Thursday, September 4, 2014

Motorcycle safety notes: "I hate it when that happens"

From England, comes this video which shows a fatal motorcycle crash, from the rider's perspective. Normally, I wouldn't touch this kind of video with a ten-foot pole, but I think it's worth a second, close watch because it highlights a number of dangerous assumptions made by motorcyclists.

I note that the driver of the car involved was charged in the accident, in spite of the fact that the rider was traveling nearly 100 miles per hour moments before the crash. This was a classic, "I didn't see you, mate" accident. This happens, all over the world, many times a day. What can we learn from it?..

Off he goes. The motorcycle is a Yamaha. I'm not sure which model. Perhaps a reader can identify it. It looks like a big adventure bike to me. [FJR1300, per comment below--MG] In the next few seconds, he's going to catch and pass several cars and at least one other bike. I can't read the speedo, but the official investigation found that he traveled up to 97mph. His mum said, "He loved speed." We all do, and we've all exceeded 97 miles an hour at some point.

The good: alcohol was not a factor. The roads are dry, visibility is good. Traffic is light. The passes he makes are all safe, although he's traveling at a rate of speed that is bound to earn him a big speeding ticket if he's caught.

The bad: Already at this point, 97's too fast. The big green sign on the rider's left tells him, there's an intersection ahead. The heavy foliage could conceal a car about to pull out. Meanwhile, the white car just ahead has seen him coming and pulled over.

Taking the invitation, the bike passes the car. His lane position is not too bad; he's to the right in his lane, maximizing his sight lines into the intersection, maximizing his own visibility. He could've just let his momentum carry him past the car and rolled off the throttle, but he's still on the gas.

He should be in Condition Orange by now. There's an intersection up ahead, with a view of potential cross traffic obscured by trees. And now, he can see an oncoming car positioning itself to turn across his lane.

A good rider using proper situational awareness would already have rolled off and taken other steps to reduce his risk by now. But anyone can be caught off guard, so this would be the time to roll off, flash high beams or sound your horn to let the driver in the turn lane know you're there and just maybe going a bit quick [See comment below--MG]. And, check the rear view mirror and flash brake lights to tell the guy in that white car, "I know I just passed you, but I might be about to hit the brakes and you should think about it, too."

But no, dude's still on the gas, accelerating. At the very least, the road on left would be a perfect place for a cop to be parked, pointing a radar gun our way. At this moment though, a cop would be the least of his problems; the rider should have a laser focus on that car's left front tire--that car's still rolling, and the driver has steered into the motorcyclist's lane.

Finally, he's rolled off. I can't know what was inside his head at this point, but I'm guessing that he's jumped straight from Condition White (daydreaming) to Condition Orange (potential threat identified) or Red (immediate action required). 

But what's he going to do? He's 100 feet or so--less than a second--from the point of impact. His speed hasn't yet decreased at all. He's now in the middle of his lane. I can't blame him for moving towards the verge from the earlier position. At this point, his brain hasn't caught up to his situation. He's probably still thinking, "This car signaling a turn will poke into my lane, the bastard." But, as understandable as that drift to the left was, it's put him in a shitty position for an emergency evasive maneuver. He's now on the dirtiest part of the asphalt, at a moment when he needs maximum braking grip.

Now he's in Condition Red. He's realized that the car's not stopping. Look at his right hand. He's reaching for the brake. C'mon you guys! Always cover the front brake! The time it took him to reach for it has already made some kind of crash almost inevitable. Note that at this point, although the horizon is tilted, it's not any more tilted than it was on the straightaway; he hasn't taken evasive action, he's just drifted towards the left. He hasn't looked for an escape route; he's looking at a gap, but that gap's closing--he's looking right the point of impact.

Although it's easy to second-guess this poor bastard, it's now a certainty that the car's momentum is going to carry it into his lane. It would have been better if he was at either the extreme right, where he could've used the center lane as an escape road, or on the far left, where he could've stayed on the brakes as long as possible, and at least attempted the left turn.  

He's finally on the brakes, but still hasn't scrubbed much speed. And, our worst fears are confirmed, the car's fully entered his lane. A crash of some kind's impending, but remember Gardiner's Rule #7: A low-side is always better than riding into an impact.

A maximum braking effort followed by a banzai left turn will probably result in a survivable (but still extremely fast and dangerous) low-side into the hedge. Again, although it would take impressive presence of mind to realize it, and racer-level machine control to negotiate it, there's a viable route behind the car. But even if the rider had the skills, he'd have to have been planning it a second or two earlier.

