Johannesburg - There’s lots of of good advice available, including on this website, on how to deal with a fender bender, the kind of minor collision in which nothing but pride and paint-jobs are hurt. But there's very little on how to deal with a collision, no matter how minor, between a car and a motorcycle.
That’s because there is no such thing as a minor knockdown; no matter how small the collision, if the motorcycle goes down, there is going to be a lot of damage, and almost always some injury to the rider.
South African roads are among the most dangerous in the world and motorcyclists are especially vulnerable. According to research in the EU and United State going back three decades, about half of all motorcycle crashes are caused by a car driver, so it’s important to know what to do when the unthinkable happens to you.
Nothing can ever prepare you for the shock of a knockdown, but Kirstie Haslam, a partner at DSC Attorneys, has the following advice for riders, particularly as there’s a high risk of injury that could result in loss of income and hefty medical bills:
Get over yourself
Unless you’re too badly hurt to feel anything but pain, your first reaction to being knocked down will probably be one of enormous anger - some half-blind, half-wit cager has just given you the fright of your life and done untold damage to your bike.
Take a couple of deep breaths, wiggle your fingers and toes to make sure everything still works (OK, not everything, but that can wait until later) and get the bike back up on its wheels - the longer it lies on its side the more damage will be done by leaking brake fluid and/or battery acid.
Record as much information about the crash as possible
Everything you can record about the crash will be useful as evidence to support a claim. Try to record details of all vehicles and vehicle owners involved in the collision, and take down the names and contact numbers for any witnesses.
If you don’t have pen and paper, or you’re shaking too badly to write legibly, give the witnesses your cell number and ask them to phone you (don’t answer the call!) and leave a voicemail with their name and contact details.
Also get the name and details of any police or traffic officer attending the scene.
Use your cellphone camera to document the crash. Take pictures of your injuries (gruesome, we know, but very effective in court) the damage to your bike, the scene of the crash and anything else that can be used as evidence to support your claim. Also try to get a clear head-and-shoulders picture of the driver - he may claim later that somebody else was driving.
Get medical attention
Get yourself checked out as soon as possible. If you’re taken to hospital, stay there for as long as the doctor tells you to. You may not think your injuries are serious (you’re a tough biker dude, right?) but it’s important to be able to prove later on that those injuries, and their after-effects, were caused by the knockdown.
Do what the doctor tells you, such as staying off work, avoiding certain tasks and completing your medical treatment. We know how tough you are but, even if the crash wasn’t your fault, you as the victim have a legal obligation not to make the resulting damage any worse.
Get a copy of the police report
This can be a problem: the cops at the station are not allowed to make you a copy - you have to go and stand in a long queue at the archives once the report gets there, which can be several days later. So, once you’ve made your statement and the desk sergeant has stamped it, simply photograph every page of the report with your cellphone, including the details of those involved in the crash, the vehicles involved and their insurance information. It may even contain witness statements and observations made by the attending police officer - make sure you get those as well.
As long as you hold your phone level with the desk, directly over the page, you’ll get a perfectly legible copy of the report when you print the pictures out on A4 paper.
Get a lawyer
Motorcycle accident claims can be complicated; requiring in-depth investigation of your injuries and their long-term effects, as well as exactly how the crash happened. All too often a judge who is not a rider himself will refuse to accept the defendant’s story that he didn’t see the brightly-dressed rider on the brightly-coloured motorcycle, even though it’s perfectly true.
In particular, if you want to claim from the Road Accident Fund, you should contact an attorney who’s had experience of personal injury claims, as soon as possible.
Before you get knocked down
Haslam says riders should also take precautionary measures, such as wearing your protective gear at all times (you can get knocked down just as easily going to the corner cafe for milk) and wearing a fluorescent vest over it. You may look like a geek, but you’ll be a highly visible geek.
If you have a helmet cam or GoPro, make a habit of wearing it or mounting it on the bike and switching it on for every ride.
“Action cameras are a welcome and increasingly used resource by riders,” Haslam said. ”So often the dispute in a knockdown case is about the rider’s visibility and these camera recordings can be vital to resolving such disputes and establishing who was at fault.
“The recording can even be produced in court as evidence to establishing identity and, ultimately, liability.”
The legal advice in this article was provided by Kirstie Haslam at DSC Attorneys. Contact her at 0861 465 879.