The Breakable Unbreakable!

Occasionally the emergency services attend to a road traffic accident involving all types of vehicle, driver and rider and even the most experienced and hardened emergency service worker (ESW) are left perplexed by what they have witnessed. This can also be in tandem and associated with the distress of what has been witnessed and dealt with, but for this article this other aspect is not discussed!

Many ESWs, especially more experienced may believe that they have probably seen all that there is to see, but then out of the blue they respond to an incident which is either a completely new experience or one that shatters a previously held belief. 

Over many years of responding to road accidents and motorcycle accidents…be those on public roads or off road, I too, sometimes get reminded of this!

Whilst I agree, the generalised safety practices or rules that have been introduced to improve our safety do have merit…there are always exceptions to those rules.

E.g. The wearing of seat belts in vehicles. They are an undoubted improvement in safety, however there have been numerous incidents over the years where the seat belts have caused serious injuries whilst restraining a driver or passenger. There have also been a few incidents whereby the life of a driver has been saved because they were not wearing a seat belt. In these cases the drivers were able to quickly jump out of the seat just with a split second to spare whilst being unhindered by the belt.

Of course there will always be exceptions to any rule!

A similar experience is of high impact collisions with solid objects, be those with another vehicle, a wall, a tree, lamp post, etc.

Sometimes we are surprised by the extent of damage sustained to solid objects and the forces involved. Those forces are at times considered to be very large and sometimes quite small, but still cause substantial damage. 

Vehicle damage can be quite misleading at first glance, because modern vehicle design does allow for more impact energy absorption through structural deformity (Crumple Zones). Whereas, much older vehicles which are constructed of more solid materials, however without crumple zones…do not absorb energy as effectively.

The same reaction can be had when dealing with injuries resulting from road traffic accidents. Sometimes the most innocuous of impacts may lead to very substantial and serious injuries….sometimes even fatal. Conversely some high impacts may lead to very minor injuries or none at all. 

In many of the articles I have written I have used terms such as: may, should, potentially, likely, etc. I have used these terms specifically due to the experiences of having dealt with incidents, injuries and damage that would tend to contradict all other standards.

The following are examples of catastrophic damage to structures but where injury was minimal or a non injury, whereas under ‘normal’ circumstances there would have been serious injury or fatality.

E.g. Motorcycle & rider left carriageway and collided with a solid wall or building. Upon impact the wall has given way and rider having minor injury, however the motorcycle has sustained substantial damage.

E.g. Motorcycle has collided head on with a vehicle. The motorcycle has embedded itself into the engine compartment of the vehicle and caused substantial damage to both vehicles, however the rider has been propelled forward and over the vehicle and has landed on soft ground and is uninjured.

E.g. Two car, head on collision with engines ripped out of their respective compartments; one settled a few yards away, and the other having rested…embedded within the branches of a tree some 20ft above the ground. Both occupants of both vehicles still in their respective car seats with minor cuts and bruises.

E.g. Motorcycle & rider has veered or has swerved to avoid an object and has contacted the curb or verge alongside the road. The motorcycle is launched some 15-20ft in the air and collides with a lamp post and or telegraph post. The motorcycle has sustained some damage but not catastrophic, and the rider some minor injuries whilst the solid post has been broken, bent or even snapped in two or three pieces. 

E.g. A rider that has been wearing a helmet that has come off during the collision, or a rider who was not wearing a helmet at all and has received a contact to the head but has resulted in a non or minor injury or a temporary head injury that was fully recovered from without extensive medical treatment.

E.g. A rider that was not wearing any motorcycle protective clothing and is involved in a high impact collision but did not sustain any broken bones or substantial skin or tissue damage…sometimes not even sustained a scratch or graze. 

Sometimes, (and these should be regarded as a very small percentage of times) regardless of what forces seem to have been experienced, the result is not what was expected. Injuries were minor or not at all and damage to the vehicle may or may not have been substantial.

Sometimes it is just a combination of factors at a particular moment in time and neither rhyme nor reason can explain the outcome. Just as when a severe injury or fatality is resulting from a relatively minor impact force.

When I discuss or write about motorcycle & rider safety, I tend to first consider probabilities. Probability of an accident occurring and what may affect that, and the probability of injury and what may influence that.

Regardless of our own perception and preferences, based on probability alone…a rider is very vulnerable to severe injury ‘IF’ involved in an accident and this is marginally to substantially influenced by the level of protective clothing and equipment that the rider is wearing. The probability of being in an accident is largely determined by the standard of riding/driving practices and the interaction with and awareness of other road users and environmental factors.

I am occasionally asked: “What is the best way for a rider to be safe on the roads?” and based upon the experiences of dealing with motorcycle accidents I would list the following in order of effectiveness: 

  1. Good riding standards & practices, continued learning & practice/training!
  2. Good hazard awareness & good 360deg vision & detection.
  3. Good appreciation of weather & road conditions and related motorcycle & rider performance!
  4. Good anticipation of situations and hazards.
  5. Keeping a larger distance between vehicles & positioning to avoid other vehicles & hazards!
  6. Appropriate use of speed and smoothness of controls.
  7. Wearing protective clothing and equipment.

I have placed protective equipment last, because wearing protective equipment does not necessarily keep you safe from harm. Avoiding an accident in the first instance is the ultimate way to keep you safe. By following the order above a rider is likely to reduce a low probability of being in an accident to almost zero…however where a rider ignores the above order then the probability is substantially increased.

However, there are no absolutes in accident prevention and the wearing of protective equipment should be included as part of a safety package or an approach to safety, whilst remembering that sometimes accidents occur which are beyond the rider’s or driver’s control and beyond culpability, rhyme nor reason!

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