If anyone at a party asks me what I do, I say ‘edit thepriori.co.uk.’ Unfortunately, to have the freedom to do this I actually have to go and earn a living. I write this whilst I am on sick leave from my ordinary day job. The reason for this is that on the 16th May, I was riding my motorbike on the A1 towards Sandy (if anyone knows it), and was hit by a car joining the carriageway from the central reservation. Unfortunately, the car that hit me broke my right foot, and pushed me into the car in front which then smashed my left wrist, which required some surgery, a plate and some screws to sort it out. All in all, I’ve ended up in a pretty bad way, but at least I’m still here, and believe me, that could be very different.
On 1st June, I was asked to help Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner canvas my hometown about voting to stay in the EU. In my limited capacity, I showed Daniel where to be from one corner of the town square, before hobbling back to an awaiting car. Because of my situation, Mr Zeichner, the shadow transport minister, asks what the party can do to connect with motorcyclists. That then sparked this piece now.
Motorcyclists are given one piece of preferential treatment on Britain’s roads; they can use bus lanes in most of major cities in the country. This was brought in under Boris Johnson’s tenure as the Mayor of London and many other cities followed after these changes proved successful in cutting congestion and incidents as a result of filtering. For those that are not aware, filtering is the were motorcycles ride slowly between stationary or slow moving traffic on two or three lane carriageways. Reducing filtering in cities is a good thing as many vehicles do not look for bikes and when they move from a right hand position across a carriageway and knock off a filtering bike.
Now, as a motorcyclist, I am biased towards bikes, and feel that most bikers as unfairly treated. However, some bikers, predominately younger riders on smaller bikes, delivery riders or riders on powerful super bikers can be a real danger to themselves and others. Younger riders on smaller bikes may have bikes that can only travel around 30 or 40 miles per hours, but they will try and do that everywhere and often, not wearing the appropriate safety gear. Delivery riders are paid to ride more, so the faster you can get somewhere, the more money you make. This is particularly poignant under franchises such as ‘deliveroo’. And finally, bikes these days, such as the BMW S1000RR, start at £13,850, weight 204kg and put out 199BHP from new. That’s before most riders ditch the standard exhaust system for a louder, more powerful one. Couple this power with the only safety regulation of a helmet, and even a modest low-side (where the rear wheel over takes the front, causing the bike to side away from the rider) can result in some rather nasty gravel rash.
Now, when I had my accident, the paramedic struggled to cut through my boot, and I refused to let the nurses cut off my bike trousers, which were all signs that I liked my gear and that it was good quality. The fact that I came away with a couple of broken bones and some very minor heat rash shows that it pays for good quality motorcycling equipment. On your compulsory basic training, or CBT, that is required to ride a bike up to 125CC, you are shown images of someone who has been down the road in a cheap pair of jeans, and someone who has been wearing the correct gear, so we all know that we should wear this. In the same vain, car drivers know that six inch heels aren’t practical. There are precautions that all riders can take in order to be safer.
One thing that I think car drivers should adopt, as they do in Canada, is drive all the time with the dipped headlights on. For bikes, it increases visibility of you and also improves visibility of you from behind. Second, maintenance checks on bikes are taught at almost every level of ridership. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) teach the acronym POWDER meaning; Petrol, Oil, Water, Damage, Electrics and Rubber. This is mainly for Police riders who don’t know who may have used the bike before them, but RoSPA teach it as a good code of practice for every rider. You can find the full check list here. The point is that cars are checked once a year, for their MOT. Some people get them serviced additionally but with the amount of computing power on a modern car, most motorist neglect their vehicles due to their complexities, which can leave them open to damage that could cause incidents. But, because cars are getting safer and safer, even if there is a crash, car drivers will be most likely be okay, unlike the motorcyclist, cyclist or pedestrian they may hit because they lose grip around a corner because the tread on their tyre is too low.
This level of motoring neglect should not be ‘how it is.’ It the amazingly realistic film Wildhogs, the main protagonists have a conversation about looking cool on a bike (the social comment of cool, not the temperature). William H Macy’s character tell Tim Allen’s that 96% of motorcycle fatalities can be prevented by the wearing of a crash helmet. Whilst that is probably true of the USA and holiday destinations such as Ibiza and the Greek Islands, but in Britain, I would argue that most casualties can be severely shortened/helped by the wearing of CE approved protective gear. Now, whilst motorcyclists can do their best to prevent injury, they cannot always be guaranteed to walk away injury free. Speaking from personal experience, my expensive motorcycle gear ensured that my injuries were minimal, but the biggest risk minimiser would have been this: a 2016 white Audi A1 sportline that eventually hit me.
