Wheel alignment

Monday 24 January 2011

Speed doesn't kill, stupidity kills...

The "Speed doesn't kill, stupidity kills" title is deliberately provocative as I disagree with the official "Speed Kills" campaigns.  The police and other sundry bureaucrats in this country periodically run campaigns about speed being the root of all evil when it comes to accidents. Personally, I think the bald statement about speed being a killer is disingenuous and does a disservice in shifting focus away from some other important issues. How fast is too fast?  It clearly depends on prevailing conditions but no doubt some public servants would only be happy if we reverted to having someone walking with a red flag in front of us just like the early days of motoring.  After all, politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy.

Some some road users who drive slowly are an utter menace as are some people who drive quickly - it's all a question of competence.  So what do we mean by competence?  Does the word "experience" mean the same thing? I certainly used to think so.  A short while ago, I received the latest free newsletter from an NZ organisation involved with motorcycle safety. (More on this organisation later).  In the newsletter, there's a piece on some new research at Nottingham University in the UK by researchers in the Engineering and Psychology faculties.  Funded by the Institute for Advanced Motorists (IAM), the research project investigated different rider behaviours, including forward planning, hazard perception and levels of risk taking. A unique approach was designed to find out whether or not riders with advanced training ride differently to novice or experienced riders who don’t have an advanced qualification.

Advanced training, in the context of the study, related to people who had recently (in the last 3 years) completed the Institute of Advanced Motorists, 'Skills for Life' advanced training.  The idea of the research was to explore issues associated with behaviour, skills and attitudes of the different rider groups.

Moving to the findings of the research, the research subjects were novice riders, experienced riders and riders who had taken advanced motorcycle training.  The summary of findings are:

  • Experience on its own does not necessarily make riders safer on the road and in some cases the experienced riders behaved more like the novice riders.
  • Those riders who had taken advanced motorcycle safety training used better road positioning to anticipate and respond to hazards, kept to urban speed limits, and actually made better progress through bends than the other groups of novice and experienced bikers.
"Whilst experience seems to help develop rider skills to an extent, advanced training appears to develop deeper levels of awareness, perception and responsibility," Dr. Alex Stedmon noted, "It also appears to make riders better urban riders and quicker, smoother and safer riders in rural settings."

"This is real cutting edge research and the hazard perception results, in particular, have shown that advanced riders were quicker to identify hazards and had a greater awareness on their responsibility to themselves and other road users," Dr. David Crundall from the School of Psychology added.  "The results indicate that, indeed, the advanced riders had a different mind set to the other groups - especially when we looked at other aspects of the research such as hazard perception skills and interpretations of liability.  We referred back to 'locus of control' theory and used a standard questionnaire to investigate if our rider groups had a fundamentally different mindset from the outset - they didn't (which was good!) but then when we looked at their interpretations of the hazards, we found that the advanced riders placed a greater emphasis on rider responsibility. When we looked back at their riding behaviour from the simulator we found that advanced riders took more defensive road positions that allowed greater views round bends etc. Interestingly, our 'experienced' group (standard riders with at least 3 years full licence and no advanced training) behaved in some respects like advanced riders and in others like novice riders - illustrating that experience (length of time riding) alone does not necessarily make people better riders."

 Our NZ south island bike trip - no room for error here!

As soon as I saw the broad parameters of the research and the preliminary findings last week, it struck a strong personal chord.  Regular readers of this blog will probably remember that I started riding in 1963.  Because of the length of time riding, I was quite comfortable being regarded as an experienced rider.  The concept of being an "Advanced Rider" didn't really register at all because "experienced" and "advanced" meant more or less the same thing to me.  To use the proper description, I was "Unconsciously Incompetent" - didn't know what I didn't know and that being experienced still left knowledge gaps and uncorrected bad habits.

Then along came  Honda Blackbird ownership in the early part of the last decade with its effortless, insane performance.  It exposed my shortcomings rather quickly and to maintain my license and well-being, enrolled for an advanced riding course.  That seminal experience (read ego-damaging) was posted in Memorable Motorcycling Moments .  Since then, I've undertaken other forms of advanced rider/driver training but it was that first one which opened the floodgates to learning.  Although bike handling was part of the course, it was the emphasis on situational awareness which was the real eye-opener..... and a life-saver come to that.  The continuous process of identifying potential hazards and applying actions for mitigating them.  Most of the techniques are quite straightforward but not necessarily intuitive so you need to be shown them and equally importantly; make their use second-nature on every ride.

It's my perception that as motorcyclists are vulnerable road users, they may well be more receptive to all forms of on-going training.  Many courses specialise in bike-handling which is essential but courses which go into Situational Awareness in some depth seem less common, certainly in NZ.   I'll be forever grateful that I found one that did pretty much by accident.

In an earlier post, it was suggested that some of these techniques should be taught at a practical level much earlier in a persons' motorcycle riding or car driving career.  If they were, imagine what that might do for worldwide road accident statistics as opposed to the politicised and largely innefective offerings by authorities in most cases.

