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As the clocks go forward and more bikers start venturing out what steps can all road users take to stay safe?

Biker safety this spring

The ‘SMIDSY’ is a term that's all too familiar to bikers. Standing for “Sorry, mate, I didn’t see you”, it often follows incidents where a driver has pulled out into their path. 

As discussed in a recent piece by Victoria Laxton of Transport Research Laboratory, these are “all referred to as 'looked but failed to see' errors and are a common cause of collisions / road traffic incidents.”

Sometimes this results in a minor bump, while on other occasions it can result in a life-changing, catastrophic injuries or deaths. Through our work, we too often see lives shattered by such incidents. In spite of bikers accounting for just 1% of total road traffic, they account for 19% of road user deaths.

Spring is on the horizon and the clocks will be going forward this Sunday. Many bikers will therefore be dusting off their bikes after a winter’s hibernation and venturing out again. With more bikers on our roads, it's even more vital for drivers to take care and 'Think Bike'.

What can be done? 

In my work, I often represent bikers or their families after injuries or deaths caused by collisions at junctions. Even where these bikers have had their lights on, have been riding in the centre of their lane and within the speed limit, drivers will fail to pay sufficient attention when commencing their manoeuvres and will pull out into their path. A moment’s inattention can be life-changing.

To the surprise of many people that I speak to, despite specialising in serious injury cases for over 10 years, I still regularly ride my motorbike; this is in spite of the damage I see all too frequently through my work. I lend my experience as a biker to supporting my clients, but I also learn from their cases and try to anticipate potential incidents.

For example, as I approach junctions, I assume that I haven’t been seen by drivers. I will cover my brakes, reducing the time to respond to any movement by a driver. I will also try to make eye contact with drivers, to try and ensure that I’ve been seen.

When on a straight carriageway and a driver is waiting to join from a side road, I will also try to gently weave in my lane to enhance my visibility. This lateral movement can help draw a driver’s attention to my presence. This reduces the risk of “motion camouflage”, which makes it harder for drivers to see bikers.

When riding in urban environments, I also avoid filtering by vehicles when going past a junction. 

Factor in the position of the sun. When low in the sky, a driver’s vision may be affected by the sun and yet many will still commit to a manoeuvre. I’m particularly cautious when I know that the sun is behind me in these scenarios. 

In addition, I’m a firm advocate for ATGATT – “All the gear, all the time”. Even a low speed slide can cause awful injuries and therefore I do not risk riding without full protective gear.

These are just some of the protective measures that all bikers can take. However, they don't address the common cause of this problem.  As noted in Dr Helman’s article for TRL, some drivers simply fail to look in the right direction, or will broadly do so but fail to take care.

As reflected in last year’s Highway Code update, those who can cause the greatest harm bear the most responsibility for safety on our roads. Bikers are vulnerable road users and driver should take greater care.

What can driver’s do?

There’s a wealth of research on why some drivers may fail to see bikers. However, the common conclusions are strikingly simple – drivers should simply look properly before starting their manoeuvres; not just relying on a quick glance. They should look specifically for bikers and cyclists too, as drivers are more likely to see them when doing so. 

In addition, drivers can:-

  • Continue to watch for bikers and other road users throughout their manoeuvre – not just when they start it. 
  • Particularly in urban environments, but on roads generally, drivers should take care when emerging from side roads into slow moving or stationary traffic. Whilst a gap may have been left for someone to join the road, a driver should not rely on the encouragement of another driver to ensure that it's safe to proceed. Be mindful that an unseen biker may be filtering alongside that traffic. 
  • Take your time – our brains can struggle to judge the speed and distance of bikes. Having seen a bike, take a moment to watch it and assess its position and speed. In doing so, you can better gauge how far away it is and its speed and therefore whether there’s time to complete your manoeuvre. 
  • In addition to taking the time to look carefully, you should also do when your head is stationary – “The simple explanation is that people don’t see clearly when their head or eyes are moving

Supporting people access specialist support and rehabilitation

Where collisions have occurred, people require specialist legal advice to help overcome what has happened. This can ensure access to rehabilitation to help overcome injuries. Legal support is also required to assist people in coming to terms with a death and compensating them accordingly.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people and families affected by road collisions at our dedicated road traffic accident claims section.