How often do we bemoan the standards and practices of drivers and how often do we successfully avoid a near miss? How often are motorcycles & mopeds involved in an accident that was caused by a driver’s actions and has that resulted in injury…whether minor to severe, or fatality?
As a motorcycle community, we have been forthright in our opinions that drivers of cars, van, lorries & buses pose an absolute risk to our safety and their poor standards and negligence makes riders most vulnerable. This being said…should these bad practices and negligent behaviour be dealt with by tough punitive measures?
There have been growing calls for drivers who injure or cause death to a rider to be given more severe punishments and custodial sentences and this coupled with the popular held belief that drivers and poor standards are the major cause of motorcycle accidents.
The major problem with these fundamental arguments is that they are not founded upon facts, however there are some truths! Of course there are some poor driving standards and we witness those routinely, but they do not necessarily always pose a risk to safety of another vehicle or motorcycle or person.
We might see a vehicle driving erratically, weaving in and out of traffic, overtaking with little room to spare, driving at high speed, brake late and accelerating fast to pull away from traffic…the list goes on, but suffice to say that whilst the vehicle is in control and does not affect another road user, then there isn’t a risk to safety….however there might be high probability! Of course the driver may be operating beyond the road laws also, but that is for another topic!
What about when a vehicle changes direction suddenly or emerges onto a road or turns off one, fails to see another vehicle, rider or person properly and almost causes a collision, or indeed actually does cause one! In this case there is high probability & high risk to safety, but what caused the failure to see, detect and to look in the first instance!
What about a driver that loses control of a vehicle, because they misinterpreted the traffic, weather and road conditions…if they lose control when no other vehicles are in the area, then there is low risk to safety of others, however in high traffic density, there is a high risk! What caused the loss of control and the misinterpretation of the environment and is this a mitigating factor!
What about a driver that is distracted by something or someone and fails to deal with an emerging hazard or loses control of their vehicle and either collides with another vehicle, person or object? Does it matter what kind of distraction it was and was it intentional…and if it resulted in injury to another person?
The above were just a few situations, but there are many more to consider! However they are not purely a driving and drivers issue. The very same scenarios can involve riders of motorcycles & mopeds and in many accident scenarios, motorcycles were the only vehicles involved in the cause and result of the accident. In many other accidents, the rider and driver both jointly contributed to the enfolding collision and even when a driver has caused an accident, on reflection there were many things that a rider could have done to avoid the situation in the first place! This does not relieve the driver of responsibility, but it shows that riders are equally involved in the accident causation process.
So where does this leave us? Well, the problem with blaming the drivers for reduced rider safety is that it ignores the parts that riders play themselves, it does not engage with drivers and driving standards, it reduces education and knowledge transfer of drivers and riders and ultimately it does not account for mitigating circumstances, the reasons for error making and the requirement for improved hazard awareness and avoidance!
If we within the riding community are quick to solely blame drivers actions and seek harsh punishments, then we are ignoring the facts that these situations can easily occur to riders. As riders can be the causes of accidents, so they will also, attract the tough punitive measures and this may or may not take account of mitigating circumstances or the reasons why errors were made…ultimately we do not learn anything from these accidents, so the same types of accidents are likely to repeat themselves.
After any accident, especially with serious injuries or fatalities, there is of course much heartfelt emotions and sensitivities, but there may also be bewilderment and anger. Whilst perfectly understandable and appropriate for those concerned, it does not necessarily follow that campaigns and policies or law should be founded upon them, because when the dust settles and thoughts clear, then the truth about accident causes and trends start to emerge.
Each individual accident should be investigated and conclusions made about the individuals concerned and the circumstances involved. Of course sometimes there are actions that require severe punishment, such as causing a collision & injuries/fatalities by driving whilst under the influence of alcohol or drugs or driving whilst grossly negligent or with intent to break the road laws and create a high risk for other nearby vehicles or persons.
However the overwhelming majority of all accidents are not caused by gross negligence, moreover they are caused by errors of judgement, bad habits, misinterpretation of rules and conditions, poor anticipation of developing hazards. All of which we are all susceptible to, especially without conscious thought and recurrent training.
So before we as a biking community point and blame drivers for accidents and safety risks to riders, we first need to acknowledge that all road users can and will make mistakes. Riders as well as drivers may act negligently and cause a high risk environment for other road users and as such are equally culpable. But the pursuit of tougher punishment will also bring the same to riders who routinely suffer from the same poor standards and lack of awareness of hazard forming and avoidance!
We need to identify and isolate those accidents which are caused by gross negligence and those that are caused by ‘normal’ errors. Accidents need to be correctly investigated by the authorities and processed through the law courts, where appropriate, and we should not automatically seek tougher punishments just because a driver has caused an accident, injury or fatality…
We need to identify those accident causes that need tough punishment and those that don’t and we need to all look at the root causes of accidents and honestly ask ourselves…”Could this happen to us?”
Crime & punishment should be based upon the evidence of each individual case and not by a growing notion that any accident caused by a driver involving a motorcycle deserves a more severe approach.
Be careful what we wish for, as anyone of us could be on the receiving end given the right circumstances and conditions. Let’s educate, raise awareness and change attitudes and behaviours. Let’s be proactive and change attitudes, behaviours and risks and hazard management on our roads.