At this point in the year, the biking community in South Africa takes the opportunity to celebrate Motorcycle Safety Awareness month. It's an important effort to raise awareness of motorcycles with other motorists and for riders to consider and change their riding habits in an effort to reduce motorcycle accidents and deaths on our roads.
Official statistics on licenced vehicles in this country show that motorcycles make-up around three percent of the almost twelve million registered vehicles of all classes. What the statistics don't show is how motorcycle accidents relate as a percentage of total vehicle accidents, but I'm sure that we all know of someone that has had an accident while out riding. What we suspect from available information is that the number is eyewatering and it is climbing as more and more bikes take to the roads in this country.
While motorcycle sales have been declining year-on-year since 2014, COVID has resulted in a sudden growth in the 250cc-and-less market as consumers enjoy greater at-home shopping experiences. Checkers Sixty 60; Dischem, Woolworths, Pick 'n Pay and almost every fast-food joint now deliver your order to your doorstep using a range of delivery riders of whose qualifications and skill leave more questions than answers. add to this the number of new entrants to biking as the price of fuel rises and traffic volumes increase, and it's getting pretty tight out there for bikers. In spite of efforts by the likes of the Motorcycle Safety Institute (MSI), 'driving' schools, MCC's, regional safety initiatives and others to educate, upskill and train this 'new' generation of riders, there are still more riders entering our traffic stream than they can possibly handle. The net result is that accident rates will rise - ironically even as motorists become more aware of bikers in general through increased numbers.
It is easy to point at others and say that 'they' cause the accidents when it is acknowledged that most motorcycle accidents are self-inflicted and don't involve other vehicles. It's about our attitude to other road-users, road and weather conditions and in many cases, our own lack of situational awareness. We all enjoy the feeling of speed and freedom on our bikes, and every one of us has taken more chances than we deserve when we're out enjoying our ride. These 'chances' are legendary in some cases and provide laughter and inspire awe in the pub, but they each represent the thin-edge of the bigger problem.
Accidents happen every day and if statistics are to be believed, they most frequently happen close to home when we tend to relax our guard or on what we believe are familiar roads and routes. And while a large percentage of accidents are mild and embarrassing events that hopefully teach us humility and the need to hone our skills, others are less so. High speed crashes and incidents involving bikers that simply run out of talent are not quite that forgiving and they tend to have lasting results for bikers themselves, their families, friends and the biking community in general.
This past week I was stunned to see a GS rider doing over 140km/h on the N1 in busy traffic while wearing shorts and sandals. No protective gear other than his helmet which would do little to save his life - let alone a major skin graft in the case of an accident caused by an inattentive motorist or his own lack of judgement. And this is not an isolated case at all. Every week we read or hear of a biker that has been killed on the notorious Lanseria route while riders in other parts of the country die on suburban and off-road routes with sickening regularity. And while some involve other vehicles, sadly most are as a result of negligence, poor awareness or simple over-confidence and lack of skill!
So this month, get out there and make every effort to raise awareness of motorcycle safety with your fellow riders, motorists and other road users while objectively evaluating the way that you ride. Get back to basics and make an effort to change how you ride and how you interact with others on the road. Wear the right gear all the time (ATGATT), keep your head on a swivel and enjoy yourself responsibly. Trying to prove you're the next Moto-GP champ on a public road is just not worth it - financial- or longevity-wise, either. The old adage of there not being many old, bold riders is worth remembering every time you get on your bike.
Never forget that you are the airbag in an accident and that not every driver is out to kill you. Oh, and watch-out for that delivery guy wearing his helmet the wrong way around.!