Simple stupidity, irresponsibility and bad luck are often overlooked as causes of a motorcycle crash, says 10-year road safety researcher Elaine Hardy.
Yet police and other investigators are quick to blame speed first in most crashes. That’s probably because other factors are more difficult to prove.
Recently in Victoria police targeted speed after a sharp rise in motorcycle deaths. That is despite the fact that a high percentage of riders involved were unlicensed or riding an unlicensed motorcycle.
Elaine says a fundamental reason for the elevated numbers of people killed on our roads could simply be stupidity, irresponsibility or bad luck.
She has been studying about 150 fatalities in Northern Ireland, but the data is relevant the world over.
“Reading through some of the cases, the level of irresponsibility – or stupidity – of people who died – or others who were killed as a consequence, was breath-taking,” she says.
She cited this particular example and the complex problem of establishing a cause:
Middle-aged chap decides to rent a classic bike and take his missus for a spin in the countryside. He takes a curve too fast, loses control, hits a pole, he dies and missus sues the rental company because the tyres were underinflated which contributed to the loss of control. In this case was he stupid because he didn’t check the tyres first? In that respect I suggest that there are many riders out there who would enter that classification because of underinflated tyres.
She says drugs and alcohol are among the biggest factors in driver deaths, but not near as high among the 41 motorcyclist fatalities she investigated.
“However that does not mean that there weren’t irresponsible riders amongst the case files,” she says.
While she considers speeding and riding while intoxicated as examples of stupidity, she says the cause of a crash cannot be boiled down to one factor.
“The factor here was that – as in most crashes – it is not just one issue. There is typically a chain of events that lead to any particular crash. Not all are stupid, some are just dumb luck,” she says.
“I guess the distinction is whether a person decides to get on a bike without preparation or is unable to be in full control.
“The only possible way of working out if somebody is dumb is based on their actions at the time of the collision, or in the case of drugs and drink, from the Coroners’ inquests.
“So in the case of a rider that takes a corner too low where there is gravel, has an underinflated back tyre and a couple too many to drink then hits a wall, do you class that as stupidity or just wrong place, wrong time? Would he have been more careful and attentive if he hadn’t had anything to drink? Maybe.”