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‘Couldn’t happen to me’ is a rider myth

Peter Colwell on the Alaska Highway in 2001, a ride which included his friend John. myth travel insurance
Peter Colwell on the Alaska Highway

Many riders take risks thinking “it couldn’t happen to me”, but those who have crashed have wiser heads and a different view of this common myth.

World traveller and motorcycle travel guide Peter Colwell tells this harrowing tale of a ride 10 years ago near Omeo in Victoria with a visiting Canadian friend, John, that is a salutary lesson for us all these Easter holidays.

Peter and John in Colorado - myth
Peter and John in Colorado

Shortly after leaving Omeo I passed a truck. I continued on but John did not follow.

Eventually I turned back, – to find the truck parked and a sombre driver telling me “It’s not good back there”.

My very good friend with whom I had travelled in many countries, was dead. He had side-swiped a bike and left the road in to a ditch. He died instantly.

The remains of my bike, that John was riding, were scattered all over the road. I remember picking up the speedo and then throwing it away.

I was on my own, a thousand kilometres from home.

After the helicopter came and took away the other injured rider, and the ambulance came to pick up John’s body, I then had to ride the long 1000km home.

But first I had to ride back to Omeo, which was the hardest ride of my life.

I had to phone John’s family in Canada because when a foreigner is killed in Australia, the police cannot phone the relatives at home. They can only advise the Embassy who contact relatives. So in this case it was up to me to convey the news. 

Then I had to deal with all the formalities of sending his body home. The police effectively appointed me his next-of-kin for this purpose

John was a wonderfully generous man, who effectively introduced me to the wonders of touring North America.

There is sometimes an assumption by the Highway Patrol, that they are the only guys who actually deal with death and its aftermath on the highway. Not so, this experience for me was traumatic and still haunts me 10 years on.

Getting back on my bike, alone, two hours after John’s death will live with me forever. 

However, it did not diminish my riding enthusiasm in any way, and I have also dealt with a few serious accidents on New Zealand tours.  

I have also since ridden in many countries and still enjoy riding immensely.

But woe betide anyone who lectures me about road safety with a pointed finger or says “it couldn’t happen to me”.

What lessons have you learnt from a crash? Leave your comments in the “Leave a reply” section below.

  1. It”s not only the Highway Patrol who see death and destruction on the roads. The VRA, Fire Brigade, Ambulance Officers, all rescue services and any person who is involved plus people who stop to assist, rubber neckers and general duties police.

    I don’t know how you come to think that the highway patrol police assume that they are the only ones who see these unfortunate crashes. Not so, mate! When you have attended hundreds of fatal and serious injury prangs then you will have more credibility as to your assumption.

    1. Hi Peter,
      I agree. But police, ambos, etc also tend to forget about journalists who attend these crashes.
      One of my very first assignments was attending a fatality where four teens were incinerated in a car. It left a huge scar on me.

      1. I agree with you Mark. I forgot to mention Journos, hospital staff and as the other Peter mentioned,(too many Peters) the relatives. All I was getting at is that the assumption part. And yes. I was in the highway patrol NSW for nine years.

    2. It is usually only the Police who have to knock on the relatives’ door with the grim news, although in this case, it was me. From the other side of the world.

      There is a big difference between a fatal crash that involves someone you don’t know, and the one I described. When that one was cleaned up by the people you mention, they all went home and carried on with their lives.

      So in effect the people who’s lives are most irrevocably affected are the Police who confront the relatives, and the victim’s family and friends.
      That was my point.

  2. I learn’t that I am destructible and gravity does have an effect on my body. I learnt that proper training and experience is extremely valuable. I learn’t that riding like nobody can see me and constantly reassessing my escape routes has improved my personal safety to the point where even near-misses aren’t as near as they used to be. Most of all, I learnt to pay attention. Vigilance is the greatest safety device we posses.

  3. A guy walked past while I was loading groceries onto my bike and he said, “Another temporary Australian.” We got talking. He was a retired ambulance officer and hated motorcycles because of what he had seen. So I said that he would have retrieved far more injured and dead people from car accidents, and he agreed. So why are people so negative about motorcycles? It has always been my opinion that both cars and bikes are dangerous so when you are driving/riding you must always focus on what you are doing. Yes, I know that bikes are more dangerous than cars, but I get very angry when people say or imply that cars are safe and bikes are not.

    There is no more dangerous time to be riding a motorcycle than when you have become overconfident, because you will not focus as much as you should. It has happened to me a number of times over the past forty years and I now recognise it as a problem. When it happens I say to myself, “Whoa, back off. You’re not thinking right so take it easy until you get your head back together.” If you think that it (a serious accident) couldn’t happen to you, you need to stop and think again.

    My point is that you need to be very aware that it could happen to you but don’t let that put you off riding. Cars, bikes and many other things are dangerous and it could happen to you whether you ride of not.

    1. Actually motorcycles are far safer than cars busses planes trucks and trains !
      Why because in a motorcycle accident it is usually only the rider who gets hurt!
      with the exception of the pillion passenger if any it is very rare for anyone other than the rider to get hurt, even if the bike ploughs through a crowd of people few will be seriously injured and only the unlucky will be killed
      if you compare that to any other mode of transport you wouldn’t be able to say the same.

      1. You are right, BigAl. It is a pity that the authorities don’t realise this and take it into consideration when formulating motorcycle policies.

    2. A footnote to my main comment;- When I finished talking to the retired ambulance officer I thanked him for his service to the community and told him that even though I have never used an ambulance it has always been a great comfort to me knowing that there are people like him. I have a great deal of respect and admiration for the people who do that job.

  4. Like all riders that are honest it’s not if you’ll lay your bike down its when. One accident off road was caused by me not liking the feeling of being passed by an aggressive rider. As I accelerated past I hit a jump, landed sideways and broke my leg in two places. The second noteworthy accident was a driver who turn left in front of me and I t-boned the driver door. Flipped over the truck and somehow was not injured. I’ve had friends die on the road from stupidity and some injuries caused by others. However I’ve had many more including myself that have learned how to survive and enjoy riding. Oh all of my accidents occurred under the age of 20.

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