DocBike riders don’t only attend emergency incidents at the roadside – they work hard to help other riders avoid them in the first place, too.
Unfortunately, the team has built up extensive and intimate knowledge about the precise scenarios, behaviour and mistakes that commonly lead to serious motorcycle accidents.
Here, they distil that knowledge – accrued over many years of riding and dispensing medical aid – and outline the six most common causes of motorcycle accidents in the UK. All based on detailed research.
Crucially, they also share their expert knowledge on how you can avoid falling into one of these common traps.
1 Vehicles pulling out in front of you at a junction
The most common cause of being knocked off of your bike is another road user failing to see you at a junction. It’s so common it has its own acronym – SMIDSY’, or ‘sorry mate, I didn’t see you’.
It can be someone waiting to pull out from a side road as you approach on a main road, on your left, or someone coming towards you who turns right into the side junction, directly across your path.
It’s no surprise that this is the most common cause of bike crashes, because the human brain isn’t very good at identifying low profile objects coming towards it. It’s rather like the tip of a dart heading directly towards you. That, unfortunately, is how motorcyclists appear to other road users waiting to turn or pull out at a junction. The other problem is that drivers are preoccupied with spotting a gap to pull into – not you and your bike.
You can wear high vis and put your lights on if it will add contrast between you and whatever is behind you. Ultimately, however, even though we might have the right of way, if we’re not prepared for someone not seeing us and pulling across our path, it’s us that’s going to get hurt.
What actions can you take to stop it happening to you?
- The key is accepting that you’re not going to be seen. And if you don’t want to get hurt, you must always be prepared for other vehicles to pull out or cross in front of you.
- When you see another vehicle at a junction, back off the revs and begin to reduce speed. It will give you more time to react if they do pull out.
- Move away from the danger area, using any space available in your lane to add distance.
- Cover your brakes and be ready to stop.
- If you don’t think you’ve been seen, sound your horn – that’s what it’s there for. Following it up with a friendly wave once they have seen you is a nice touch.
- Watch other drivers’ front wheels (not their eyes) closely. If they start to turn, brake, move, and sound your horn
2 Passing a Line of Traffic
One of the reasons we ride a bike is that sense of freedom and the ability not to get caught up in traffic. But the rise of the delivery driver, increased tourism in the UK, more reliance on the car due to COVID, even the rise of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods causing localised congestion, mean that traffic queues are increasing. Seeing a queue of traffic ahead, with little coming towards you in the other direction does tend to give us riders a sense of smug satisfaction, because we know we can beat the queue. Bear in mind however that this is one of the most common circumstances in which bikers get knocked off.
The problem is that when we see that empty lane on the other side, and spot an opportunity to overtake and get ahead of the queue of traffic, what we’re forgetting is why the queue formed in the first place.
Common scenarios that might come back to bite us include:
- A van delivery driver slowing down to look for an address. And – once they’ve found it – pulling swiftly across the road and into a driveway or parking spot, all without looking first.
- Another vehicle (possibly out of your line of sight) slowing down head, to make a right-hand turn, causing traffic to build up behind them.
- Another driver in the queue getting fed up of waiting and deciding to do a sudden three-point turn – without realising that a bike is just about to overtake them.
In all of these situations, if we as the biker aren’t prepared for someone to suddenly pull into that empty oncoming lane, we’re going to be in serious trouble. Same goes if we find ourselves overtaking a queue of traffic at a speed that means we don’t stand a chance if someone turns across out path. Given these potential dangers, it’s easy to see why this is also one of the most common causes of motorcycle fatalities.
The same thought process needs to be applied when filtering between lines of traffic. Filtering is legal, but beware the driver that suddenly decides, without warning, to switch lanes.
What can you do to stop this from happening to you?
The key is remembering that someone might suddenly turn across your path, while you’re overtaking that line of traffic.
- Learn to position yourself on the road so that you build a ‘bubble of space’ that gives you more time and space to react – and that makes you more visible to other road users.
