10 most common reasons for crashing

Want to know what you're statisically most likely to do before you fall off? Well here's the data.

THERE have been plenty of studies into motorcycle crashes over the years – all trying to work out what causes them, how to stop them and how to reduce casualties. But actually getting to the bottom of the simple question “what are the most common reasons for crashing” is surprisingly difficult.

So feel free to delve into the internet and lose a few hours digging into the MAIDS report, the Hurt report or Clarke, Ward, Bartle and Truman’s 2004 Road Safety Research Report. But don’t expect to find many clear-cut answers.

The problem, of course, is that accidents don’t tend to be terribly clear-cut. Several factors, mistakes or coincidences often come together in just the wrong way to cause them, leaving a confused result where, even if there is blame to be apportioned, it doesn’t necessarily fall squarely onto just one person or action.

So, how are we working this out? Well, we’re taking the latest set of UK figures from ‘Reported Road Casualties in Great Britain; 2011 Annual Report’ and trying to make some sense of them.

Let’s start with a caveat: even here, only accidents where police attended the scene were included, and only 86% of reported motorcycle accidents made it into the analysis, although that’s still a very high figure.

It does, however, show the number of contributory factors in these accidents, so while we won’t know exactly what happened in each case, we can see the rough area where the riders involved made their mistakes.

Before we go any further, there’s a number 1 figure that we’re not including. It’s the accidents where the rider wasn’t to blame at all. That means not only was the accident not all his fault, but he was a completely innocent party. That actually applied to 6509 riders out of the 18,156 involved, or 36%. Yep, they were probably SMIDSY crashes (bearing in mind that the number 1 contributory factor of all cars involved in crashes was ‘failed to look properly’, followed by ‘failed to judge other person’s path or speed.’)

So, of the crashes where the rider had to shoulder some responsibility, here’s the list of factors, starting with the lowest:

10: Exceeding the speed limit

5% (837 crashes in 2011)

RATHER making a mockery of the justification behind speed cameras, ‘exceeding the speed limit’ is a contributory factor in just 5% of motorcycle crashes. And we’re bad for it, it seems – only 3% of car crashes had it as a factor. Of course, it’s rarely going to be the sole, or even the main cause of a crash even where it does contribute – loss of control etc are likely to play a part as well.

9: Travelling too fast for the conditions

6% (1036 crashes in 2011)

THIS one is pretty self explanatory and is likely to be a partial cause along with ‘loss of control’ or ‘sudden braking’. Or, of course, exceeding the speed limit, which we've already covered..

8: Sudden braking

7% (1236 crashes in 2011)

HERE’S a reminder that ABS is a good thing. It’s a factor in 7% of bike crashes but only 4% of car or LGV accidents (where ABS is much more likely to be fitted). Strangely, though, a whopping 17% of bus crashes have this as a factor.

7: Slippery road (due to weather)

7% (1264 crashes in 2011)

NOT much explanation needed here, but remember that crashes where this was found to be a contributory factor are also likely to be counted under ‘travelling too fast for the conditions’ – where it is at least partly the rider’s fault.

6: Careless, reckless or in a hurry

9% (1617 crashes in 2011)

OVERALL, this classes as the third most common cause of accidents across all types of road user, while it’s down in sixth when it comes to motorcyclists. But don’t go patting yourselves on the back; in terms of percentages, 9% puts us on a par with bicyclists and car drivers and worse than both HGVs and busses. Only LGVs are more commonly careless, as it’s a factor in 11% of their accidents.

5: Learner or inexperienced rider

9% (1645 crashes in 2011)

WE may complain when training and test procedures get made more arduous and complex, but on bare figures alone the argument is sometimes hard to stand up. The fact is that in 9% of accidents where a motorcycle was involved in 2011, the rider was considered to be a learner or inexperienced. That compares to 2% of car crashes and either 1% or 0% in every other class of road user. The fact is that, yes, bikes do take a bit more to master than most other forms of transport. It’s one of the reasons we love them. It’s also exactly why everyone should say ‘yes’ to more training whenever they have the chance.

4: Poor turn or manoeuvre

9% (1677 crashes in 2011)

IT’S a pretty vague description, but basically it means you got it wrong. The name might sound like something minor but overall 11% of fatalities (all vehicles) in 2011 were put down to this cause, so the results were often serious. No real difference between riders and other road users in this class – 9% of motorcyclists in crashes were guilty of it, 8% of car drivers, 8% of LGVs and 11% of HGVs. Bicyclists and bus drivers fared better, only being slapped with the ‘poor turn or manoeuvre’ label in 5% of crashes each.

3: Failed to judge other person’s path or speed

13% (2323 crashes in 2011)

BEARING in mind that more than one factor applies in most accidents, it’s no surprise to find that in over half the crashes where ‘failed to look properly’ applied, ‘failed to judge other person’s path or speed’ was also an issue. In many ways it’s the same thing – you either didn’t see the person you hit, or you didn’t correctly gauge their speed or trajectory. The result tends to be the same… Where a bike is at fault, this can often mean it was an overtaking accident.

2: Failed to look properly

16% (2889 crashes in 2011)

AH… Erm… OK. So as riders we’re not totally blameless in the whole ‘not looking properly’ stakes. But while 16% of bikes involved in crashes had this as a factor, it applied to 24% of cars, 26% of bicycles, 29% of LGVs and 27% of HGVs. Only bus and coach drivers were as attentive as motorcyclists, with ‘failed to look’ a contributor in 16% of their accidents.

1: Loss of Control

16% (2971 crashes in 2011)

OF all the UK’s road users biggest cause of crashes is ‘failed to look properly’ – it’s the number one factor in crashes for cars, bicycles, lorries, busses and light goods vehicles. But not motorcycles. Apparently we do look properly. And then we go and crash anyway.

Yep, the number one cause of bike crashes (where the rider is at fault) is the good old fashioned ‘loss of control’. That often means a single-bike accident, quite possibly out of town. We just get it wrong, simple as that. The solution? Well, a bit of advanced training probably won’t do any harm…

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