Whilst I am by no means saying that in every traffic collision involving a motorcycle the two-wheeled motorist is blameless, but we must begin to accept that there are vulnerable road users that are put at risk by declining standards of driving. Only a month prior to my accident, my father was hit by a car. He was loading a bicycle into the back of a friend’s car which was parked off the road. If you can imagine a clock face, the road starts at 6 o’clock, goes to the centre then turns to face the 3 o’clock position at a right angle. The car was parked at the 2 o’clock position, safely off the road. However, in wet conditions, a blue Ford Fiesta attempts to take the corner too quickly, the driver brakes mid corner, and the vehicle hits my father full on, lifting him off his feet.
Anybody that has an interest in driving or the laws of physics will know exactly what the driver did incorrectly. By attempting to slow mid corner, it meant that she lost grip, causing a skid, and then when she released the brake, the car gripped, sending the vehicle hurtling off the road. Everything about this manoeuvre could have been avoided, in exactly the same way my incident could have been. Whilst I accept the tears of both drivers involved, they are symbols of carelessness, not regret. It’s the realisation that they have; bluntly, fucked up. The only thing that allowed these people back on the road is that both my father and I got back up to our feet again. If we didn’t, their recklessness becomes manslaughter and years in prison. Only because the police were able to interview two conscious human beings were the two drivers spared prosecutions.
Now, whilst I do not wish the driver of the vehicle which hit me, her 7 or 8 year old child in the passenger seat and her incredible cute Staffordshire bull terrier puppy in the back to be permanently scarred by the incidents of that day, I do wish that the day I was released from hospital, I didn’t see her driving a brand new Ford car. Funnily enough, it didn’t fill me with hope for her fellow road users. What she maybe didn’t realise is that the car in front of me that I hit because of her recklessness, one of the passengers was 7 months pregnant. I saw her in the doctors a day later and she was a bit achy but luckily, she and her little one were fine. In fact, she was more concerned about how beaten up I appeared to be! Of course, I was still hobbling around, but in the grand scheme of things, I was fine, but I wonder if our Audi driver knew that.
So how do we solve it? Ban all Audi’s? Well maybe, although my father will fare no better. I’d love to end this particularly piece on my usual comedic note but as I look at the 4-inch-long scar on my left wrist and my mangled right foot were the bone came out of the skin, I really struggle to see the funny side. This may come as a shock but I actually love cars. I love the engineering, particularly how a modern 1 litre can produce 130 BHP; madness. But, whilst the cars have evolved, the drivers haven’t. When Google released their driverless cars, people were like ‘bloody hell! That’ll be dangerous!’ In fact, anywhere between 50 and 90 per cent of all accidents are caused by human error, so in fact, they’ll be safer than allowing us behind the wheel! I do not distrust the car. In the same vain a modern bike can behave like a trike. The technology behind them to keep them upright is out of this world. But, it doesn’t stop the rider turning off all the aids and behaving like a wannabe Barry Sheene knob-jockey on the A119. And the same can be said for car drivers (substituting Barry Sheene for Nicky Lauder perhaps).
But even more disgusting from modern driving schools, new drivers are taught in state of the art, ultra-safe diesel cars with great visibility. And what do they drive? Petrol powered, small, old hatchbacks with worn tyres and no maintenance, bought from another 17-year-old. Moreover, they’re taught with no distractions. In the real world, the phone rings, your passenger is annoying and you don’t like that track on Spotify. Why don’t we teach these people how to drive safely with real world distractions? Don’t ignore them, confront them.
For the bike riders out there, I would want to push for these changes. First, scrap the third party premium. Get everyone fully comp with legal cover. The people who don’t have it are more likely to be claimed against. So eventually, it costs us all more anymore. We may as well benefit. Secondly, get everyone out on a bike. Every new car driver must do their CBT on a 50CC or 125CC before they gain their full car license. This will make drivers more aware of riders as the most aware drivers of motorcyclists are fellow bikers. And finally, bring in the gradual testing into car licensing. Oh my gosh! It’s outrageous to not be able to not ride a bike one day then legally ride the most powerful road going bike the next! Yeah, that’s how the car licensing works right now, if you have enough money. Take the money out of road safety and put the skill back in.
When I was 17, the richest kids got the biggest cars, with the biggest engines. Actually, the parents were protecting their kids. But giving an 18-year-old the keys to a 2 litre 1 series BMW in the winter (this was someone I used to work with) is simply idiotic. For those who don’t know, BMWs are rear wheel drive, thus slide more in poor conditions with more throttle or rashly applied power. What we need to do is introduce a Finnish system of driving where time on the road is rewarded. If you spend more time in tougher conditions and pass a variety of test, then you can drive more vehicles, and not base it on what mummy and daddy can afford to insure you on, because that is no longer a deterrent for potential dangerous drivers, at any age; we must test people into better driver habits, not price them out.