- Consider turning on your headlight if it’s not already on, to make yourself more visible in other driver’s mirrors.
- Overtake at a speed that will allow you to stop in time if someone does suddenly pull out in front of you.
- If filtering, keep your speed differential (your speed compared to that of the other traffic) to below 15mph – and be prepared for a vehicle to switch lanes without warning. Don’t filter at a speed above which you cannot react. Once the traffic starts to pick up, drop into a gap and run with the flow.
- Cover your brakes and horn during the overtake and be ready to use them
Always ask yourself ‘Why?, and ‘What if?’. If you can see and think beyond the overtaking manoeuvre, appreciating why the queue is there and that someone in the queue might suddenly become frustrated and do a u-turn, you’ll ride in a manner that will protect yourself if the worst does come to the worst.
3 Overtaking at Junctions
Even the most highly trained riders and drivers, on blue lights, avoid overtaking at junctions, because it’s a highly risky manoeuvre that is absolutely fraught with danger.
So we have only one line of advice: don’t do it. Ever! Year after year, air ambulances are called out to motorcyclists killed at junctions and a far too common cause is that the rider was overtaking another vehicle through the junction itself. It’s simply not worth the cost.
Top Tip (and we make no apologies for repeating ourselves)
Don’t overtake at junctions. If blue-light riders don’t do it with their lights and sirens on, that’s a good enough reason for the rest of us not to do it either.
4 Getting it wrong on a bend
It’s the big biking paradox. We all love to ride twisty roads, particularly in the countryside – but getting it wrong on a bend is one of the most common causes of frustration, not to mention buttock-clenching, for motorcyclists the world over.
There are three main reasons that bikers crash on bends – in this order:
- Going too fast around a left-hand bend, pushing you across the centre line and into the path of oncoming traffic.
- Going too fast around a bend but failing to anticipate what might be around the corner.
- Going too fast around a right-hand bend and ending up in the verge.
The first and the last are self-explanatory, but in 2021 we’ve seen a high incidence of bikes zooming around blind bends and smacking straight into queuing traffic just around the corner. Again, it comes down to the foresight of being able to think ‘can I stop if there’s a tractor around the bend?’ That will keep you out of trouble.
What can you do to stop it from happening to you?
- Find out what ‘limit points’ are – and use them. The limit point is the farthest point along a road, giving you a clear and uninterrupted view of the road surface. It is where the two verges seem to ‘meet’. If the limit point is far away, you can speed up (as long as there’s not a vehicle waiting to pull out of a junction and it’s otherwise safe to do so!). If the limit point is coming towards you, you need to slow down. If the limit point is maintaining the same distance from you as you go through the bend, you’re at the right speed. Practice your bends, use the limit point – and start to enjoy going around corners.
- Where there is any doubt, SLOW DOWN on the approach. Carrying too much speed into any bend is one of the most worrying experiences you can have as a biker. You can always twist the throttle again if it turns out you’ve been a little over-cautious.
- Use the road to your full advantage. When going around a right-hand bend, move towards the left to give yourself a better view. When going around a left-hand bend, move towards the centre line, but keep clear of oncoming traffic, particularly HGVs which could destabilise you.
- Be able to stop in the distance that you can see to be clear (using the limit point allows you to do this). This way, if you see a stationary vehicle ahead, you’ve got time to stop without ploughing into the back of it.
Become a more skilful rider. Invest time in learning to use limit points, do a BikeSafe or advanced rider course and enjoy riding your bike more, by getting the bends right.
5 Losing Control
Sadly, in 2021, we saw a lot of riders crash simply because they lost control of their bike, without any other vehicle being involved. This tends to spike in the spring, after riders have had their bikes tucked away for the winter or on the first sunny day following a lengthy period of bad weather.
The greatest number of motorcyclists that are either killed or critically injured aren’t young or inexperienced riders but men aged 40-60 riding bigger bikes, often with an extensive riding history.
