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Riding Safe - on the road

Forty-five motorcyclists have been killed on Northern Territory roads in the past 10 years – another 685 were seriously injured during that period. If it wasn’t for Blake Wilson wearing the appropriate protective clothing and following the road rules, he could’ve become another fatality statistic. Here’s his story.

“I can’t remember the crash at all,” 24-year-old Darwin resident Blake Wilson says. “I have no memory of the hour leading up to the crash due to a head injury I suffered.” Blake recounts what the police told him about the crash in 2017 that completely changed his life.

The licenced electrician, with a passion for rock climbing, was riding his motorcycle through Palmerston when suddenly a drunk pedestrian stepped in front of his bike. Blake swerved to try and avoid the person, but they still collided. Tragically the pedestrian was killed, and Blake was flung in the air, landing 13m from his bike. He was rushed to hospital suffering from a bleed on the brain, broken bones, several skin abrasions and nerve damage. Following the crash, Blake endured numerous operations in Darwin and Queensland during a 13-month period.

“When I landed, my collarbone was pushed in and tore the artery and nerves,” Blake says.

“My arm was essentially paralysed from the shoulder down, so about two years after the accident, I chose to have it amputated because it was basically a dead weight.”

As a result of the crash, Blake has changed careers, replaced his car because he cannot drive a manual and is no longer able to rock climb.

“It's also the little things, like having trouble tying my shoelaces with one hand,” Blake says.

So, what’s causing motorcycle crashes on our roads? A study published last year by the Centre for Automotive Safety Research (CASR) at the University of Adelaide found riders had a higher risk of serious injury if they crashed, compared to occupants of other types of vehicles.

The study, which compared motorcycle crashes to other vehicle collisions resulting in hospitalisations, discovered that motorcyclists were most likely to be involved in single-vehicle crashes where they’d rolled over, left the road or hit an animal.  

Most crashes occurred on the weekend, during the day, on winding roads.

Tips for riding safe

Prepare.

Before you jump on your bike and ride off into the sunset, there are a few things you should do. First, check your bike is in working order. Do a quick walk around your machine looking for any fluid leaks.

Check your tyres for wear and ensure your foot pegs aren’t loose. Lastly, make sure your lights and indicators are working.

Next, make sure you’re wearing the correct protective gear. You’ve probably seen a few people riding motorcycles in a t-shirt, shorts and thongs. This can be extremely dangerous. If you fall off, there’s nothing protecting you from the asphalt below.

Alarmingly, without the correct protective clothing, a person sliding on bitumen in a crash can lose about 1mm of flesh for every 2km/h they’re travelling over 40km/h.

Sliding in a crash can even scrape away bone. To protect yourself, wear a jacket, gloves and boots that have high motorcycle clothing assessment program (MotoCAP) star-ratings. While it may not be as fashionable as black, choose brightly coloured clothing, or wear a hi-vis vest, so other road users can see you.

Blake says wearing the appropriate protective clothing saved his life.

“When I bought my first motorbike for about two grand, I spent just as much on safety equipment,” Blake says.

“Gloves are so important because the first thing you do when you come off your bike, depending on how you’re flying, is stick your hands out. If you don’t have gloves on, you’re not going to have much hand left after taking a slide.”

You’ll also want to check the weather conditions while you’re riding and make sure they’re favourable for cruising. Wet weather can create hazards that might not exist when the sun is shining.

You’re going to get wet, but so is the road. This can make it harder for your tyres to grip. If it hasn’t rained in a while, you might find that the road is a bit oily.

This is because road surfaces soak up oil and other substances during dry periods.

When it rains, all of this is lifted to the surface by the water, creating dangerous and slippery conditions for riders.

 

Ride to the Conditions.

Knowing your bike and how it handles in certain conditions will ensure you have a safe ride. If the road’s slippery, reduce your speed, ride in the tracks made by the car in front to gain more traction and look out for oil that often collects in the centre of a lane.

A lot of regional roads have surfaces with potholes, gravel and poor edging.

Be sure to scan the road surface as you ride and adjust your speed or position when necessary.

While we’re highlighting country roads, you’ll want to watch out for wild (and domestic) animals. If you see one, don’t swerve.

Brake firmly and if possible, steer gently around them.

Share the road

All motorists can help keep motorcyclists safe on our roads. Here are a few ways other road users an share the road.

Always check your mirrors and blind spots before changing lanes. While this is an important habit to get into, it’s especially crucial during times when motorcyclists are nearby. They could be lane filtering so stay in the centre of your lane and indicate if you plan on changing lanes.

While we’re on the topic, make sure your music’s not so loud you can’t hear a motorcycle if it comes up alongside your car. You should also avoid wearing headphones while driving for the same reason.

Overtake a motorcycle in the same manner as you would any other vehicle.

Motorcyclists can take up an entire lane, so overtaking them is no different from any other truck or car you encounter on the road.

Make sure you keep a safe distance behind a motorcycle if it’s in front of you.

This is particularly important in poor weather conditions as motorcyclists have a tougher time handling the oil and debris that might be on the road.

Final Word

It’s no doubt that motorcyclists are vulnerable road users. Two motorcyclists have been killed on Territory roads so far this year, and another 15 seriously injured.

Blake was prepared and because of that he survived a life-threatening crash. At the end of our phone conversation, he provided a final bit of advice for anybody riding a motorcycle.

“I always say to people, if you’re doing the right thing and someone else does the wrong thing, you’re going to be in a better position, because you weren’t doing the wrong thing as well,” he says.

“For example, if I was speeding in the same circumstance, I’d be dead. If I was wearing less gear, I might have lost both my arms.”

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