Bikers – Don’t be involved in a car crash

The summer is, sadly, drawing to a close, but while the last vestiges of the hottest season remain, many of the nation’s bikers won’t be ready to throw a tarpaulin over their pride and joy just yet. As the temperature drops and the roads get wetter, those motorcyclists that do venture out need to ensure that they take particular care.

A recent advertising campaign by Think! depicted a biker driving along a country road while signposts and other road users constantly warned him of upcoming hazards. He completes his journey safely, but the slogan that ends up on the screen is ‘If only….you don’t get warnings like this in the real world.’

After yet more fatal crashes for bikers over the past week, it is worth repeating the most basic safety tips.

Department of Transport statistics demonstrate time and time again that the motorcycle is the most dangerous means of transport on the road today. Although motorbikes make up only 1% of overall traffic in the UK, 19% of all fatal car crashes involve them.

Why bikes are involved in more car crashes

Motorcycles are intrinsically harder to control than cars;  with only two wheels and a very narrow ‘contact patch’ on the tyres, the grip that they offer is a fraction of that of a car with a similar power-weight ratio. Bikers don’t steer into corners as such; they lean into them, and anything as simple as a slightly over-aggressive application of the throttle can result in disaster.

They accelerate phenomenally quickly – as fast as a Formula One car, in some cases, and their speed can often catch other motorists off-guard. Perhaps the main reason, or at least the main assumption of many members of the public, is that bikes are ridden by middle-aged men who last rode a moped in the 70s and are unprepared for the onslaught of horsepower they face when their new steed is delivered.

This may be true to some extent, but many experienced bikers can also be killed or badly injured, no matter how regularly they ride or how long they have held their license. As the saying goes, unfortunately there really is a first time for everything.
When things go wrong the injuries sustained by the rider are often much more serious than those in comparable car crashes at the same speed. This isn’t surprising, as the biker is obviously highly exposed and has little protection beside his crash helmet and overclothes.

Safety wear and better riding

For these reasons, it is important that bikers, on top of the obvious precautions such as taking biking refresher courses if they have been out of the saddle for a while, equip themselves with the correct safety wear. The crash helmet is something that just cannot be compromised. By law, all motorcycle riders and pillion passengers must wear a crash helmet, and not just any old helmet.

It must meet the most exacting British safety standards and be fastened securely at all times. There are many cases in British legal history of bikers being denied full compensation because of their contributory negligence in failing to protect themselves properly (in some cases not even wearing a helmet at all). The helmet should be changed every four or five years; after any longer the protective, deformable layer under the skin starts to degrade and become less effective at absorbing energy in the event of a car crash.

It is not a legal requirement to wear body protection but it certainly makes sense. Jeans and a t-shirt won’t do much to protect the hapless biker who comes off his steed at 70mph.  A decent set of leathers or Gore-tex clothing will not be cheap, but will last many years. Safety is never worth taking lightly.

Routine maintenance is also of paramount importance – all the most sophisticated overclothing and the world’s best crash helmet won’t counterbalance the danger in which a biker puts him/herself if they don’t regularly check their tyres, their chain and their brake fluid, among other things.

As a final note, the more visible a biker is, the less likely they are to be struck by another vehicle whose driver has failed to see them. Leaving the headlight illuminated, even in broad daylight, wearing brightly coloured clothing, or best of all having a brightly coloured bike, will all increase the motorcyclist’s chances of getting home safely.

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