There has been recent, widespread coverage of a fatal motorcycle accident on the PIE which involved a Ducati motorcycle, an SUV and a goods truck.
While police initially arrested the truck driver for dangerous driving, subsequent in-car camera footage from a vehicle in front shows the real cause of the accident.
Because of the traumatic nature of the incident, we’ll not repost the video here, but we did watch it to analyse just how it all went wrong for the unfortunate rider. Given we posted a news story and tips on lane-splitting earlier this year (which even provoked some interesting reader responses) trying to draw some lessons from this incident seemed even more important.
In synopsis, traffic is going at approximately 50km/h on the PIE. In the right most lane (lane one) is the SUV, while the goods truck is actually in the third lane. In between the two is a van, and there’s a trailing gap of at least five or six car lengths to the camera car, which is in the second lane. The Ducati rider appears, lane-splitting between lanes one and two, but as he passes the SUV on the left, the SUV also initiates its lane-change, imbalancing the rider, who topples off and rolls into the third lane where the lorry hits him.
It’s a tragedy which underlines again, the dangerous nature of commuting (not just motorcycling). It was a confluence of factors that led to the rider falling off his bike: The rider wasn’t riding defensively, the SUV driver probably didn’t check the vehicle’s blind spot before changing lanes. The goods truck driver, on the other hand, could almost have done nothing to change the situation because the rider rolled under his vehicle from the side.
What’s curious about this incident is that it happened at relatively low speed – 50km/h, or roughly half the highway speed limit. At that speed, most accidents are not fatal, or at least partly avoidable.
But what else can we learn from this accident? The footage isn’t high resolution, so we offer here ‘best guess’ analysis of the accident, the better to avoid a similar situation.
1. Never hide in blind spots
Clearly the SUV that changed lane was the primary cause of the accident, but that doesn’t mean the driver is the one chiefly responsible. The rider shouldn’t have been lurking at the rear three-quarters of the vehicle, or even worse, one that had its blinker on and already indicated intention to change lane. Doing so made him much harder to spot. A corollary to this is to wear high visibility clothing and a light-coloured helmet which makes you easier to spot.
2. Heavy traffic = High alertness riding
Any time traffic gets heavy, all of us have to deal with more possibilities and more sensory input, which makes reaction times slower. More vehicles also mean reduced visibility and more chances for collisions, naturally. A rider should scale up his ‘threat radar’ when riding in crowded traffic. What’s defined as heavy traffic? On the highway, if the right lane is totally occupied, no matter the speed, that’s heavy. On any road, if there are cars in front, behind and to the left and right of you, within two car lengths, that’s also heavy traffic. What should you do on ‘high alert’ riding? Scan your field of vision even more than usual (that includes mirrors), cover the brake lever with your fingers at all time, keep speed moderate, stay out of blind spots and if you have to act, do it decisively and quickly.
3. Predict road user behaviour
The SUV moving left into the second lane is classic traffic jam behaviour – at the very least, the driver had the initiative to use his/her turn signal. Sadly not all drivers will, but at car behaviour is actually predictable, within reason. Here, the huge space between the camera car and the van was one that the SUV driver was aiming for. A good point to remember in heavy traffic is that all space is precious and people will want to occupy it – just like in true real estate. So what’s a biker to do? Signal, check your blind spot, monitor the traffic around you.
4. React decisively to road conditions
One tip when lane-splitting is not to exceed the speed of the vehicles around you too much. This wasn’t the case here – in fact the rider took more than a few seconds to pull even with the SUV. We’re guessing he did not expect the SUV to move left when it did. But assuming he/she saw the SUV, the biker had three choices that would have improved the chances of avoiding collision: speed up, slow down, or swerve to the left. It sounds simplistic but it’s true. Better skills would have helped the rider to execute such a move successfully.
5. Cultivate room… and always give yourself an escape route
The key to safe riding (and driving) is to always make yourself room. In Singapore’s traffic conditions, that can be tough, but it’s possible. The most obvious way of doing this is to leave yourself lots of space to the vehicle in front – keep in mind motorcycles have smaller tyres and longer braking distances than cars. But you can also ensure people don’t rear end you by avoiding tail-gaters or simply staying out of their way. Lastly, whenever you’re in a tricky situation or you need to make a maneuver that brings you close to other traffic – during lane-splitting for example – always leave yourself an escape route, be it stopping, speeding up or going left/right.