The Blame Equation!

Motorcycle accidents are caused by a variety of reasons across various situations, and for the most part, the reasons are the same regardless of where you are riding. Although there might be some locational or geographical influences on accident statistics, the end result, is that there was a series of small events and circumstances that led to the incident unfolding. 

In a previous article I discussed the potential injury equation: A + B + C + L = D. Where A = Speed, B = Obstacle Density, C = Protection Level, L = Luck & D = Injury Severity

The accident equation is much more difficult to define and is influenced by many variables, such as weather, road conditions, speed, vehicle condition, physical condition, emotional condition, etc. However there are three major components, or rather groups of factors, that interact with each other to determine accident probability.

First! External – Environmental = X

Second! Vehicle Type & Standard = Y

Third! Internal – Human Condition = Z

E.g. If the weather deteriorates significantly and the roads become wet or covered with snow or ice, and driving visibility is reduced because of rain, snow or fog, etc and given that a vehicle is in good working order, but the driver or rider does not take appropriate steps to reduce speed and allow more space between vehicles, etc, then the probability of being involved in an accident increases.

Therefore accident probability is: A = (X x Y x Z). If any of the factors improve then there is less chance of having an accident.

Let’s look at another example:

If the weather is clear and good driving conditions and the vehicle is in good working order, but the driver is  very tired or is under the influence of alcohol or drugs or distracted by use of a mobile phone, etc then the human condition or performance is reduced. Reaction times are decreased and the probability of having an accident, or rather not being able to control the vehicle effectively to avoid being involved in an accident…increase!

The number of examples are countless because of the potential variations and interactions that may influence why an accident has occurred or whether an accident may occur.

Anytime there is a road traffic accident, especially if there are injuries, there is an investigation by the local police into the cause of the accident. They will not only look at the physics equations of the accident itself, but also seek to gather information on the other variables. Usually there is an obvious reason why the accident occurred and for the most part the level of human performance is the major factor. Either human error or negligence!

As a society, we make sure accident probability is very low…it is somewhere in the region of less than 1%, because if it were higher than that, then we would all be having accidents once a week and vehicles would be deemed too unsafe to use.

From vehicle manufacture, road design and policy, training & testing and enforcement, drivers and riders are somewhat protected from having an accident. However, of course, there are no guarantees but there are methods that we use to keep that probability down.

E.g. The weather conditions may have deteriorated so much that on a particular road the driving conditions are deemed unsafe, so the end result is that the road is closed or the speed limit is temporarily significantly  reduced.

E.g. Traffic calming measures are implemented in urban areas, such as speed humps or grills, reduced speed limits etc because there is a high population density of a particular demographic, children that require extra protection.

E.g. Vehicle design and refinement is constantly evolving to improve driving performance and comfort.

The list goes on…however, although accident probability is low and percentage ratios of a vehicle type involved in an accident compared to number of registered vehicle types is relatively low, nonetheless, the accident figures are still high…e.g. 1% of 1 000,000 = 10,000 which is the potential number of injuries, however in reality that number of injured is determined by number of occupants in a vehicle and in many cases there are no injuries at all or even in some cases the accident was not registered because it was not reported to the authorities. So although the accident statistics are accurate, they only represent the reported or known accidents and injuries.

A more modern phenomenon is that of apportioning culpability for various reasons, or the perception of accident causation. Whether for insurance purposes, or for fear of legal ramifications, or for the real belief that they were blameless in an accident, many if not most drivers and riders may consider ‘other factors or other persons’ to be at fault or the reason for the accident.

In this regard, motorcyclists are no different. In fact if one were to trawl through the reams of opinion in motorcycle printed press or other media, or on any social networking site, then you might get the overwhelming opinion that most riders believe that a motorcycle accident is caused by another factor or the other road user…the car, truck. There is a very strong belief that the actions of others are the reasons why accidents occur and why the potential of accidents exist.

If we look at the common terms or situations that are often used…SMIDSY, Cager, car pulled out in front of me, tailgating, driving and texting, it was wet, icy, etc… the common rider is bombarded with the notion that the other road user or environment is the root of all motorcycle accidents.

Actually, this isn’t quite the case! Whilst of course there is some truth in those opinions, there is also the undeniable truth that riders are also to blame for accidents. E.g., when losing control on a bend or losing control with excessive speed or under hard braking or not riding appropriate to the weather and road conditions.

Many motorcycle accidents are single vehicle accidents, i.e. no other vehicles were involved in the accident or in the cause of the accident. However, as motorcyclists in a collective sense, we tend not to focus on this, but rather prefer the opinion that others were to blame.

One of the classic motorcycle accident scenarios is one which occurs at junctions or intersections and it is one situation whereby usually two or more vehicles are involved in the accident and certainly two or more vehicles contributed to the cause of the accident.

If we take the view of the driver that is emerging from a side road and wishing to join the main road. Especially so in an urban area, there might be many distractions, street furniture, pedestrians, volume of traffic that may limit the driver being able to detect a motorcyclist approaching. The driver should stop, look and look again to make sure no other vehicles are approaching and then proceed to emerge and join the road. However there are those factors which may limit the viewing capability and there are the physical and emotional factors which may reduce the driver’s ability to process information and to judge traffic conditions and speed. E.g., the driver may be tired, not feeling well, have a physical deterioration associated with age, etc.

If we take the view of the rider that is proceeding along a main road in an urban area, there might be many distractions, high traffic density, pedestrians etc. The rider may also have physiological and emotional influences that may reduce their riding performance. The rider may riding at a speed over the speed limit and may be riding in a certain road position that effectively places them in the blind spot of other drivers. The rider may choose to filter/lane split or overtake slower moving traffic which creates speed variations between the motorcycle and the traffic flow, etc.

Whatever the scenario, there is a potential of encountering a hazardous situation or even creating or perpetuating one. As riders proceed along a certain path, they have a challenge to make themselves as visible and noted to other road users as possible (this does not necessarily mean wearing high visibility clothing) & be able to avoid certain hazards and also not be part of creating a hazard.

E.g. If a rider is riding in excess of a speed limit in an urban area, then that alters a driver’s perception of closing speeds.

If a rider positions themselves on the near side of the road, they are limiting their visibility to other road users emerging from or turning into side roads.

If a rider overtakes slower moving traffic at or just ahead of a side junction, then they are limiting their visibility to other road users emerging from or turning into side roads

If a rider is riding too fast on set up and entry into a bend, then this may cause them to run wide, even lose control and either leave the road and crash or have a head on collision with another vehicle coming around the bend.

The list of situations is endless, but suffice to say, that every rider is responsible for how they ride and how they adjust their riding style for the road conditions, location and traffic density. Every rider and driver may be part of the accident equation and part of the blame equation. 

Whilst raising awareness of how accidents and injuries occur ‘may‘ help to prevent accidents from occurring, the real difference is when riding and driving attitudes and behaviours are changed because riders and drivers are making better informed decisions based upon hazard perception and improved, safer riding and driving practices.  

The blame equation is relatively simple to define, there is:

A =  The driver’s actions Blame = (A-B) + (C-D) + (E+L) + T

B = The driver’s reactions

C = The rider’s actions 

D = The rider’s reactions

E = Environmental Conditions

L = Luck

T = Time

Any action has a consequence and that consequence is limited by reaction, the environment and luck. At a given time a certain set of conditions will result in an accident…at another given time a certain set of conditions will not result in an accident! 

Please note: All equations in this article are only to illustrate a certain opinion and are not scientifically founded!

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