There’s not a huge amount that we can say here other than to make people aware that this accounts for a large proportion of bikers being killed each year. The best approach is to develop the ‘headspace’ that will enable you to recognise when you might be a little rusty, and being humble and honest enough to appreciate that using your bike to its full potential on a road, with other traffic, is likely to put you and other people at risk of being killed.
What can you do to stop it from happening to you?
- Learn to tune into when you’re a bit rusty, tired or are experiencing other emotions such as grief, anger or sadness. They can all affect your riding. Motorcycling is good for your mental health, but take it easy until you’ve got yourself back in the saddle.
- If you’ve got a lot going on in your mind, perhaps today isn’t the day to test your riding skills or your bike to the limit. Be aware that your situational awareness of what’s going on around you will be reduced and your ability to identify risky situations will be degraded. Sit back, enjoy the ride and get to where you need to go in one piece.
- If you’re having a tough time in your life, consider chatting about it. Mental Health Motorbike is a good place to look.
A bike is a powerful beast, and it’s easy to exceed your own ability to control it. Build up slowly and consider getting further training to become a more skilful rider. If you really want to test your bike, book a track day They’re epic fun and don’t have white vans coming towards you!
6 Riding in Groups
We all get more fun out of life when we share the good times with our mates. Making a day of it by meeting up for breakfast, going on a ride-out and enjoying the freedom that motorcycling brings is one of the best feelings you can have. It’s good for your mental health too!
Being part of a group, however, puts you at greater risk of being involved in a collision – that’s a fact!
There are two main reasons for this:
1 Riders often like to show off, but racing and roads really don’t mix. We’ve seen the evidence of this all too often. So save it for the track!
2 The most common cause for group riders crashing is trying to keep up with the person in front. Often, the least experienced rider, or the person who doesn’t know the area so well, finds themself at the back of the group. Not having local experience of which way the road bends can be a disadvantage, leading to them being left behind. In an attempt to keep up, they push themselves beyond their abilities and start to pay less attention to what’s going on around them, focusing only on their friends disappearing into the distance. You can see how a crash can easily ensue.
What can you do to stop it from happening to you?
- Make it culturally unacceptable to race on the roads. We don’t like other road users using their mobile phones as it puts us at risk, so apply the same thinking to road racing and make sure your mates know it’s not cool.
- Book a track day or try your hand at dirt bike racing. It’s epic fun and really scratches that itch! You can hire bikes and kit so you can just turn up and away you go.
- Beware the rider at the back of the pack. Agree a destination and make it OK to become separated. If you’re on a long road trip, pre-arrange stop-off points where you can re-group. If you want to stick together, consider putting your least confident member second and if you’re the leader, ride to their ability, keeping an eye on them in your mirrors.
- Don’t just focus on the number plate in front of you, “raise your gaze” and be aware of what’s going on ahead of the riders in front, too. Riding into the back of your mate as part of a convoy is embarrassing, but it happens a lot.
Be aware that riding in a group puts you at increased risk of being in a crash. Get out there, have fun; but ride your own ride.
21 comments on “Avoiding Common Motorbike Collisions”
I have seen too many riders actually hiding themselves in traffic. They do this in several ways. First just like the majority of car drivers nowadays, they now Tailgate in traffic in towns and that means that they fail to give safe stopping distance behind other vehicles.
They end up at 30 mph being about only 30 ft behind another vehicle or less instead of being 2 seconds behind or one lamp post behind [ approx ] and so if a car driver is waiting to turn out on them hey see the car in front and the gap and then the car behind and nothing inside the gap that actually hides the motorcyclist. So as that first car is passing they anticipate, as car drivers do and they pull out but directly into the path of the biker.
It doesn’t help if the biker positions himself wrongly and that’s sometimes by being trained wrong. They are advised that when following others to be in a position on the rear offside so that they can be seen in the front drivers offside mirror and that can be a mistake. First I don’t really think that the driver in front cares that you are behind him at all and I have never seen a consideration or concession from one to this day. IN that position a rider cannot se down the nearside and of a junction coming up and the driver at that junction cannot see them.
