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.