Motorcycle crash myths demolished

Road Crash target fixation minor

Motorcycle riders are the most safety conscious of all road users and the bigger the bike, the safer we become, busting the myths lapped up by lazy mainstream media that demonise riders.

Police and politicians are often heard blaming riders – particularly those on big, high-powered motorcycles – for the high road toll.

We are sick of hearing them trot out figures in media reports that show the high proportion of motorcycle crashes compared with cars and the abnormal increase in motorcycle fatalities.

The true story on crash statistics is actually provided in the 2012 Road Deaths Australia report from the Department of Infrastructure and Transport 2013.

First, the damning stats:

  • The rate of motorcyclist fatalities was 5.5 times higher than that of vehicle occupants;
  • Vehicle occupant fatalities were 0.55 per 10 000 registered motor vehicles, compared with 3.16 per 10 000 motorcycles; and
  • Motorcycle riders make up 22% of serious casualties, yet motorcycles account for just 4.2% of all registered vehicles.

However, the road deaths report also points out that motorcycle registrations increased by 61% between 2005 and 2011, while the number of injured motorcyclists only increased by 14%.

Motorcycles are the fastest-growing vehicle segment in Australia, so it only stands to reason that motorcycle crashes are increasing at a faster rate.

However, the real result is that they are reducing as a proportion to the increasing number of riders, the amount of time they ride and the distances they cover.

In other words, we are becoming safer road users.Mt Mee police operation mountains

And don’t let people tell you that the higher the bike’s power and bigger its engine capacity, the more dangerous the rider. More myths!

In fact, the same statistics show that 42% of bike crashes occur on bikes with less than 500cc, 36% between 500 and 1000cc and only 22% for capacities greater than a litre.

Maybe the more high powered the bike, the more circumspect we become, the more attention we pay to bike maintenance and the more likely we are to wear all the gear.

Petition to preserve motorsport tracks myths
ATGATT on a high-powered bike

Unfortunately, the same statistics show that when big bikes crash there is much more weight involved and the speed is usually faster, so injuries are usually worse and the fatality rate higher.

We’re not oblivious to the dangers of riding. In fact, that is probably what makes us more observant and safety conscious.

We have to be. The consequences are dire!

As for the myths that riders are most often at fault, the Motorcycle Council of NSW says that in multi-vehicle collisions, the other driver is at fault in 38% of cases and the rider 22%.

As a comparison, ask yourself these questions about car drivers:

  • How many car drivers take advanced driver training courses?
  • Have you ever seen a car driver wear any protective clothing?
  • How many cars have extra lights and reflective tape so they can be seen?
  • How many drivers check their vehicle regularly or before they take off?
  • How many drivers scan the road for gravel, oil and other hazards?
  • How many drivers share driving tips with other drivers?
  • How many cars have bald tyres or non-functioning lights or indicators?

Now ask yourself the same questions of riders and their bikes. Rather than the myths about us being reckless and careless, I’m sure you will find we are generally far more attentive to our vehicles, our skill levels and our crash protection.

A recent survey in the UK found riders were also far more aware of road signs and road rules than drivers.

So when someone says you must have a death wish because you ride a high-powered death machine, you should smash the myths and reply, “No, I have a life wish”.

8 Comments

  1. You can kill yourself on anything. The current LAMS rules are far better than the original 250cc limit for learners, it is very likely that a number of fatalities were caused by that restriction as you had the ridiculous situation of riders either buying the cheapest hunk of junk they could find until they could get a “real” bike (and often went from a 150cc to a 1100) or they could get something that produced more power than a 750 but we’re even more dangerous than a 750 because the power would come in like a kick in the pants sometimes unexpectedly. The rules also endangered riders because it fostered the idea that the only safety feature on a bike is the brake as thought by those with a speed kills mentality, a bikes greatest safety feature is its ability to not be there when trouble happens, the less agile and powerful the bike the lesser this ability and the more likely the accident.

  2. Wow! These statistics are amazing. They prove that we have been tackling motorcycle safety the wrong way. In 42% of crashes the bike is under 500cc, but only 22% of crashes involve bikes over 1000cc. For improved safety learner riders should be restricted to bikes over 1000cc. Maybe bikes under 1000cc should be banned. Statistics always tell it like it is which is why governments and the police rely on them.

