“There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” So said Mark Twain (although apparently he didn’t actually come up with it). Why do I mention that? Well, at the time of writing this, early 2014, I’ve recently been reading articles on motorcycle fatalities that quote statistics. The figures vary from one article to another, and if you’re reading this at some later time there will be a different set of figures for your most recent year. But I’ll take a guess that the figures would be similar, and the principles we can take from them will be the same.
When Mark Twain came out with that much-quoted statement, he was saying that numbers can be twisted to suit the purpose of the person quoting them. And that's very true. I’ll give you an example: imagine a survey showed that 52% of riders checked their tyre-pressures before going for a ride. There are two ways this could be reported. The positive spin: “Safety Conscious Riders. A recent survey has shown that a majority of riders checked tyre-pressures before every ride”.
And the negative spin: “Riders Ignore Basic Safety Checks. A recent survey has shown that almost half of all riders failed to check tyre-pressures before riding.”
This principle applies very much when people quote statistics that deal with motorcycle crashes and fatalities.
Writing in Australian Road Rider, Ian Neubauer quoted figures from the Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety (a Queensland organisation) stating that 42% of all motorcyclist fatalities were single-vehicle crashes. Now, we could interpret that in two different ways. Firstly: “Well over half of all motorcyclist deaths involved collision with another vehicle.” As Ian says, we riders are quick to whinge about the dangerous actions of drivers of other vehicles who put our lives at risk by their dangerous driving; and that statistic would seem to bear that out. But alternatively, we could view it in a more positive light, as Ian does. He went on to say, “That tells me that by reducing rider errors, we can reduce the chance of our next ride being our last, by nearly half.” That’s the way I read it. Of course we have to factor in road conditions, and even mechanical failures, that may have been the cause of some of those single-vehicle crashes, but still, it seems that in many cases, we are our own worst enemy when it comes to crashes. That is, at the same time, both disturbing and encouraging!
No matter which way you look at the over-all figures though, you can only conclude that motorcycling is indeed dangerous! As I mentioned above, the figures quoted in the articles I read varied, but going by statistics I found up to the end of December 2013, motorcycles accounted for less than 6% of all passenger vehicles, yet were involved in about 17% of all road deaths. Yes, it’s obvious – we are far more vulnerable and unprotected than drivers in cars and trucks etc. But is there anything that we can do to improve our chances? Well, the statistics indicate that there is! At least the way I look at them they do.
Take this one: Ian Neubauer quotes a statistic that when motorcyclists are involved in multi-vehicle crashes, the other driver is at fault in 65% of cases. Now, that is a significant majority, but it also shows that in over a third of cases we are the ones at fault! So if we ride carefully, making sure we don’t hit another vehicle, we can reduce our chances of crashing by 35%. And if we are vigilant, watching out for the other 65% of drivers who cause the rest of the crashes so that we can avoid their errors, we can further reduce the likelihood of crashing.
Now, if we add that figure to the statistic of single-vehicle crashes (where, mostly at least, the rider is at fault), that means that we can reduce the chances of crashing by 42% by avoiding rider error, and a further 35% by not running into other vehicles.
Always ride defensively and we can improve the statistics even more. I see that as quite encouraging! If (and it’s a big “if”) we ride carefully and defensively.
It’s also quite disturbing though! These statistics show that a lot of riders are dying needlessly. These are crashes that could – and should! – be avoided. I feel that I want to do something about this: something to try to raise general awareness of how serious and tragic this is.
Looking at the statistics on a state-by-state basis, as quoted by Ian Neubauer, reveals more disturbing ways in which we riders are responsible for killing ourselves. In many cases it’s down to plain stupidity!
In Queensland, 30% of riders in fatal crashes were either drunk or high on drugs. That is just plain stupid! A further 39% were speeding.
In NSW excessive speed was put down as the cause in almost half the fatal crashes. As Ian points out, this doesn’t just mean exceeding the speed-limit, but riding too fast for the conditions. A further 19% ran into the back of the vehicle in front of them. (The message here being to leave a good gap to the vehicle in front).
There was more stupidity in Victoria, where a reported 12% of deaths involved the rider not wearing a helmet. 22% suffered a head-on crash with another vehicle, and disturbingly, over 75% of those were on the wrong side of the road!
In South Australia 22% of fatalities had the rider testing positive to drugs, and another 22% were shown to be over the prescribed alcohol level. Furthermore, around 25% of fatalities involved a rider who was unlicensed or disqualified.
In Western Australia they’re fond of a drink and funny substances too, with more than half the fatalities testing positive to booze or drugs. A staggering 90% of deaths involved people who had previously been booked.
There were no figures given for N.T. or Tasmania.
Looking through that lot gives us further proof that, when it comes to dangers on the road, in a disturbing number of cases we are our own worst enemy!    

I think the message from this is clear: a large percentage of motorcyclist deaths are down to the rider themselves doing something wrong, or being too substance-affected to properly control their bike. We should always “ride to survive”, as the slogan goes. Sure, we ride to have fun and enjoy our two-wheeled machines, but that enjoyment comes to a sudden stop if we wipe ourselves out through over-exuberance, negligence, or stupidity. So do yourself – and the rest of the motorcycling community – a favour, and think about the way you ride: never ride while under the influence of drugs or booze, and always ride with self-preservation being the first priority. 
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