One must always ride in a position that can be seen and the only way to do that is to ride by oneself and keep well back from other traffic. Give that minimum of 2 seconds or one lamp post and then not only will the rider see more of all the potential dangers ahead and around them but the other road users have a lot better chance of seeing them and avoiding them.
Another reason to keep your distance, increasingly valid these days, is to give you a chance to avoid potholes an lorry tyres!
I’ve come across gaggles of bikers with rubbish road sense and blocking a complete dual carriageway and not using their mirrors. A recipe for PAIN!
Interesting that the recommendations for avoiding collisions at junctions don’t include the one cited for cyclists in the Highway Code.
The code recommends a lateral movement in the lane as human vision picks up sideways movement very easily, where as you say an object moving straight towards you may not be seen.
The limit point is not JUST the furthest that one can see along the road ahead and doesn’t merely relate to the amount of road seen , We use it primarily and particularly on a bend that one cannot see around to adjust our entry speed accordingly
It’s also the furthest that one can see ahead but is sometimes limited due to there being a vehicle in front of us and then that vehicle becomes the LIMIT point. This come about whenever one is following another vehicle and certainly of greater importance when on bends. Without a vehicle in front one might be able to see about say 120 ft or so. One relates that to the safe optimum speed of say 40 mph.
Ok but taking that into account, the limit point is also only what we can see if we are following another vehicle and so that vehicle becomes our limit point. Sometimes we only giving that vehicle some 40 to 50 ft of safe following on space or stopping distance. As a result that vehicle becomes a danger to us. The distance that we give to that vehicle becomes our total safe distance to the new limit point. In reality and even when we can see ahead of it to the roads limit point it still becomes our limit point. We should ride to it accordingly, slowing down and giving it safer stopping distance but it appears that some riders do not consider doing that ,
Re point 1. Ask any experienced blue light driver about this one. In 25 years of driving fire appliances l lost count of the number of times people have pulled out of such junctions particularly to go in the same direction as me only to then pull up to let me past, completely failing to realise that they have just blocked my passage due to oncoming traffic.
One example of someone turning to the opposite direction probably, even now, does not know how close she came to being a mascot on the front of the truck! It was a combination of excellent brakes, training and a biker’s 6th sense that saved her.
I ride by a simple rule that was taught to me in the 1960s when I was undertaking a class with the RAC/ACU motorcycle riding scheme and it has lasted me well for over 50 years. Its all about giving safe space in front of one just like the minimum of the 2 second rule but easier to use and comply with
When in towns or riding on main roads I ride to the lamp post rule. Lamp posts in the main are set at regular distances in order to give a regular amount of lighting on the roads. Just a very few are not the same as they have to take into account junctions and vehicles entries to property but in the main, some 99% of them are the same distance apart.
Around town I stay at least one lamp post behind any other vehicle and further still if that vehicle is a bus or other larger one. If one is too close like in a traffic queue I do not ride any closer than the full stopping distances as recommended in the H.C.
The DVSA Handbook on essential skills is wrong to advise us to move closer, much closer to the vehicle in front whilst in traffic, to what is called the Thinking Distance only. That means a difference at 30 mph of being only 30 ft behind the vehicle in front when the safer distance by the DVSA at that speed is recommended to be 98 ft.[ 30 metres away ] A big difference there and really too close. If that vehicle in front comes to an unexpected and immediate halt and you gave the thinking distance only then by the time you have thought about braking and reacted to do so, you will have already hit the vehicle in the rear at 30 mph
So forget all the nonsense of being only the Thinking distance apart as to my mind this advice is the cause of about 70% of all traffic collisions either what we call a mere rear end shunt or indeed many of the collisions at junctions [ called smidsys ]caused by vehicle being too close together and not being seen and then unable to stop when another vehicle drives into their path.