    Now to be serious. For these statistics to be of any value you would have to know what percentage of registered bikes are over 1000cc. Then you have to take into account what the bikes are used for. A lot of bikes over 1000cc are cruisers, tourers and sports bikes, and a lot of these are only ridden on good roads in good weather. On the other hand, a lot of small and mid-size bikes are used for regular commuting and are faced with the dangers of rush hour city traffic in any weather. Rider experience is also important. Learners are restricted to 660cc and are not riding bikes over 1000cc.

  3. There wouldn’t be too many learners still alive if they were told you must ride a motorcycle before driving a car that’s for sure. I feel safer on my big capacity bike than any small bike and yes i feel I”m more alert when driving a car.

  4. What is safe?
    From the perspective of a nanny walking around a padded room without a crash helmet is unsafe. People have been run over sitting in a bus shelter so doing anything is a calculated risk, bike riders know this and accept it or we wouldn’t ride! Doing things that seem dangerous or even stupid from another persons perspective may be just a minor calculated risk to us even lane splitting at 130Kph and coming very close to other vehicles may seem extremely risky or even stupid but it may not be. The faster the traffic the less likely it is going to make a sudden direction change, even those morons who try to stop bikes filtering at low speed or the even worse idiots who see an empty lane and jump into it without even looking for what’s coming can not do any harm in the micro second it takes a bike to get past at high speed as opposed to 30kph. There is a YouTube of a guy filtering at a higher speed than allowed in Australia and when he sees the traffic stopping and two trucks beside each other he panicked and tries to brake and messes it up and crashes between the moving trucks, had he not panicked and taken the calculated risk of gunning it between the trucks he probably would have been OK as they were miles apart. It was fear of something perceived as unsafe that nearly cost him his life!
    On a side note I with they’d get the stats right so the insurance on my big bike goes down to what it should be instead of subsidising everyone else.

  5. AFAIK there has never been any stats that linked high powered big bikes and more crashes. Its why the ACT resisted as long as it could imposing a 250 limit, latterly LAMS, years ago on Ls and Ps. There was no evidence to back up the subjective view that big powerful bikes kill more of us. There was the consipracy theory that if the system made it hard/expensive to get a licence then rider numbers would go down.

    1. ‘Big’ bikes are not necessarily high-powered bikes, which I think has been an erroneous assumption of quite a few researchers. Large cruisers generally make far less outright power than current open class sport bikes, and then you factor in the power-weight ratios and the ‘big powerful’ motorcycle arguments generally fall over. There have, however, been studies which have found relationships between increasing engine size and higher crash risk, but they tend to make simplistic conclusions which don’t account for different motorcycle types (and the riders thereof). Ignoring the rider factors, the potential factors of interest are arguably excessive power and excessive weight in the ‘big powerful’ bike debate. Many bikes have one or the other – I would argue that very few have both (with some notable exceptions). Higher crash risk (and higher severity, from memory) has been attributed to sport bikes compared with other types in some studies – in my view this has more credibility, though it still comes down to the rider (i.e their motivations, skills, awareness etc).
      On your last point, efforts to reduce exposure (i.e discourage prospective new riders) are not just theory; they exist.

  6. Are we getting better? YES. Is it good enough – HELL NO!!!!! “Motorcycle riders are the most safety conscious of all road users” – says who? Especially when I see one of my so called fellow riders screaming down the road shoulder past stationary traffic and across an exit ramp at 80 km/h when someone was about to exit. What about the clown that lane split past me at 130 narrowly missing my front wheel and the SUV next to me! That’s safety conscious for sure. And why would a car driver need to wear protective clothing??????? You killed your argument with your damning stats.

    1. It’s a relative comment, the article isn’t meant to imply all bike riders are safe, only that they are getting safer. Dickheads abound everywhere, in all sectors of road users. The amount of poor road use I see on my daily commute down the Bruce Highway is astounding. Yes some motorcyclists ride in a less than safe manner, but I see a tremendous amount of unsafe driving in cars and heavy vehicles too. When it all goes pear shaped, it will be the cars and heavy vehicles that will cause the most damage.

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