File Photo: Kwanele Mboso / INLSA

Cape Town - The Motorcycle Safety Institute of South Africa’s annual accident statistics report, released on Tuesday, makes sobering reading.

According to emergency medical services and traffic authorities there were 641 motorcycle crashes resulting in medical or law enforcement intervention in South Africa during 2017 - that’s 12 a week, or almost two a day - resulting in 520 injuries and 166 fatalities.

Of the 641 crashes, 163 were single-vehicle incidents. The other 478 were knockdowns - but not all the riders were knocked down by cars; according to traffic authorities, 14 motorcyclists were brought down by pedestrians.

What is even more disturbing is that preliminary findings indicate the primary cause of 77 percent (494) of motorcycle crashes was rider error. Discounting the 163 single-vehicle crashes, this indicates that 331 out of 478 crashes where another vehicle or a pedestrian was involved, were caused by rider error.

That’s a figure most riders would dispute, but it does underline the fact that no matter who’s at fault, it’s always the biker that gets hurt or killed.

Women riders are safer  

The institute’s Hein Jonker reports that of the 686 casualties, 56 (8.2 percent) were female; since approximately 10 percent of South African motorcyclists are female, the inference can be drawn that women are marginally safer riders than men.

Jonker also found that 43 percent of crashes involved sports bikes, which does not infer that sports machines - or their riders - are any more crash-prone than other types of motorcycles, since sports bikes make up about the same percentage of the total number of motorcycles on South African roads.

More meaningful is that the majority of crashes (496 or 77 percent) occurred during daylight; for most riders, biking is a leisure activity that happens mostly during the day. And even more so is that 405 (63 percent) occurred on urban roads, against 112 (17 percent) on freeways and 121 (19 percent) on rural roads - which should finally bury the old chestnut that speed kills.

It doesn’t; excessive speed for ambient conditions is what kills - specifically in crowded, slow-moving city streets.

Involvement of alcohol not defined

The MSI report does not attempt to quantify the role that alcohol plays in motorcycle accidents, since the necessary reports from blood testing of accident casualties are many, many months in arrears, but Jonker makes the point that drinking alcohol, even in legal quantities, impairs both judgement and motor skills, both of which are essential for survivability on two wheels.

Jonker also makes the point that anger is almost as deadly as alcohol on two wheels, once again impairing both judgement and motor skills.

Ultimately, he says, your safety is your responsibility. If you ride sober and cool, you are less likely to become a statistic - and if you wear All The Gear, All The Time, you are less likely to be injured or killed if you do crash.

Each of these three conditions is a choice that you, and nobody else, can make - and if you don’t want to learn from these scary numbers, Jonker says, maybe you shouldn’t be riding.