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Stupidity overlooked in motorcycle crashes

Simple stupidity, irresponsibility and bad luck are often overlooked as causes of a motorcycle crash, says 10-year road safety researcher Elaine Hardy.

Yet police and other investigators are quick to blame speed first in most crashes. That’s probably because other factors are more difficult to prove.

Recently in Victoria police targeted speed after a sharp rise in motorcycle deaths. That is despite the fact that a high percentage of riders involved were unlicensed or riding an unlicensed motorcycle.

Elaine says a fundamental reason for the elevated numbers of people killed on our roads could simply be stupidity, irresponsibility or bad luck.

stupidity a factor in motorcycle crashes
Elaine Hardy

She has been studying about 150 fatalities in Northern Ireland, but the data is relevant the world over.

“Reading through some of the cases, the level of irresponsibility – or stupidity – of people who died – or others who were killed as a consequence, was breath-taking,” she says.

She cited this particular example and the complex problem of establishing a cause:

Middle-aged chap decides to rent a classic bike and take his missus for a spin in the countryside. He takes a curve too fast, loses control, hits a pole, he dies and missus sues the rental company because the tyres were underinflated which contributed to the loss of control.  In this case was he stupid because he didn’t check the tyres first? In that respect I suggest that there are many riders out there who would enter that classification because of underinflated tyres.  

She says drugs and alcohol are among the biggest factors in driver deaths, but not near as high among the 41 motorcyclist fatalities she investigated.

“However that does not mean that there weren’t irresponsible riders amongst the case files,” she says.

More than one factor

While she considers speeding and riding while intoxicated as examples of stupidity, she says the cause of a crash cannot be boiled down to one factor.

“The factor here was that – as in most crashes – it is not just one issue. There is typically a chain of events that lead to any particular crash.  Not all are stupid, some are just dumb luck,” she says.

“I guess the distinction is whether a person decides to get on a bike without preparation or is unable to be in full control.

“The only possible way of working out if somebody is dumb is based on their actions at the time of the collision, or in the case of drugs and drink, from the Coroners’ inquests.

“So in the case of a rider that takes a corner too low where there is gravel, has an underinflated back tyre and a couple too many to drink then hits a wall, do you class that as stupidity or just wrong place, wrong time? Would he have been more careful and attentive if he hadn’t had anything to drink?  Maybe.”

  1. “She has been studying about 150 fatalities in Northern Ireland, but the data is relevant the world over.”

    It might be relevant elsewhere, but not here in Australia. Regardless of the studies, the standards, the research, whatever – we need to make sure that every time we replicate it all, reinvent it all, put our own stamp on it, come up with it independently, don’t be fooled by all this stuff that happens across whatever pond it happens to be … because we are different, Australian conditions are different, our DNA is different, the air we breathe is different … or something …

    … which is a shame, because if these things were relevant to us, we could learn so much and save so much money and time and infrastructure just by adopting things that are logical, reasonable, backed by science and make sense overseas.


      1. No its not TOG, however its backed up by even more farcical Australian accident investigation and manipulated into statics, that defy world trends, then rammed down our efen throats by government agencies.

        Grumpy Old Bastard
        Ride free and safe.

  2. The top picture actually shows a rider wearing the safety gear
    soon to become compulsory in all states.

  3. As all states in Australia use “Strict Liability” law to define all road rules nothing can change. Simply, other than a few offences like culpable manor dangerous charges, that require a proven court judgement, Mens rea ( Latin for guilty state of mind) or in this case stupid state of mind is not required.

    So, any traffic fine is arbitrarily handled by the state in the same way as being the responsible person for the dog that messed the footpath. eg: Speed camera fines.

    Road condition including weather, vehicle condition and something in motion, any speed colliding with something else = accident.
    There was a TV show that actually studied accidents just using those 3 options.

    If stupidity was ever an option and became a defense in traffic law then the whole traffic law would fall apart and need to be revised, and since the pollies are “currently” on about road safety and each life matters, like they bloody well should, How about they culpably stop ignoring that the law is broken and work out that people with varying states of mind, different skills and attitudes can fail and be responsible for an accident and factor it in properly.

  4. Dumb luck is where something happens that is unavoidable and takes you by surprise. An example of this would be riding through a wooded area and a branch falls from a tree and lands on you. If the branch was only just large enough to cause you to loose control and you went bouncing off trees the police would determine it to be speed related full stop end of story.
    Many so called single vehicle accidents are like the above or actually multiple vehicle accidents where the other driver has done something stupid and caused the rider to crash trying to avoid them. The only answer to the above scenarios is cameras.

  5. In many cases it’s stupidity or your dick taking over your brain. It happens a lot with silly old buggers like myself, so I acted responsibly and got a slower bike. I have been riding for 50 years and after the last two on 170 hp, I still had to give it a squirt now and again when I thought nobody was looking and found I couldn’t keep up with the bike. I’m down to a Bonneville now and I’ll keep getting slower bikes as my reflexes drop with age. I still have to admit at nearly 70, that speed is a good buzz….but….

