Is it always easy to work out what’s happened in a crash?
On face value you might think so. For example, if we were to review a collision where a motorcycle has negotiated a right hand bend in the wet and has ended up in the ditch to the left of the carriageway then the first impression might be that the motorcyclist has tried to take the bend too fast. However, the same set of circumstances could be applied in a scenario where the rider found himself grabbing a handful of front brake due to the appearance of a car straddling the centre line because it was going too fast. In this circumstance we would expect to carry out a vehicle examination in order to identify amongst other things scuffing on the motorcycle tyre and compare this to any tyre marks left on the road. We would also look to corroborate these facts with any witness statements, including those of the motorcyclist. Clearly we would then be able to build a compelling defence for the motorcyclist in such a scenario, which on first examination may have looked entirely different.
Are car drivers always at fault? What’s the most common mistake car drivers make that causes a crash?
Unfortunately not! Car drivers are often blamed for the mistakes of motorcyclists but by far and away the commonest cause of a collision is encapsulated by the words of Casey Stoner “ambition outweighing ability”. Most motorcyclists who have reflected on their riding skills will be able to identify a time when they have lost track of the fact that they are on the road and consequently should be riding accordingly. Frequently, motorcyclists will have had to react to the erratic actions of a car driver and might consider that it was their exemplary skill and judgement that had saved them. Perhaps closer examination of the scenario would suggest that a bit more thinking ahead and much more expectation that car drivers are all a threat would prevent the motorcyclist even being in harms way in the first place. That all said, far and away the commonest mistake of car drivers is what we call “look but don’t see”. The driver is adamant that they looked up the road and nothing was coming yet they pull out straight into the path of a motorcyclist. The inference is that the motorcyclist must have been travelling too fast. More often than not this is not the case. The error has been that the driver has failed to positively take in the image in front of him. The same can often be said of a motorcyclist’s lifesaver look. How many times do motorcyclists look over their shoulder before an overtake yet fail to properly perceive what they are seeing, because they are more focused on getting past the car in front before the next set of twisties.
Where’s the most dangerous place to ride – town or country?
The sad fact of this is that the majority of fatal collisions occur on country roads. In fact the statistics tend to suggest that the majority of fatal collisions are the following groups, male, over 30, motorcycle of 500cc or greater, on a weekend and in a rural environment. The obvious conclusion is that these fatalities are amongst motorcyclists out for a weekend scratch. There are plenty of collisions in urban areas but the majority of motorcyclists tend to keep their speed down in town as they know they are more likely to get “nicked” here. However, the open roads of the rural environment prove all too tempting. Our recommendation would be to ride to the conditions on a route you know well. In so doing you avoid the ubiquitous ever-tightening corner and know where the road surface is poor or where the hidden junctions are. Of course the danger is that you learn the road so well that you start to treat it like a track. Once again the rider must keep in mind that their first priority should be self preservation rather than their fastest “lap time”.
Which crashes cause the most serious/fatal injuries?
The vulnerable position occupied by a motorcyclist means that any higher speed collision has a likelihood of severe injury or death. Of those that are totally the rider’s fault the overtake on a left hand corner or excessive speed on a left hander causing departure into the oncoming traffic are almost certain to be fatal. In such circumstances the rider is often left with Hobson’s choice of either head on into the oncoming vehicle or departure into the verges and the uncertainty that that brings. Of those collisions involving the failings of other road users, the scenario to be most wary of is drivers pulling out without looking properly. This may be a driver pulling out from a side road or making a sudden lane change. Where this is from a side road as much distance as possible should be put between the rider’s road position and the front of the other vehicle, thereby allowing the rider more time to react. Furthermore a rider who has already selected a lower gear in anticipation of the other driver moving without looking will be better prepared for making an escape plan by either accelerating or braking.
Has ABS and traction control made any difference to the crashes you investigate yet? DO you see fewer crashes involving bikes with TC and ABS?
Unfortunately these rider aids can be a double-edged sword. Whilst TC can definitely help in circumstances where a rider may previously have highsided due to heavy handedness, the advent of these systems can breed complacency. Similar incidences have been seen in commercial aviation where over reliance on automation has led to a degradation in flying skills which has manifested itself at critical times when the automation has failed. More often than not collisions are down to rider or driver error and no current technology will defend against that.
Are there more crashes in bad weather?
Interestingly, no. Bad weather riding tends to be undertaken by only the most committed and experienced riders who probably do not have a choice. Consequently these riders are much more attuned to self-preservation rather than recreation. Clearly riding a motorcycle in ice or snow is the preserve of the foolhardy but in normal wet weather the application of proper advanced riding techniques and riding to the conditions can prevent riders from becoming a statistic. In all of these circumstances a rider’s best defence is their riding style. Any form of further formal training (IAM or the Police schemes) will go a long way to collision prevention. In those circumstances where a collision is unavoidable we are there to help with the legal process.