3 Oct 2014

But aren’t motorbikes dangerous?

Yawn... I've heard this question so many times it has become an utter bore.

It's true—a motorcyclist is more vulnerable than someone in the air conditioned, acoustically dampened safety cage of their car. But that vulnerability also results in greater alertness and awareness which comes from being directly exposed to the environment.

On a motorbike you are acutely aware of the sights, sounds, smells—and sometimes even tastes—around you, not to mention the uninsulated sensations of being sat almost directly on the frame and engine of the bike. This awareness enables greater anticipation of things to come and helps to build intuition—seeing and hearing with 360 uninhibited degrees of clarity. The small size and high performance of motorcycles means a greater chance of avoiding a crash.

There are roughly 35 million registered vehicles on the roads of our little islands—more than one vehicle for every two people of all ages. A few notable stats—40% of all vehicles are registered to women, just over 50% of all vehicles are diesel powered, and the average fuel consumption of all cars registered in 2012 was 49 mpg (41 mpg US). The UK is a country which appreciates motor vehicles, while at the same time—due to EU regulations or otherwise—is somewhat conscientious of the environment. The US and Canada have some catching up to do with an average consumption of 28 mpg (24 mpg US) in 2013...

Despite the numbers of vehicles and relative density of traffic, we have a somewhat enviable road safety record in the UK—only 1,713 people died in vehicles in 2013, 331 of whom were motorcyclists. On a level playing field this translates to 4.8 deaths per 100,000 population, or roughly 1/3 the fatality rate of the US (13.9 deaths per 100,000 population). Stats from the World Life Expectancy and GOV.uk websites.

The level of danger associated with riding motorbikes is of course linked to the overall level of safety in a given country—but how does it compare on a broader scale? This is where the stats begin to get more interesting—and where they begin to please my mum.

Selection of cause of death Number of deaths in 2013
Heart attack 92,299
Stroke 55,919
Flu 37,348
Lung cancer 35,845
Breast cancer 14,343
Pancreatic cancer 7,954
Diabetes 6,682
Suicide 4,660
Falls 4,450
Diarrhoea 3,081
All road traffic accidents (incl. pedetrians, cyclists etc) 3,073
Skin cancer 2,947
Poisoning 1,805
Drug use 1,247
Alcohol 862
Violence 703
Fires 380
Motorcycling 331

Not all crashes end in tears (Photo: BMW GS Trophy)

Suddenly motorcycling seems a whole lot safer when considering I am 113x more likely to die from something as innocuous as the winter flu—ok, not really. In reality, those dying from flu tend to be the frail/elderly or the very young. And in reality only 2% of the population rides a motorbike (and therefore would be susceptible to dying on one), whereas 100% of the population is potentially susceptible to the flu virus. Still the numbers compare favourable—2% of flu deaths equates to 747 people, or more than double the number of motorcycle deaths.

Nevertheless the stats give an overall sense of the dangers of everyday life—the dangers of riding a motorbike are far down the list. My mum can now sleep better at night.

However, stats are only the beginning—stats mean nothing when you make bad decisions, ride when overly tired, go too fast for the conditions, misread road surfaces and on and on. Riding a motorcycle is about focusing and being responsible for your own life—part of this is wearing appropriate gear (take it from me, I know). Doing away with other distractions. Viewing all other road users as potential killers. Focus and awareness are key to avoid becoming another statistic.

Thoughts? Comments? Let me know below.