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Reality Check
Let your helmet save your 'face'

By: James R. Davis

Once upon a time a motorcycle rider was traveling along a city street, minding his own business, when all of a sudden a car entered an intersection directly ahead of him and stopped - right in the middle of that intersection. The biker 'climbed on his brakes, hard', and though he was only traveling at 20 to 25 MPH, his rear tire 'hit some gravel', and the rear-end of the bike came around quickly and he low-sided. The bike slid away from him on its left side.

Neither he nor the bike hit the car in the intersection. That car simply drove away from the scene of the 'accident', possibly unaware that it had even happened.

The motorcyclist, however, sustained major bruises and torn clothes and gloves, though no broken bones, and the bike had little damage as well - the left mirror was broken off. The biker's helmet was scarred, and a hole was worn through his gloves - causing him severe road rash and abrasions to his hand.

  • Who was at fault?

  • How credible are the 'facts' presented?

  • What was done wrong?

  • Could this accident have been avoided?

Let's consider these questions one at a time.

It is not illegal to stop in the middle of an intersection (except in some jurisdictions which insist that you may enter an intersection only if you can safely pass through it.) Sometimes situations are such that you simply must do so. While not the brightest thing in the world for a driver to do, as the car managed to safely get into that position, he owned the intersection while he was in it.

The motorcyclist could not have suddenly found a car directly ahead of him, stopped, crosswise, in the intersection without having seen that vehicle enter the intersection, unless he was not paying attention at all or the intersection was 'blind' (meaning that it was just past the crest of a hill, for example.) Let us assume that he saw the car enter the intersection and then stop. At this point the motorcyclist could either swerve and go around the vehicle (probably behind it), or stop. At the very least, he should be slowing down if there is any possibility that he might hit the vehicle from the moment he notices it entering the intersection, or he is about to crest a hill rendering him blind as to what is ahead of him.

One more fact to take note of, even after the lay down and slide on its side, neither the bike nor the motorcyclist hit the vehicle - they both came to a stop before doing so. As a sliding bike cannot slow down as quickly as a bike can with its brakes applied (while still on its tires), the motorcyclist could EASILY have stopped safely without hitting the car. (Nothing was said about being on a downslope, but if such was the case, it could take longer to stop than the time available - another reason to slow down.)

It is clear from the above that the motorcyclist is the cause of his own accident.

As to the credibility of the facts ... it is a dead certainty that the motorcycle had been traveling faster than 25 MPH at the time he applied his brakes. (For those of you who have attended the MSF, you know that virtually anyone can stop a motorcycle going 20 MPH in less than 23 feet without losing control on a normal pavement, flat slope surface.) That the back end broke away and the bike then low-sided, and continued to slide thereafter is further indication of faster speed. It takes almost exactly the same amount of time to skid to a stop at 25 MPH as it does for the bike to fall over (which is what is happening during a low-side.) That is, if the brakes were applied at 25 MPH, the bike would have been virtually stopped when it landed on its side.

The claimed speed of 20 to 25 MPH is not credible, or the facts fail to show being on a severe downslope.

Some guesses and a certainty about what was done wrong. First, the motorcyclist appears not to have noticed the threat of the vehicle until it was already stopped in the intersection. Either he was distracted, or not paying attention to what was happening in front of him.

Second, he was apparently traveling faster than he thought he was. Probably too fast for conditions based on the resulting accident.

Third, he aggressively used his brakes (including the rear). It NEVER makes sense to aggressively use the rear brake.

Fourth, he lost control of his motorcycle. (You do what you have to do - at 25 MPH it is hard to lose control - but possible.)

As to the last question - could it have been avoided ... of course.

The title of this article is 'Reality Check'. Next time you hear a fellow motorcyclist explain the accident that he was in, think it through. Do not assume that he is not telling the truth, despite 'facts' like those presented here. An accident causes lots of adrenaline and perspectives warp. He may believe what he says even if the facts cannot be as he claims them to be.

Besides, we all try to save 'face'. A little fudging here or there is normal, I suppose. But your life depends on maintaining control of your bike at all times, and understanding the reality of a situation, and acting accordingly, with preemptive defense, need never have to be explained. Let your helmet save your face.

Copyright © 1992 - 2023 by The Master Strategy Group, all rights reserved.

(James R. Davis is a recognized expert witness in the fields of Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics.)

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