What’s the worst that can happen?

When we ride motorcycles, rarely do we think about having an accident and much rarer still do we think about the consequences…why would we? Let’s face it, thinking about crashing your bike and getting injured or even worse being killed is not exactly having a fun time, nor does it necessarily put you in a joyful mood.

We are much more likely to be thinking about the feeling of riding…the emotions…the friendships…the places we go, or it might be more about speed, thrills & stunts, or even just the technical aspects of braking or road positioning or attacking a bend just right…or just the simple pleasure of being out on the road, being somehow connected with the environment.

We may consider wearing some protective equipment to convince ourselves that if we come off we’ll be ok. We may go further still and do all we can to improve our skills and awareness of road hazards, to attempt avoiding ever being in an accident.

Collectively we spend so much time concentrating on the surface layer of motorcycling, that we barely consider the bare bones of what it is and what it can mean. We have focussed on ways to improve our appearance or that of our bikes…or have immersed ourselves so much into biking culture, that in some ways we have lost or really never gained the true insight into the overall motorcycling package.

I could preach accidents and injuries and protective clothing all day long…but that is only part of the story. We all know that emotions, feelings, friendships and lifestyle is ‘really‘ what riding is all about…regardless of what part of the motorcycling community you favour. However, the last piece that we find difficult to comprehend is…when and if it goes wrong?… What does having an accident mean to you as an individual? What does it mean to have an injury and what is the reality in terms of recovery or survivability?

Would having this insight into the potential future be a force for good and would it change the riding practices of a rider, would it indeed prevent accidents from happening? Well that is something that I have repeatedly asked myself and is one of the reasons I started a motorcycle safety program many years ago…to give the bare truth facts about what potentially could happen during an accident and use this knowledge to raise a rider’s awareness of hazards. Actually, many times I speak to riders who have had accidents…especially serious accidents with serious injuries…and I ask the same question. 

“If you’d had this insight of accidents, injuries and recovery times before the accident…do you think it could have been avoided?”

More often than not, most would agree that it definitely would and although hindsight is 20/20 vision, there are elements of what has occurred that we know could have easily been avoided. Most are related to mere misjudgements but a lot are to do with attitudes and execution of riding practices.

What we do not often hear about is the process of recovery from an accident and how long it takes and what impact it may have on our lives and the lives of family and friends, which can be temporary or permanent.

Many would comprehend having an accident: “is gonna hurt”, well the reality is that for some it will not, for some it may be a little painful, for others a lot and for others the pain might be unbearable.

In terms of physical injuries, these can take from weeks to months to heal…sometimes years to make a near or full recovery and may mean multiple surgeries or life threatening medical interventions.

Sometimes a fatality is instantaneous and sometimes the fatality is at a later stage as a result of injuries.

Injuries can lead to permanent disfigurement or disability and common are; a spinal injury leading to partial or complete paralysis of some or all limbs, and or amputations of limbs and head injuries.

In terms of psychological injuries well these can affect both the rider and family and friends, either temporarily or permanently. They can occur immediately or can occur at a later stage and in many cases can be more distressing than any physical injury. Many riders with life altering injuries have many problems afterwards being able to accept and deal with their injuries and disabilities…and in many ways a survivable accident with permanent disability or disfigurement is considered by those patients as being worse than a fatality.

In terms of financial injuries well these again can affect the rider and family…especially when an income is derived from the injured rider who may not be able to work for some period.

In all terms, whether the rider was at fault or not for the accident is irrelevant! The accident occurred and the injury was sustained and now the rider or pillion have to live with the consequences of those injuries. Those injuries are determined by the speed at the time of the accident and if a solid object is collided with and may be influenced by the angle at which it is hit and what type of protective equipment was worn. 

When we hear tales of how fast a rider went or how a series of bends were taken at high speed and they were lucky to get away with it, or someone had a near miss and it was amusing to them that they were ‘dancing with death’, we…as the audience…should reflect not only on what has been told but on our own experiences and consider the potential consequences if they did not get away with it. Would that be a reason to change your riding practices?

Many hospital staff or members of the emergency services who deal with motorcycle accident patients, have a low opinion of motorcycles and consider them to be very dangerous, however we all know that the motorcycle itself is not the danger, moreover it is how it is being ridden and how well protected the rider can be when placed in a vulnerable accident scenario.

If riders were more aware of the consequences of motorcycle accidents and the reality of injury recovery, would this change riding practices. Would this change the emphasis placed in training either from official sources or from friends or from within the motorcycle media or from within the motorcycling community. Would anyone take note?…especially the younger riders who are physiologically less appreciative of risk and consequence, or older and more experienced riders who might believe their wisdom is their protective force…

Maybe nothing would change!

As a rider I am in the fortunate position to be able enjoy all the benefits of riding bikes, but I am somewhat in a privileged yet unfortunate position that I am repeatedly exposed to motorcycle accidents and injuries and resulting fatalities. 

If we collectively can have a better appreciation of what might happen after an accident, then we may be more encouraged to modify our riding and driving styles, to use speed in more appropriate places, times and conditions and improve our risk management, which really doesn’t have to affect our enjoyment of riding at all…it is just something to be conscious of and for it to be a catalyst to improve and maintain our standards and awareness.

How we do get a better appreciation? Well the first step is to be more open with ourselves, friends, colleagues, group or club members, about how the accident occurred and what injuries were sustained and what was the recovery process and period and what has been learned or what could have been done to prevent the accident and injury.

I actively encourage all riders to do this and I promote this type of open disclosure especially within clubs and groups of riders in order to develop a collective understanding and awareness. The key is to remember that all riders and drivers can make mistakes…regardless of how well trained and experienced they are and we can all learn from each other.

Plan for the worst and hope for the best!


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