On main roads out of town again there are these things called lamp posts and again they are a certain distance apart so at speeds up to 40 mph again keep at LEAST one lamp post apart and at a higher speed of 50 mph give one and a half lamp posts or safer still give two lamp posts. At 60 mph give two lamp posts apart and by driving under those circumstances if anything un towards happens ahead of one one will be able to brake to a stop and negate any danger to oneself.
On some country roads they don’t have lamp posts but if one regularly drives to that safer distance one becomes more and more used to being able to keep that safer distance at all times.
However what they have on country roads is telegraph or telephone poles and apart from on bends where they are slightly closer together on the straights they are again situated at a certain distance apart. If one give at least one telegraph pole apart then one will be almost giving the safe stopping distance at 60 mph so try it and give at least the distance between one telegraph pole between yourself and any other vehicle in front.
Those simple distances using lamp posts and telegraph poles will help keep keep you safe at most times for emergency braking as required.
In Advanced riding we civilians are instructed that if we cannot immediately overtake a vehicle then we should pull back to a safe distance and I presume that to be the safer stopping distances as in the H.C. However if one still wants to overtake then advanced riders are advised to then ride closer to the vehicle one wishes to overtake and to tail that vehicle at about a one second interval in order to ascertain if an overtake is on.
This advice now disregards the fundamental rules of safety of never ever sacrificing safety for the sake of any other consideration, of being unable to stop in the distance seen to be clear and on ones own side of the road and also the 2 second rule.It goes on to say that If after moving to the wrong side of the road to establish the safety or not of an overtake if one is not on then one return to that closer position, following closely and then try again.
This positions of being only one second behind another vehicle and that could be a HGV or other large vehicle a caravan, transit van etc is tantamount to committing the offence of Tailgating. It is not only an offence but it is one of the most dangerous situations and positions that a motorcyclist in particular can place themselves in and I would recommend that this position be scrapped as it encourages and enables civilians to overtake unnecessarily in most instances.
It seems to be a pre requirement that in order to be an advanced rider that pressure is applied to civilians to show that they can overtake and in some instances that one mus at all time overtake anything in front and on the road. By placing themselves in this insidious position they are in fact e not only endangering their lives but the lives of all other road users as well.
Bob, I have to agree on the overtaking comments you make and the emphasis being made on overtaking for Advanced riding. I was marked down a bit on my IAM Advanced test a few years ago for missing some overtaking ‘opportunities’. I still passed, mainly because, as I neared the end of the test I knew that if I did not make a couple of decent overtakes I would probably fail. As such I made those overtakes, safely enough but nonetheless I probably would not have made those under ‘normal’ riding conditions, I was making decent enough progress and I didn’t really see the need to do it. There is a great deal of emphasis on ‘making progress’ in Advanced riding, which I understand as nobody wants to ride or drive along at a snail’s pace or indeed follow someone going at that pace when it isn’t necessary but I agree that one should not be pressured into travelling at an uncomfortable speed or making overtakes when they are not really necessary. I get that the Advanced test is to show that you can do what’s required and you can make progress and I have passed both car and motorcycle Advanced tests but I can say that I don’t always ride and drive the same way in ‘real’ life. All that said the IAM Advanced riding course is a great thing to do (at a very reasonable cost) in terms of increasing awareness on the road and using generally the same system of riding as Police Roadcraft. I would recommend it to everyone as a great learning process although as I said you may need to do a few things on the test that you perhaps would not normally do.
Thanks Simon but if the advice on overtaking makes riders commit to a more dangerous situation such as Tailgating we are just advocating that dangerous manoeuvre all the time
Every year, lets say some 10.000 drivers and riders are trained to just do what you say you consider dangerous and it puts lives at risk.
Surely when the original publication of the police’s own manual in the 1930’s there were less than 2 million vehicles on the road and the vast majority of them were actually motorcycles and with no speed limits out of towns . The chance of having to overtake would have been minimal and probably only a horse and cart or a little tractor out of town. Now we have nearly 50 million vehicles that we may meet and feel a need to overtake in sight, so the circumstances are very different nowadays.
