular strategies can be combined as with the earlier lane-change creating space, or slowing creating time. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation teaches the following ideas. One hazard; Minimize by creating space. You can do this by slowing, or changing direction away from the hazard. Two Hazards; Separate the hazards by changing where they occur in space and time, and handle them separately. Multiple hazards; Compromise between the hazards. The idea is to give space or time to both hazards until a strategy can be used to Separate them. Once you have decided how to handle the hazards observed you have to just do it.

“E” is for execute. Execute is such a harsh word to use when dealing with traffic safety. As a rider using this method you will have identified a hazard, and decided what to do about that same hazard. Now you have to do it. Execute the skill, or strategy you have decided to use.

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation developed this model from previous models of mental strategies, so that novice riders would have a basic level of understanding. Most of the strategies used to facilitate appropriate risk-management techniques are primarily mental in nature. Motorcyclists are involved in a physically demanding activity that has a huge mental acumen requirement. Riders should be reminded that the mental portion of riding is much greater than the physical side, and mental strategies while cumbersome to discuss are basic models that the mind uses consistently and easily. The reason we discuss them so much in depth is so that we can identify any areas of weakness, predict what will occur if untreated, and execute a strategy to increase our knowledge.

Out there somewhere is a group of educated riders thinking “I’ve taken the Experienced Riders Course, and I don’t remember them saying anything about SIPDE.” or “What about the technique called SPA?” SPA is the advanced observation model taught in the ERC by the MSF. This technique takes the basic SIPDE and combines the four letter acronym into a three letter technique. If you take the Scan and Identify of SIPDE you create the Search of SPA. Similarly the Predict is the Predict of SPA. Decide and Execute of SIPDE translate to the function of Act in SPA. The basic idea of SPA is to shorten the acronym and combine the functions into an easily understood principle. So, you end up with S=Search, P=Predict, and A=Act. This shortens the thinking process, and in the classroom the explanation period. SPA is used similarly to SIPDE remembering that all of these letters being floated around are only acronyms used to discuss actual mental processes that occur naturally.

The conclusion to this is a better understanding of the principles of observation. Through the use of modeling we are better able to understand how to increase our mental techniques, and manage our risk better. Motorcyclists can not avoid hazards in the roadway that they have not perceived. As a communications instructor once told me “We hear, see, and feel all of the time. It is only when we listen, look, and touch that we actually perceive our environment.” Those words are very true when dealing with how we observe the traffic around us. Observation is an active participation skill derived from practice, and the understanding of how the skill works. Ride safe.

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