How many times have you said to yourself, or for that matter anyone else, “I’ll Be Ok!”.
This positive mental approach to many areas of everyday life is in many ways the grease in the cogs that enables people to do things…carry on regardless, for things to get done! There is something to be proud of in this human spirit and has been responsible for much of what we know today. However, at some point there has to be an acknowledgement that to…carry on regardless! … may indeed mean that the risk outweighs the need.
When riding a motorcycle, so much of that successful experience is based upon the rider using all of their senses to control the machine. Drivers also use the same senses, however, some senses to a lesser degree, as riders are more exposed to the elements. There seems to be a greater connection with the road & weather and how that has an impact on the stability of the ride.
Anything or anyone that interferes with the rider’s or driver’s ability to process information and act or react in a timely and appropriate manner, is leading to creating an environment in which the probability of having an accident increases. So much of motorcycle control is based on rider perception and balance, and once this decreases, the rider (and of course any other road user) is at real risk of losing control and incurring injuries that may have lasting or permanent consequences.
We are all aware of the effects of alcohol and narcotic drugs on awareness & perception and their negative effects on reaction capability, clearly riding or driving and alcohol and/or drugs is not a winning combination. However, there are other influences on our daily lives that could also have a negative affect on how we ride & control a motorcycle or drive a vehicle.
In the HELI BIKES article: ‘Ridden To Distraction!’, the negative effects of the rider or driver being distracted from concentration was discussed, however in this article, I am referring to the rider’s ability; either physical or mental capability to process information which may ultimately affect the rider or driver controlling a vehicle.
I have for a long time advised that everyone, before going for a ride, should perform a quick roadworthiness check on the motorcycle…to check the tyres, brakes, etc. A rider should also perform a rider readiness check…to check that they are capable of controlling a motorcycle effectively, free of any mental or physical impairment.
The following mnemonic: I’M SAFE, is a catch all pre ride check that any rider may wish to adopt.
I = Illness
M = Medication
S = Stress
A = Alcohol
F = Fatigue
E = Eating
Illness – This may cover the spectrum of ailments. Some of the serious conditions may preclude the rider or driver from lawfully taking control of a motorcycle or other vehicle. E.g. Early diagnosis of Epilepsy. It may also cover lesser ailments and the general feeling of being unwell. E.g. Having a common cold or headache etc, but any condition that either limits the rider to control a motorcycle effectively or to process information that will ultimately lead to poor decision making, should be considered a worthy reason not to ride or drive.
Medication – Any medication, either over the counter or prescription, may have an effect or rather a side effect that may create a mental of physical impairment. Some medications will clearly recommend driving should not be performed for a specific period. If you are taking medication, be sure to read the possible side effects of that drug and take note of how that drug effects you personally. It may mean that because of the medical condition and the medication taken, that riding or driving is out of the question. If in doubt, either ask a medical professional or at your local pharmacy for advice.
I have purposely not considered narcotic drugs here as they will clearly have a negative affect on the rider’s or driver’s ability to control a vehicle, however, if you have taken narcotic drugs…for whatever reason…be sure that you have allowed enough time for the effects of the drug to wear off, prior to riding or driving…this may mean a significant number of hours need to pass, before the effects will no longer be considered to have an affect on information processing and reaction times.
Stress – Everyone has to deal with stressors in daily life. The impact of stress can assist, motivate and allow us to achieve our daily goals. Stress improves our performance up to a certain point, however there is a threshold at which increasing stress will start to decrease our performance. This can be applied to all aspects of life, and driving or riding performance is influenced by stress factors. These can either be environmental stressors or life stressors that may affect the driver.
The environmental stressors may be those that the driver or rider will encounter whilst controlling the machine, be those the weather state, traffic density or road conditions, etc. The life stressors may be those that are to do with, family life, or friends, health, finances, employment, etc. If at some point the driver or rider is distracted because their attention is focussed on their life stress or they are unable to deal with the increasing environmental stress, then this creates a situation whereby performance is reduced, which ultimately may lead to an accident.
Whilst it is simplistic to say…”leave your worries behind”, and for each individual the stress is subjective, it should be noted by any driver or rider that extra care and vigilance is required when facing any level of unusual stress. It may even mean that you choose not to drive or ride on a certain day.
Alcohol – Of course, any alcohol will affect the rider and driver and their awareness & performance and there has been a growing trend towards a permissible zero amount of alcohol in the body before driving or riding. Attitudes towards drinking and driving have also changed over recent years, with it not being condoned by our peers or the authorities because of the terrible potential consequences. However, there is also a case to answer of recent alcohol consumption and how that effects driving or riding performance.
Many people will ‘do the right thing’ and drink alcohol socially either at home or have a designated driver, but many may still awake the next morning not realising that they are still over the legal limit or are still under an influence of alcohol which may be affecting their performance. The dreaded hangover affects us all to varying degrees and it will also affect our capability to process information and control the vehicle.
Any driver or rider should acknowledge that if they will be driving or riding the next morning, then they should limit the amount of alcohol consumed the night before.
Riders are especially vulnerable as this set of circumstances may negatively affect to control of the motorcycle thus leading to an accident. In any situation where the rider or driver recognises these conditions, they should delay taking to the road.
Fatigue – Whether considering mental or physical, temporary or prolonged tiredness that can manifest itself with varying symptoms, if the rider or driver is suffering from any of these conditions, then they should either refrain from driving or riding, either before the journey or along the route. General slight tiredness can be overcome relatively successfully and these affect everyone on a regular basis. However prolonged fatigue is a much more serious condition that can be a significant impairment to driving or riding. Any road user should not only be constantly aware of their own state of fatigue, especially at night when the symptoms are more prevalent for most people, but also be aware that other road users may be suffering from this also which may create a hazardous scenario.
Eating – When did the rider and/or driver last eat, did they have breakfast, lunch, etc? Many accidents can be traced back to a low blood sugar level caused by the lack of food in the few hours prior the incident. Also factor in lack of fluid intake (non alcoholic) leading to dehydration especially in hotter temperatures. It is important to eat on a regular basis to maintain nutrition, to keep satisfactory concentration levels.
As the weather improves, more riders will venture out onto the roads and travel longer distances and regular eating and drinking of soft drinks should always be factored into the riding plan.
Riders and drivers should constantly monitor their own state of health and factor in ‘I’M SAFE’ before each ride, not only for the immediate time ahead but consider how you might be feeling at the end of the day or the next morning. With this in mind, the rider and/or driver is able to consider contingencies that will enable improved monitoring and ultimately enable optimum performance.
At first this may seem a cumbersome task, however, just as with the pre ride motorcycle roadworthiness check, if the rider performs the ‘I’M SAFE’ before each ride, then it will soon be an automatic process which leads to greater awareness of oneself, how you are riding and how others might be driving.