His little scream, as he realizes what's about to happen, is heart-rending. In the video, his mum says, "He had no time to take evasive action." He certainly has no time now. Although he's on the brakes, his speed's still barely changed. Considering the vectors involved, serious injury or death are now inevitable.

It's worth noting that the car driver admitted that he hadn't seen the motorcyclist. That was obviously the immediate cause of the accident. But even if he had seen him, the guy'd been driving down a road, meeting oncoming traffic traveling 60-70mph. When he saw a motorcycle up ahead, he couldn't have expected it to close at a 50% greater speed. The car driver might have turned even if he had seen the motorcycle.

I'm not blaming the motorcyclist (although his illegal speed was also a contributing factor.) But what the fuck?..  This accident was completely avoidable. As a motorcyclist, you should never assume you've been seen unless/until you've made eye contact with drivers, and you should never, ever assume they realize you're going 100 miles an hour.


  1. Brave to comment, but fair and a useful reminder to us all. Given the family asked for it to be released I did watch it - and the final second is heart stopping. I realised I was target fixated even via a screen. But in the UK flashing your headlight is taken as "go ahead; after you dear chap" so best avoided. But I'd have been on the horn...
    Greg at Benzina magazine

    1. Greg,
      Thanks for that comment. I wrote this for my mostly U.S. readers, where a flashed high beam is a warning, not an invitation.

  2. Mark, the bike is the FJR1300 sport tourer.

  3. Good analysis. As a car driver and motorcyclist I see all sorts of dangerous behaviour on the roads and when I'm in the car I'm in driver mode and see how dangerous motorcyclists can be on fast/flashy motorbikes BUT also see how the level of car driving standard has decreased - daily I see drivers eating/drinking at the wheel - yesterday a van driver was doing paperwork at the wheel - Wednesday a lorry driver was driving without hands as he was having trouble putting the top back on his coffee thermos-flask - Tuesday an on-coming driver was stretching out like he had just sat down in his parker-knoll with his hands behind his head and the car travelling at 50mph. Non of that involving mobiles - add mobiles to drivers at the wheel and the dangeroud behaviour is endless.
    When I'm on the motorcycle I'm in biker mode and in this mode I fail to see how it is possible to ride in this day and age assuming the vehicles around you are operating safely unless you are on a deserted road by yourself. There just shouldn't be any room in a motorcyclists head for thoughts of doing 97mph on a single lane A through a staggered junction - the only thoughts in your head should be that road users around you have not seen you and anticipating what they are about to do. Ride safely...

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. There is no analysis necessary for doing the ton on a 2 lane. Passing in a no passing zone and approaching an intersection with 5-8 cars at this speed is beyond my comprehension. This car did not see him because the bike was more than a soccer field length away we he looked for oncoming traffic. This is no classic "I did not see the motorcycle".
      You can see the car in the turning lane at 2:51 in the video. Look at the distance the bike is from the intersection. Impact occurs 3 seconds later at 2:54. At 100 MPH the bike is traveling 146 feet per second. So if the car is in the left turn lane at 2:51 he looks at oncoming traffic. The bike is at least a 350-400 feet from the intersection when the car drive looks at oncoming traffic. Of course the driver car did not see him. And even if he did the bike is so far away can the car driver perceive the bikes speed? NO he cannot. This is not a motorcycle accident; this is a speeding accident. A bright yellow car with lights on at this speed probably has the same result.

  5. Mark,
    Thanks for that analysis. It was a good read and spot on. Lots of good points made.

  6. This seems more like a warning for riders to pull their heads out of their arses than a motorcycle awareness campaign. I love speed but it takes no prisoners.

  7. Mark,
    I mostly agree with your analysis, but I'd put 99% of the "blame" on the motorcyclist. It is completely unreasonable to expect the cager to have accurately assessed the rider's speed at twice the prevailing traffic or twice the speed limit. If you're going to speed on public roads, you are taking all of the responsibility for your actions. I have sympathy for the kid's mother and family, lots of sympathy for the driver of the car (and honestly hope any charges are dropped with apology), but the rider was not much more than a suicide and an unnecessary contributor to lousy motorcycle statistics.

  8. That was quite a heart-pounding video. Showing that video to the public should serve as a warning to those who are overspeeding and those who turn recklessly on crossroads. I think it’s too late to blame anyone for the accident, but I believe that someone has to answer for the damages. Anyway, I do hope this video serves as an effective warning to people on the road, whatever vehicle they may be driving. Thanks for your video analysis, Mark!

    Norma Richards @ Just Bail Bonds

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