I do the lamp post rule also.
Been riding super bikes for 30years now and this mostly gives me time to stop with doing a stoppy.
Very sound advice. It doesn’t matter who has right of way as the motorcycle rider is more vulnerable. Make yourself seen and ride safe.
I have ridden in formation, the staggered one for years until one day when out with mates and riding in formation. The guy directly in front or me ie in the same road position that being position 3 came of his bike as his chain snapped and he went flying. He was still hold of his bike by one b hand but he slid side by side for a good distance and actually filled our carriageway with himself and his bike,.
However that was the problem for the guy following him who was in position no 1 to his nearside as he was following more closely in the stagger unlike as one would in the straight line and the safer stopping distance but less than half of that which would be normal for such a stagger.
His problem now was where do I go ?and he could’t make the offside carriageways doe to oncoming vehicle he couldn’t stop in time as he had too little space to stop in so he unintentionally ploughed into the bike in front and he himself came off also. On seeing the first fall off I had plenty of time to emergency brake and stopped without hitting anything at all.
So I don’t use the staggered position anymore. I like being tail end charley and pick my own positioning on the road and the distance that I can give to those in front of me.
Great to read and recap.
Why are so many cars driving around in broad daylight with their lights on ALL the time? I understood that EU rules compelled new bike manufacturers to ensure that bikes’ headlights were on permanently to increase their conspicuity.
That conspicuity is negated if car drivers switch theirs on. My car lights are OFF until I deem it necessary to put them on.
My FZ1-N lights are ON whenever the ignition is on; there is no light switch.
EEC rules also required the showing of what are now called driving lights on all cars manufactured after a certain date. So we have to comply with that also. However the fault is that such lights are only required to be shown to the front and the rear does’t have to show lights and so in darker weather or in rain etc when we should be showing lights front and back drivers are unaware that they have no rear lights illuminated and that causes a loss of visibility of them by others to their vehicle without rear lights when they should by law be showing some.
Exactly what my IAM training taught me. Sound advice I wish every biker followed this. I’m always looking at other bikers considering their options in their current situation and thinking how they could be safer.
Thankyou so much for this article.
Very good advice. A couple of points I am mentioning that as a 75 years young motorcyclist, as the saying goes, I have been around the block a bit and ridden in many countries on different (legal) sides of the road. Also, as an ex coach driver with 49 lives to be responsible for I always look as far ahead as possible and most definitely leave as much stopping distance as is practicable. Also, just because a driver waiting to pull out at a junction looks you straight in the eyes don’t think that it registers that he has seen you, assume everyone has not seen you and even with that assumption I have had some close shaves especially in the wet when our ability to stop quickly is limited and even making allowances for that fact. 99% of the motorcycles I have ridden have not had abs so how I have survived is to cover the front brake with two fingers which I have refrained from using in another way on many occasions and using the back brake even though it is only 20% of our stopping power until it skids lift off and reapply immediately maybe the same happens but you do not know how much pressure to apply until it locks and then it’s only a split second before you reapply. I hope that may help. Safe motorcycling to all.
When riding in traffic and on unfamiliar roads I tuck in at a safe braking distance behind a car van etc so that they reach the side roads first and if anyone pulls out or across in front of them then they’re gunna get hit first and not me. Once the road opens up ahead then I can safely make my move if I want too.
I’ve been knocked off my bike before by car drivers pulling out and across me even when wearing hi viz clothing and displaying headlights. When I was learning to ride my bike a traffic cop gave me the best advice and he said “ Ride your Bike like every one round you is trying to kill you “. He was right
EXCELLENT tips and advice coming from experience. This really needs to be more widely distributed and read but as usual the guys who really NEED to know this often are those that dont read cos they are convinced that they know better!!
How can you guys get this into schools and rider training classes as a poster and or give away leaflet. PLEASE.
As you well know bikes are also purchased by folks that just want to show off. Hence alot of the danger.
Really valuable advice, please take it; it will save your life one day.