What clues are at accident scenes which will truly determine the causes?


Over many years of responding to motorcycle accidents, I have often wondered how much of the cause information and data extracted from scenes is actually made available to the public.

Of course there are general statements & causal factors and accident statistics that are readily available, but do we ever get the specifics of particular motorcycle accidents and how thoroughly are the root causes investigated.

One of the major problems of road collision investigation is that it rarely looks beyond the immediate cause and contributing factors are not given the prominence they may deserve.

What we need to ask is: :What caused the cause?”

In other transport collision investigations there is much more investigation into root causes and this information is generally disseminated through the user groups & industry…such as in aviation, although thankfully other transport modes tend to see much less frequent requirement for investigation and this is probably why they can invest so much more time on each one.

However, within each accident or incident there is undoubtedly a reason and best theory what was the cause or root causes and contributing factors but notably these investigations may offer some guidance how these incidents may be prevented in the future, how training may be modified or how regulations need to change. After each accident or incident, the findings are made available to the industry & regulators and within a short time period there is a process or even a solution to ensure there is a low probability that the same accident will occur due to the same reasons.

If the road transport industry or even the motorcycle wide community had greater information made available from motorcycle accident scenes, be those local, regional & international…then invariably we could provide better illustrations about accident causes…those both physical & psychological. We could invest in more advanced scenario based training models, we could improve public information broadcasts and target safety campaigns…but most importantly we would be able to give riders and drivers more and improved information to assist with increasing prediction performance, hazard recognition, avoidance and evasion techniques.

In essence we could provide riders the tools to be able to evolve at all levels and experiences, improve performances with greater safety and prevent the surprise horizon.

It is said that ‘knowledge is power’ and ‘this phrase is often attributed to Francis Bacon, in his Meditationes Sacrae (1597). Thomas Jefferson used the phrase at least twice:

“this last establishment will probably be within a mile of Charlottesville, and four from Monticello, if the system should be adopted at all by our legislature who meet within a week from this time, my hopes however are kept in check by the ordinary character of our state legislatures, the members of which do not generally possess information enough to percieve the important truths, that knolege is power, that knolege is safety, and that knolege is happiness.” – Thomas Jefferson to George Ticknor, 25 November 1817

“All the states but our own are sensible that knolege is power.”
– Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Cabell, 22 January 1820

Riders need more information to give them the power to make the right decision at the right time…and the ability to be able to review that decision at any point and judge its performance.


4 thoughts on “What clues are at accident scenes which will truly determine the causes?

  1. I hope that the new “naturalistic” studies will add to our knowledge of the “cause of the cause”.

    In these studies, instrumented motorcycles are provided to ordinary riders, who use them for, say, one year, the data downloaded periodically by the experimenters. In the US, one funded by MSF with 100 riders is complete (the laborious data analysis is in progress). Another funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (part of the US Department of Transportation) with 160 riders is just beginning. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute is doing the work on both.

    Instrumentation collects data on vehicle dynamics, control inputs, proximity to objects via radar, and video of rider and surroundings. In the event of a crash or a close call (identified by rider maneuvering and proximity to hazard), it will be possible to look not just at the incident but at events preceding it.

    I may be overly optimistic, but this seems to be an excellent opportunity to learn more about why motorcyclists crash.


    • Hi Dan and thank you for your comment and input.

      Yes, there is certainly valid data that can be derived from these studies which I became aware of some time ago also. My only err of caution is that these studies tend to study the dynamics of motorcycle accidents and it is generally from a small sample group, whereas over a much larger group across varying demographics might yield different results…although of course I concede that this would probably be unworkable and too costly for current times, however as motion analysis systems become more widespread as are starting to be used by some insurance companies with ‘black boxes’ on vehicles then more data might be readily available and accessible.

      Where I fear these studies will fall short are to study the rationale of making control inputs, the attitudes of riding in a particular manner. We will know what decision was made but we will not necessarily know why that decision was made. This is where all information that can be derived is equally valuable but as ‘Oliver Twist’ said…”Please Sir, I want some more”

      I attended a traffic collision today and whilst attending in our medical capacity, we were also joined by collision investigators and traffic collision researchers on scene. Both, rightly so, investigating the cause of the crash but there is a division between collisions or losses of control due to medical reasons and those due to attitudinal approaches, skill & performance deficiencies, environmental & mechanical conditions etc. So we know or rather we can readily interpret what actually happened but the cause may still allude us and certainly the wider public are none the wiser, even when there are general causation trends. This is a field which we can certainly invest some research focus but whether that will ever be applied to accident scenes is another matter.


  2. The Driver/rider may be a little hesitant to provide the real answers to their driving choices and decisions for fear of incriminating themselves.


    • That is the tragedy of the current system Andrew. We need to learn from other people’s mistakes, but if they are hesitant to tell us what they are due to some sanction or other then we will never be able to learn.


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