How to avoid getting killed by a car, especially a left turning car at a signalized intersection, is a frequent topic of discussion on motorcycle forums and blogs. For a long time smart motorcyclists have been looking for the cause and solution to this deadly dilemma, in the hopes of reducing or eliminating the threat. First-hand documented accounts of crashes are dissected with a forensic zeal. Possible causes and contributing factors are suggested. Motorcyclists always leave the discussion with an uneasiness and queasiness in the gut: Often the cause of the crash, a car driver, is beyond the rider’s control. In this case an automotive writer riding his motorcycle gets into a head-on crash with a left-turning young lady, who says the typical cop-out excuse: “I did not see him”.
Ted Laturnus is an automotive writer for the Globe and Mail in Toronto, Canada. Compared to the quality of writing on your typical motorcycle forum, his account is very well written, with a wisp of doomsday humour thrown in to break the tension. While I give him no sympathy advantage because he is a journalist, the account of his crash is no less instructive to car drivers and motorcycle riders. GWS, or “Get Well Soon”, as we say to fallen riders. It took over three years for Laturnus to be able to write about his crash, and this from an automotive journalist. A concussion, right knee and calcaneous (heel bone) shattered, permanent limp, recurring vertigo, chronic headaches, and over three months of rehab was what he received. She received a $125 ticket. Do you see the inequity of justice here?
Riders on the more intellectual motorcycle forums welcome crash reports. We pour over and sweat the minute details in order to tease out possible causes and lessons learned. Contrary to popular belief, motorcycle posters are not hellbent and have a death wish for riding a motorcycle. Motorcyclists come from all walks of life and geographic location. Riders are people and cannot be categorized simply because of their choice of transportation.
In a motorcycle crash report many people immediately blame the car driver, but just as many are first to blame the rider, even when they acknowledge that the rider was not at fault and had right of way. The rider’s protective gear is questioned. Was the rider sleep deprived, or stressed due to something emotional happening in his life? Was the rider drinking or doing drugs? Sick and under meds? Pics of the crash scene are welcomed. Photos of the gory aftermath of the crash, both the damaged bike and parts, as well as medical photos of the blood and guts are also welcomed. Motorcycle riders are not so sensitive to the politically correct. Even if there is only a sliver of blame attributed to the rider, s/he will be taken to task. Riders that ride recklessly and have then crashed are told outright they are dangerous riders and need to smarten up or there might not be a next time.
Why do motorcycle riders blame their fellow motorcycle riders who have crashed, even when there is clear agreement that the car driver is at fault? The answer lies in self-preservation. It has been well documented that for motorcycle-another vehicle crashes, well over 80% of the cases are caused by the car encroaching the right of way of the motorcyclist. Even an unintelligent newby rider will find this out very quickly on the road. The car driver makes a mistake, or purposely runs a biker off the road, and the motorcycle rider pays the steep price of recovery from injuries or death. As quoted in David Hough’s Proficient Motorcycling, a father asked a junior rider in hospital, leg broken from a crash with a car, “How could you let a car do this to you”? Ideal crash analysis results in any possible steps a rider could have done to avoid or lessen the incident.
With this perspective in mind, riders seek to understand what strategies they can follow to avoid getting smashed by ignorant drivers. Because a motorcycle is much smaller than a car, riders can take a proactive approach to their own safety. Strategies can include not riding in a driver’s blind spot, wearing reflective gear, using fellow cars to block a threatening left turner, traveling above the average speed of traffic, lane splitting, and so on. The number of strategies seem endless. Some strategies are clearly illegal, but when your health and safety is on the line, any strategy that keeps you safe is better than a legal one that will kill you. This is one of the main benefits of participating in a motorcycle forum: learning and practicing strategies an average rider can use to stay alive.
Riding a motorcycle requires 100% concentration on surrounding drivers, the road surface, the weather, your bike and your state of mind. Always staying alert is very tiring in heavy traffic. Getting stuck in a traffic jam when other drivers start to get mad is quite dangerous. Close to home the danger does not decrease. It is human nature that given sufficient repetition and in a familiar environment, a repetitive task can be done in autopilot. We have all done this before: You get to work or to a grocery store in a fog, not knowing your specific route and not recalling the trip, but you have your car keys in your pocket so you must have driven your car. Do this on a motorcycle while returning to your house and you might miss a car that ran a stop sign and end up severely hurt. This is a common occurrence.
Retribution is also a common topic on any motorcycle forum. It is very difficult to keep a cool head when some has just tried to kill you. Some US riders carry guns in order to protect themselves. Any car can become a weapon to hurt a rider, no matter than the driver is a soccer mom in an SUV, geriatric with fading eyesight, a sleep deprived white collar worker, or the distracted young female that nearly killed Laturnus.
Driver distractions are deadly to a motorcyclist on the road. Cell phone talking drivers are especially dangerous to riders, yet surprisingly there is often no consensus to this on a motorcycle forum. As stated before, motorcyclists are people too, and also drive cars. While riders acknowledge that cell-phone talking drivers are plentiful, are a threat to them on the road and can kill them, many riders believe they are better than the average driver and can easily multitask and talk on the phone while they are at the wheel. Ironic is it not? Do as I say and not as I do. The attitude of motorcycle riders can be as selfish and self-serving as a typical driver because they are a typical driver, but with better driving skills and not necessarily better multitasking skills. Even more asinine is that some motorcycle riders ask how they can use their cellphones while riding their motorcycles. As we say on motorcycle forums, these are future Darwin candidates that will remove themselves from the gene pool.
Now that Ontario, Canada has banned mobile devices in cars I have sen a marked improvement in driving. This is better for motorcycle riders as well as everyone else on the road. Yes, there are still scofflaws that flaunt the law and they still drive badly and dangerously. Vigilance and enforcement is still required.
Most troubling is the fact that drivers that maim and kill motorcycle riders state “I did not see him”. Driving requires you concentrate on what you are doing so that you do not inadvertently hurt others.
All this because an empty-headed young female driver was too distracted to notice a motorcyclist. She swears she didn’t see me. I’m pretty sick of hearing this pathetic excuse. She saw me, clear enough, but decided that, somehow, it would be OK to cut me off, that nothing would happen if she completely ignored me. How could you not see a bright purple and chrome, 400-kilogram motorcycle with three driving lights?
While you might think that a motorcycle forum can be brutally truthful to the crashed rider, and it is, there is also lots of support. Medical advice that deals with surgeries, rehab and recovery, first-aid is also provided. Legal advice in order to sue the driver, and dealing with police unwilling to charge the driver, is also given. Offers of how to repair bikes, how much, where to get spare parts are also provided. Brutal honesty aside, forums do help fallen riders build themselves up again.
Once a rider has crashed there is always the hesitation to ride again. On this topic the riding community is divided, most leaving the decision up to the fallen rider. We all know that riding a motorcycle carries a much higher danger factor than driving a car, but the benefits of riding a motorcycle also far outweigh simply sitting in a car. Each rider makes their own decision, or “Ride your own ride”.
Motorcycle riders are have the knowledge to be safer drivers than the average Joe. They hone their skills on the streets, where a lax moment daydreaming might mean a trip to the hospital. Still, riders are human and humans are not perfect.
To all the car drivers in the world, and especially in Scarborough and Toronto, Canada, pay attention to your driving. Do not run over nice people like Tad Laturnus because you were daydreaming. Ditto for young kids at crosswalks, cyclists and pedestrians. In-car distractions are becoming more prevalent while human physiology has not markedly improved. Rather it has regressed. I see proof daily in Scarborough and Toronto.