Saturday, 21 September 2013

Motorcycle safety

I pronounced yet another motorcyclist dead.  A young man, healthy, virile...now with a crushed skull, a life that will never happen, and a wife and children who will always wonder (but never know) why Daddy decided not to wear his helmet. 

Pronouncing someone dead always makes me introspective.  The things I think about are varied, and today it got me thinking about motorcycle safety.  Innumerable motorcyclists I've encountered have told me that their bikes are very safe as long as they are ridden safely.  I try to tell them that having 1500kg of steel, aluminum, roll cages, crumple zones, seatbelts, and airbags surrounding me is very comforting, but they are steadfast in their belief that their motorcycles are just as safe.  So I thought I would try to play Mythbuster today and debunk some motorcycle myths.  And for the first time, I'm citing sources so you motorcycle morons, er, riders have some actual data to read.  No, forgive me.  I meant morons.

Myth #1: Wearing a helmet on a motorcycle increases your mass and therefore increases the force of an impact in a crash, so they should NOT be worn.
Reality: HAHAHAHAHAHA!  Whew, that's a good one.  Seriously though, if you actually believe this utter rubbish, I'm surprised you have enough brain cells to figure out how to get your pants on, let alone how to get your bike's engine started.  One review showed that motorcycle helmets reduce the risk of death in a crash by 42% and reduce the risk of brain injury by 69% (1).  Not to mention that taking a big fat beetle to your helmetless face at 120kph might distract you just a tad and make you more likely to crash.


Myth #2: Most motorcycle accidents are caused by drivers of other cars because I KNOW HOW TO RIDE and everyone else around me is an asshole, dammit!
Reality: Half true.  Statistics show that 25% of motorcycle accidents are single-vehicle accidents, and 75% involve a passenger vehicle.  Motorcyclists see this and assume that means that 75% of motorcycle accidents are caused by car drivers.  But if you dig a bit deeper, in only 2/3 of those accidents involving other cars, the the driver of the car violated the motorcyclist's right-of-way, meaning that fully half of motorcycle accidents are the motorcyclists' fault (2).  Sorry, bikers.  The cars around you may be to blame sometimes, but you're not nearly as faultless as you'd like to believe.

Myth #3: When that car in front of me gets out of my way and allows me to overtake on my badass bike, the driver is being super polite to me.  The driver probably likes motorcycles!  Right?
Reality: Wrong.  We car drivers want you to pass us so you and your obnoxious noise pollution can get the fuck off our rear bumpers and fuck off.

Myth #4: My body armour and full-leather clothes will protect me from the pavement if I am ever separated from my machine.  I'm perfectly safe!  Ha!
Reality: No.  Just, no.  NO.  While it may offer some measure of protection compared to no protective clothing at all, when you hit the pavement at 100 kph, it will NOT completely protect your skin, and it won't protect your bones at all.  I've seen countless riders covered in road rash who were wearing full body armour that got shredded by the asphalt.  Not to mention the many broken bones underneath.  You are not safe out there, even with body armour.

Myth #5: Motorcycle helmets limit my peripheral vision, so I can't see, so fuck you, I'm not wearing it.
Reality: This is an outright lie.  Full helmets do NOT obstruct peripheral vision according to so many studies I don't even feel the need to cite them.  There's nothing more to say about that.

Myth #6: Since there are fewer motorcycles on the road compared to cars, the burden of motorcycle accidents is lower.
Reality: Nope, nope, and nope.  Statistics in the US show that while only 2% of vehicles on the road are motorcycles, fully 5% of road fatalities are motorcycle riders.  According to UK statistics, you are 16 times more likely to be seriously injured on a motorcycle compared to a car (3), and in the US statistics show that you are 16 times more likely to die on a motorcycle (4).  And in Australia you are 30 times more likely to die on a motorcycle than in a car (5).  So it seems the bottom line there is do not, under any circumstances, ride a motorcycle in Australia.

Get the idea yet?  I think by now you've realised the full extent of my hatred of motorcycles.  After reading all this, do you still feel safe on that motorcycle?  If you do, then you're an idiot and illiterate.

References:
1) Liu, B.C; Ivers, R.; Norton, R.; Boufous, S.; Blows, S.; and Lo, S.K. 2009. Helmets for preventing injury in motorcycle riders (Review), Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2009, Issue 1. Oxfordshire, England: The Cochrane Collaboration.
2) http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MOTORCYCLE_ACCIDENT_CAUSE_FACTORS_AND_IDENTIFICATION_OF_COUNTERMEASURES_VOLUME_I-_TECHNICAL_REPORT.pdf
3) http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/roadsafety/research/rsrr/theme5/indepthstudyofmotorcycleacci4784?version=1
4) http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/pedbimot/motorcycle/safebike/myths.html
5) http://www.transport.sa.gov.au/rss/content/safer_people/road_users/motorcyclists_crashes.htm

7 comments:

  1. #1, #2, and #5 fall under "bikes are very safe as long as they are ridden safely". Note that no one in their right mind ever said that motorcycles aren't LESS safe than cars, but facts are that the vast majority of bikers don't die from motorcycle accidents.

    I don't see how #6 ties into anything, and #3 needed to be said. But your only real point is #4 - and that's a pretty massive point. It has never occurred to me that this could happen, but of course it's obvious now that you said it.

    One thing you didn't mention - a car offers a large assortment of means of protection (seatbelts, airbags, the fact that you're surrounded by a car), whereas a motorcycle offers none. It just flings you out at whatever speed you were going, and in a very serious case of bad luck - falls directly on you shortly after.



    Anyway Doc, this was as usual an excellent read, I just can't resist my urge to nitpick sometimes. Sorry. Keep up the posts! (the more I nitpick the better I like it :))

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  2. Every time I say I want a motorcycle, I'm actually kidding.

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  3. Oh I love reading your blog, write more often :P

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  4. I ride a really small motorcycle off road sometimes, and I still had a trouble riding. Never, ever accelerate quickly when turning bumps/rocks.

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  5. My father is in his 60s, and he had a bike when he was younger (late teens/20s-ish). At that time helmets were simply bicycle helmets, and one night he fell asleep while riding from the wind on his face, crashed, and now he has a steel plate and screws in his left leg, which is now about 2 inches shorter than his right. He always told me I was not allowed to get on a bike, and even though I am now an adult (almost 30) I still am under that restriction. I married into a Harley family, and even though I think it would be an awesome experience, because of his accident I am absolutely petrified to ride with my in-laws, even though they haven't had an accident themselves (yet). Great post, as usual! :-)

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  6. I've ridden a bike in Australia. I'm a 26yo female.
    Riding in peak hour terrified me. On the way to work people are tired and in a rush. On the way home they're tired and not concentrating and just want to get home. I sold the bike because it was only good for weekend cruises.

    I find it highly amusing that there is such a huge focus on police catching speeding riders around here. They are literally writing their own death sentence. If they hit a tree or a car or anything really there is no good outcome - at least a car provides some protection. The police and insurance companies here call riders 'temporary citizens'. At one point there was a statistic where if you were a male under 25 and rode a bike there was a 100% chance of death in Victoria. Not sure who did those statistics because that sounds wrong but you get the idea.

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  7. What you don't say is the percentage of fatalities caused by cars. You really should compare the percentage of motorcycles and cars on the road versus their fatality percentages.

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