Keeping safe on two wheels

They’re cheaper to own, easy to manoeuvre and a breeze to park, but Queenslander’s love of motorcycles has turned dangerous.

Each year, dozens of Queensland families receive the death ‘knock’ no one wants to hear, bringing news that a loved one has been killed while riding a motorcycle.

More than just faceless figures hidden away by leathers and helmets, a total of 37* riders were killed in 2017.

Their deaths made up over 21% of the state’s current road toll.

In 2016, 62 riders were killed in motorcycle crashes, representing almost a quarter of the 254 lives lost on Queensland roads.

The figures reflected a continued increase in motorcyclist fatalities – with a 45.9%  jump recorded in 2015 – but the trend wasn’t exclusive to Queensland.

Glass left on the road after accident

Research from the Australian Automobile Association found 240 riders were killed across Australia in 2016, a 4.8% increase on the 229 killed in 2015.

Queensland Police Service Road Policing Command Inspector Peter Flanders said while the number of riders killed was shocking, it was the age of the riders that was more distressing.

“Ask anyone on the street and they’ll tell you it’s all the young fellas riding around like idiots,” he said.

“But the real picture isn’t that at all.

Mature age riders are the ones who are consistently being killed.

Preliminary data from the Australian Governments Road Deaths Database shows of the 37* Queensland riders killed in 2017, 24* were over 35 years of age and, in 2016, 45 of the 62 killed were aged 35 and older.

Insp. Flanders said police often find young motorcyclists to be the safest riders.

“Statistically, the safest time you can ride throughout your motorcycle career is as a learner,” he said.

“Learner riders tend not to crash as they’re so attentive, they may not have the greatest skills, but 100% of their focus is on riding.

“One of the real dangers is after the rider has held their licence for six months.

“It’s at this point they stop thinking about the mechanics of riding and are more concerned with how good they look while riding.

“The other danger is middle-aged riders getting back onto bikes after a break – they don’t factor in a loss of skill over the years.”

Insp. Flanders said motorists had many misconceptions about the causes of crashes.

If you talk to a group of motorcyclists, it’s always the car drivers at fault.

“But that is simply not the case.

“Yes, a certain percentage of crashes are people not giving way and occasionally alcohol and drugs are present, but it is not a factor in most cases.

“Riders as a community need to put their hands up and say we need to do better, as we are not perceiving the dangers that can lead to a crash early enough.”

The amount of lives lost not only devastates the friends and family of those involved, but also impacts the economy.

The Australian Automobile Association (AAA) found in their 2017 ‘Cost of Road Trauma in Australia’ report that the costs in the form of loss of life and well-being, vehicle damage, and disability care, represented a $29.7 billion drag on the national economy.

The report also found the cost of road crashes to the government in the form lost taxation, income support, and health and emergency services costs equated to a $3.7 billion annual burden upon Australian Government budgets. 

Insp. Flanders said riders must accept the fact that regardless of their speed, if they crash they’re going to get hurt.

“The crash scenes aren’t pretty and often the bike goes one way and the person goes the other and sometimes neither the bike or the person are in one piece,” he said.

“Usually, in lower speed crashes there are significant leg, groin and hip injuries because of the way bikes are built.

“In high-speed crashes, there is massive head trauma – despite helmets being far more advanced and safe, no helmet can save you if you hit your head on the pavement or a tree at 100/kmh.”

Queensland Ambulance Service Officer-in-charge at Canungra Ambulance Harry Beyne, has been a paramedic for over 20 years and said he had attended countless motorcycle crashes.

Riding a motorbike on the road

“I had a case a few years ago where a rider was speeding, lost control of his bike in the wet weather, hit a tree and was thrown off his bike,” he said.

“He had multiple fractures to his lower limbs, chest injuries, a fractured pelvis and a severe head injury.

“He had to be transported to the Princess Alexandra Hospital and his rehabilitation was around nine months.”

Mr Beyne said riders must be aware the injuries they face are far more serious than other motorists.

“Every accident is different in its nature,” he said.

“Riders may collide with a tree and suffer a high amount of blunt trauma and some can suffer from spinal injuries from which they may never recover.

“These crashes can be life-changing and force riders to reassess everything in their lives.”

RACQ Head of Technical and Safety Policy Steve Spalding said the amount of motorcycle deaths on Queensland roads was a concerning trend.

“Even one death on our roads is too many, but to have 37* motorcyclists killed in crashes this year is shocking,” Mr Spalding said.

“Motorcyclists are some of our most vulnerable road users.

They don’t have the same physical protection as motorists, and will always come off second best in a crash with a car.

“This means motorcyclists need to think about how they can best protect themselves on the roads.

“This includes wearing quality safety gear, making sure they’re visible to all road users, and are riding to the conditions.”

Mr Spalding said drivers also needed to play their part in keeping motorcyclists safe.

“We need motorists to think about what they can do to help reduce the number of motorcycle fatalities,” he said.

“It’s about giving space to motorcyclists, checking your blind spots, particularly when changing lanes – a side-swipe into a motorcycle can have deadly consequences for the rider.”

*QPS fatality data extracted September 11, 2017

Image: Thinkstock