x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Older biker accident statistics give wrong impression

In another example of a tiny bit of information being a dangerous thing, an English policeman has denounced motorcycles for killing the Baby Boomer generation.

In another example of a tiny bit of information being a dangerous thing, an English policeman has denounced motorcycles for killing the Baby Boomer generation. Hampshire's chief constable, Alex Marshall, recently told The Portsmouth News: "Mature people riding motorcycles are having accidents and that is something we will be focusing on." What disturbs Marshall is that of the six recent motorcycle fatalities in the southern coastal county "three of those motorcyclists were in their 40s to 60s". Now that might shock those who think our golden years are best left for parcheesi and shuffle board, but it hardly warrants a "Police warn on mid-life crisis motorbike risks" headline. The screaming headline implies, of course, that motorcycling is a young man's pastime and, if we born again bikers are dying while riding, then it must be because we, the ageing, are simply too doddering to ride our steeds safely.

The fact missed by the chief constable and others decrying that "Baby Boomers Are Killing Themselves On Murdercycles" is that the reason older riders are crashing their motorcycles in greater numbers is because it is older riders who are riding motorcycles in greater numbers. The average age of Harley-Davidson riders in the United States was 48 in 2007. That decreased last year by two years, says Harley's vice-president, Bill Davidson. Nonetheless, the median age for a first-time Harley owner is 43, while 20 per cent of Harley owners are 55-plus.

The statistics for the rest of the industry are not much different. According to a survey by the American Motorcycle Industry Council, the median rider age is 41 (in 1985, it was 27, according to the same source). But since the median age for motorcycle-related fatalities is 38, we aged and infirm types are actually under-represented. Indeed, motorcycle riders under 30 are 50 per cent more likely to perish in motorcycle accidents than riders aged over 40.

The In-depth Study of Motorcycle Accidents report for the British Department of Transport in 2004 showed that 16 to 20 years old and 30 to 35 are the peak age ranges for motorcycle accidents. In the UAE, nine motorcyclists were killed on the roads of Abu Dhabi in 2008. There were 196 motorcycle accidents in total, resulting in 25 serious injuries, 92 moderate injuries and 70 minor injuries. Exact figures about the age of motorcycle accident victims were not available but a spokesman for the Abu Dhabi Traffic police said mostly "younger" riders were involved in these crashes. Marcel Bode, the general manager of Harley-Davidson UAE, says the average age of a Harley buyer here is 39. Safety is "absolutely important" to the company, he added.

"All buyers are automatically made members of a Harley-Davidson riders group and made aware of the advanced training that we offer," Bode says. "We have safety officers who organise the training." What is killing riders around the world is not necessarily age but alcohol, lack of training and, in some parts of the United States at least, the repeal of helmet laws. Almost 60 per cent of motorcycle fatalities happen at night and half of the fatalities involve riders failing to negotiate a curve. Alcohol is a major contributing factor to the above because motorcycles, unlike cars, require perfect balance of the operator. Additionally, a study by the American National Highway Traffic Safety Association found that one-third of riders killed in accidents did not have a proper motorcycle operator's permit and that the helmetless were over-represented in fatalities.

That we ageing 'Rubbies' (rich urban bikers) are neither the cause nor the victims of an overly large percentage of motorcycle fatalities does not alter the fact that motorcycling is a sport best enjoyed by the cautious. According to the authors of that 2004 British study, motorcyclists make up less than one per cent of vehicle traffic but riders account for 14 per cent of total deaths and serious injuries on Britain's roads. When the comparison is made according to kilometres driven, the news gets worse (bikers, being seasonal animals, tend to cover fewer kilometres per year), with a motorcyclist 28 times as likely to be killed or seriously injured compared with car drivers for the same number of kilometres driven.

Notwithstanding the erroneous conclusions of the Hampshire chief constable, the advice to motorcyclists remain the same no matter which part of the world you ride in. Don't drink and ride. Wear the best safety equipment you can afford, including a full-coverage helmet, gloves, boots and a jacket. As well, any time you switch motorcycles, give yourself time to acclimatise. So much of safe motorcycle operation is tied to familiarity with the bike's response and controls.

It's also worth noting that the type of bike you ride also seems to affect how you ride. According to the American Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, riders of supersports - those race-replica "crotch rockets" - account for 23 deaths per 10,000 registered vehicles. Just riding the "naked" versions of those same sport bikes seems to make bikers ride more safely as they average 10.7 deaths per 10,000 register motorcycles. But riding a cruiser cuts that statistic again in half, averaging 5.6 deaths per 10,000 in 2005.

It also helps if you're female; in Britain, males are 12 times as likely to have a motorcycle accident, though, according to that same National Travel Survey, they are only seven times as likely as women to make a motorcycle trip. It is also worth noting that, in England at least, large displacement motorcycles (500cc and up) are under-represented in accident statistics, even though they are the largest group by both registration and kilometres travelled. The most over-represented size of bike involved in accidents was the 50cc to 125cc motorcycles, mainly, according to the accident study, because these are the machines "most often used by young, inexperienced and learner drivers".

In the end, however, it's not what you ride, but how you ride. The most important advice for safe motorcycling remains constant; ride as if a calamity awaits you around every corner, and to the paranoid go the spoils. motoring@thenational.ae