  6. Ah the dangerous misuse of statistics. 98.7% of all statistics favour those who commissioned them.
    1: More than 98 percent of convicted felons are bread eaters!
    2: Fully HALF of all children who grow up in bread-consuming households score below average on standardized tests!
    3: In the 18th century, when virtually all bread was baked in the home, the average life expectancy was less than 50 years; infant mortality rates were unacceptably high; many women died in childbirth; and diseases such as typhoid, yellow fever and influenza ravaged whole nations!
    4: More than 90 percent of violent crimes are committed within 24 hours of eating bread!
    5: Bread is made from a substance called “dough.” It has been proven that as little as one pound of dough can be used to suffocate a mouse. The average American eats more bread than that in one month!
    6: Primitive tribal societies that have no bread exhibit a low occurrence of cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and osteoporosis!
    7: Bread has been proven to be addictive. Subjects deprived of bread and given only water to eat begged for bread after only two days!
    8: Bread is often a “gateway” food item, leading the user to “harder” items such as butter, jelly, peanut butter and even cold cuts!
    9: Bread has been proven to absorb water. Since the human body is more than 90 percent water, it follows that eating bread could lead to your body being taken over by this absorptive food product, turning you into a soggy, gooey bread-pudding person!
    10: Newborn babies can choke on bread!
    11: Bread is baked at temperatures as high as 400 degrees Fahrenheit! That kind of heat can kill an adult in less than one minute!
    12: It’s been proven beyond a doubt that both serial killers and vicious corporate CEO’s like Walt Disney, Michael Dell and Dave Thomas have eaten bread regularly!
    and most shocking of all:
    13: Most American bread eaters are utterly unable to distinguish between significant scientific fact and meaningless statistical babbling!!!!

    In light of these frightening statistics, we propose the following bread restrictions:
    1: No sale of bread to minors.
    2: No advertising of bread within 1000 feet of a school.
    3: A 300 percent federal tax on all bread to pay for all the societal ills we might associate with bread.
    4: No animal or human images, nor any primary colours (which may appeal to children) may be used to promote bread usage.
    5: A $4.2 zillion fine on the three biggest bread manufacturers.
    6. Pass LAWS!! Remember the Control Freaks’ Credo: “Shoot First, Get Understanding Later” (Coerce FIRST; Persuade LATER — if at all).
    Please notify everyone you know who might care about this crucial issue.
    Remember: Think globally; reason rectally; act idiotically.

  7. The study I carried out on Motorcyclist fatalities can be found here:

    The comment “but the data is relevant the world over” was not mine, whether they are relevant to Australia or not – I really don’t care – that was not the purpose of the study. With regards stupidity – the example I used with regards to motorcyclists in the article that I submitted was the following.

    “The analysis of 41 motorcyclist fatalities (39 cases) between 2004 and 2010 was quite revealing. Proportionately there were fewer motorcyclists who died as a result of speed or alcohol, however that does not mean that there weren’t irresponsible riders amongst the case files. Worth considering was that this study looked at seven years of case files.

    There are four recorded cases in which the motorcyclists had levels of alcohol over the legal limit and or drugs in their blood. In Northern Ireland the maximum legal alcohol limit for driving is 80 mg per 100 mls. In three cases the alcohol content was more than two times over the legal limit. In one case the motorcyclist had also taken nerve suppressant drugs and possibly cannabis. In another case the motorcyclist also had ecstasy in his blood. Three of these collisions were single vehicle (no other vehicle involved) and the fourth ran a red light through an intersection with no headlights on and impacted a car crossing the intersection.

    With regards speed, of the 39 cases, there were four in which evidence of speed above the national legal limit was recorded. In one case the speed of two motorcycles involved was above the national legal speed limit (>130 mph) and the motorcyclists were unable to stop in time when a truck exited from a quarry. According to the investigator, had the motorcycles been travelling at the national speed limit and had they begun braking at the location of the start of the long tyre mark, the collision would have been avoided.

    Furthermore travelling at a constant speed of 60 mph, it would have taken approx. 5.2 seconds for the motorcycles to travel from the start of the tyre mark to the impact area (139 metres). This would have given sufficient time for the truck to move away from the quarry entrance and clear the west bound lane. In this scenario, the collision could have been avoided without any brake application by the motorcyclists. As an aside, the mohican which was pasted onto the helmet of one of the riders was found stuck to the rear axle of the tipper truck.

    In the three remaining cases, the speed was higher than the national legal limit and in each case a vehicle pulled out from a minor road in front of the motorcycles. However, the actions of the other vehicle driver pulling out in front of the motorcycles were the primary cause of the collision, not the speed of the motorcycle. With regards to the actions of the motorcyclist, due to the speed of the motorcycle, the rider was restricted in his ability to brake sufficiently in time prior to impact. In other words, the speed limits are there for a reason. Yet drivers and riders continue to ignore them at their peril.

    Thank you.

  8. Has anyone actually managed to quantify ‘stupid’ yet? Does it have an ISO unit of measurement?

  9. Ask Elaine to come to Australia and ride our goat tracks.
    Then she will change her mind.
    As i have stated many times our roads are 4th rate.
    I will go as far to call them Apache roads!! yes, full of patches rough patches at that.
    Oh yes and I just had 2 slices of bread!

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