by Alf Gasparro
Founder of HELI BIKES – Motorcycle Safety Initiative
UK Air Ambulance Pilot
Whilst working at the forefront of prehospital emergency medicine for many years on UK air ambulances, I have responded to hundreds of motorcycle accidents dealing with the full spectrum of injuries, fatalities and causes.
A few realisations gained prominence quite early on in my career and those still remain to this day as I continue to attend regular motorcycle incidents, along with the rest of the emergency services all over the globe!
1. The overwhelming majority of motorcycle collisions or losses of control would and should be completely avoidable!
2. The causation factors and reasons for accidents and injuries repeat themselves and remain unaddressed!
3. There is a black hole of untapped information that could be gained from accident scenes and there continues to be an ineffective method of disseminating that information throughout the riding population!
4. There is a systematic failure in how riders are trained & tested, how accidents are investigated, how accident cause information is derived and how authorities & safety agencies develop strategies to tackle accident & injury rates!
5. There is a general notion, that somewhere & somehow we’ve got this wrong and we’re not really addressing the real problems and whilst that continues then these accidents will continue regardless of any past or current interventions!
At virtually every accident scene, regardless of the vehicle involved there are usually some truths:
1. There was a lack of expectation and appreciation of a potential and developing hazard!
2. There was a general overestimation of personal riding & driving capability.
3. There was an under performance in evading the hazard or dealing with the emergency!
4. There wasn’t an appreciation of a worst case scenario and there was a lack of preparation for that eventuality.
5. There was a misunderstanding or lack of knowledge concerning the limitations of human performance!
The questions we should be asking are…WHY?
1. Why do these accidents happen and why do they repeat themselves all over the world?
2. Why are we not addressing the real causes?
3. Why are some strategies cumbersome and removed from real world scenarios?
4. Why do we not have a theory to pin practical & cost efficient training, testing & investigative solutions to?
5. Why is there continued misunderstanding of root causes of accidents and a failure of safety strategies to address them?
6. Why have we been so motorcycle egocentric when trying to find safety solutions, when other industries may have solutions and systems that are useable, applicable and adaptable to the motorcycle safety issue!
In consideration of riding motorcycles, there is a learnt set of skills and there is an applicable knowledge. Certainly, riding is not to everyone’s taste or capability, however in itself it is not an unsafe act. Motorcycles are ridden at all times in all places and the overwhelming majority of journeys are accident free, but that does not mean they are free of incident or that there is not a potential for an incident or accident to occur.
My personal impression of motorcycle accidents is that any of these could occur to any rider at anytime, however the number of incidents can be dramatically reduced & accidents avoided by having a greater awareness of hazard factors, human performance limitations and a greater focus on basic skill sets, emergency reactions and importantly hazard avoidance. However, we also need good analysis of when things go wrong, why they happened and what can we do to prevent this happening again…and how we disseminate this information and educate the riding population.
This model has been used in other industries for many years, such as within the aviation industry which I have a background in. This is not to say that accidents and incidents never occur in aviation, however the incidents are dramatically reduced because of the model of applying technical & human performance knowledge to initial & recurrent training. By placing focus on initial & recurrent training & testing and preparing & training for emergency situations within a workable framework, the number of incidents & accidents are prevented. Where there are occasions where things go wrong, then this is investigated fully and vitally the immediate cause is not only investigated, but also the lead up factors too. The error chain can be quite long and can be traced back a few years and there concludes a chain of events or errors…a domino (or sometimes referred to as a cascade) effect that ultimately led to the accident.
However the other vital component here is the feedback into the aviation system that helps to develop targeted countermeasures and prevent future and repeat causes. The information derived from accident causes is then disseminated openly and thoroughly with the aviation community. But it doesn’t stop there! There is within ‘the system’ to allow for ‘near miss’ incidents to be reported and to learn lessons from them too. So although there isn’t a full proof system, there is the capability to address issues and train for the future within a structure thus enabling an evolving system.
When there is a deviation from the prescribed or best practice approach for a given situation, then this is addressed with greater focus on information, training and attitudinal approach.
You don’t have to have an accident…when you are prepared, recurrently trained, hazard expectant and are fully aware of the physical and mental limitations that we are all prone to. We have an opportunity to be wise beyond our years and we can be trained from an entrance level to avoid these types incidents and situations.
When we apply no surprise-no accident, we have a workable framework to illustrate & highlight supportive research, we can use the theory to develop training & testing systems and we can also produce targeted solutions to specific issues. The theory works and the practical application functions at all levels, in all systems and will assist authorities & safety strategists to develop future models that are successful in further disciplines.
This is why I have confidence in developing & promoting the ‘No Surprise-No Accident campaign as it is the best solution that addresses the real issues & factors that I have dealt with at the road side of countless motorcycle accidents.