Maybe now, the phrase, "Speed doesn't kill, stupidity kills", makes a bit more sense, as does the difference between Novice, Experienced and Advanced Riders.  Food for thought!  How long is it since you've done any formal re-skilling or advanced training?  Nothing like getting a 3rd party to observe your riding for a reality check.  If it's more than 5 years since attending a course, I hope you have the good grace to blush!

Going back to the NZ organisation I get the free newsletter from, it's available to anyone on request.  Published by Allan Kirk at NZ Motorcycle Safety Consultants, simply email Allan at nzmscon@paradise.net.nz and ask to be put on the mailing list.  They also have a website at http://www.megarider.com/  through which various beginner and more advanced training documents are available.  I don't have any connection with NZMSC other than having purchased some of their training material which has been excellent value in initially raising my awareness (emergency braking in particular).  Allan is also very open to discussion about safe riding issues.

"Whoever ceases to be a student has never been a student"
  - George Isles
"Boys Riding Weekend" in Coromandel, NZ 


  1. Hi Geoff, Pretty timely post there, as I have been thinking about my inadeqaute riding ability more and more. I have never had any advanced rider training in my life,(Basic handling only) and apart from reading some info and asking questions from other riders I have been left to my own devices.

    "You never stop learning". is a phase I live by.

    Time to get off my butt and find some decent training I think. Thanks for the kick up the pants, and yes I agree wholeheartldy with the title of your post.

  2. Great post Geoff. I have been telling myself to go and do some rider training since my accident last September....I think its time to now start listening to that advice.

    Love the photo at the end of the boys and their BIG toys!

    Had an interesting ride on gravel yesterday that I didn't really enjoy.....will post the info on the blog tonight.

    Cheers from SUNNY Australia!!! (FINALLY!)

  3. Geoff
    If you want to undergo "Advanced Training" and voluntarily enrol then you are probably 80% there in adopting its principles in terms of frame of mind and attitude.

    I returned to motorcycling after quite a long gap and discovered how difficult it was to ride well. Time had also made me a bigger coward. I still have not figured how to go around corners on my K75.....

    Nikos * meatball * connoisseur

  4. Roger/Anthony/Nikos:

    I think Nikos'comment is pretty accurate. Wanting to improve is a huge step along the way and learning is therefore much easier. "Never stop learning" is absolutely true. Despite having done various advanced courses, I don't feel at all complacent - it just opens the door a crack and lets you see how much there still is to learn!

    Anthony - that photo of the boys and their toys is of some of my fellow 1000-miler mates taken a couple of years or so ago. When we get together for a weekend of riding, BBQing and talking crap, Jennie usually scarpers and stays with a mate to avoid being bored to death! Wise lady :-)

  5. I took an Advance Rider Training course last year taught by Irondad and found it improved my riding immensely. I plan to take an Intermediate course with Trobairitz this year and hope she'll take the Advance course with me next year.

  6. Good for you Troubadour! It's interesting that the mature riders recognise the benefit but it's the testosterone-fuelled young squids who need it most. I won't go on organised group rides in our district because the red mist almost always descends on some young fella and he bins it. Prefer to ride with people I know and trust!

  7. Good post Geoff,
    I'm a big believer in training. Took the basic to learn to ride, and later an advanced class, with plans to take a refresher in the future. It's too easy to miss the important things, and pick up bad habits without training from someone qualified. Told our son to take a class when he wanted to learn to ride as well.

    From your photo it almost looks like New Zealand has nothing but blue or red bikes!

  8. Hi Bluekat!
    Good on you. Given the generally poor standard of car driving (in NZ anyway), anything we can do to keep ourselves from harm has to be good as it's doutful that cage drivers share the same outlook about improving.

    Haha, yep it seems like that. You really don't want to hear what we say about each others'tastes!

  9. Geoff:

    If I lived in a tropical setting such as your photo depicts, I would be content to just sit and stare at those stunning views .

    That road along the water looks delicious, I would love to ride it at half speed to take in all its beauty and perhaps stop for photos along the way. Perhaps I'll just follow behind Nikos

    Wet Coast Scootin

  10. Hi Bob!
    We went hard in one direction and cruised in the other (when we stopped for photos). That road and the surroundings are magnificent. That particular twisty section is about 60km long and runs along Lake Wakatipu between Queenstown and Fairlight. I'm betting that Canajun travelled it when he was visiting!

  11. Very true. In a previous lifetime I ran the advanced rider program here, and there's no doubt my own riding skills improved immeasurably, even through just doing the demonstrations etc. And I KNOW I would benefit from taking the course myself these many years later, but for some reason keep putting it off. Perhaps this summer....

    And I love the line "politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy.". Watch for it in a blog entry coming to you soon. (I have the perfect spot for it.)


  12. Canajun:
    Absolutely... the phrase "Use it or lose it" is never more true. I'm pretty much ok with situational awareness but general handling skills revision is overdue. I'm planning on doing a coached trackday or Californian Superbike School this year to help with that.

    Hahaha - I look forward to seeing it well-used!! It was perfect for the limp-wristed government response to motorcycle accidents in NZ!

  13. Great post. My big training of the summer will probably be taking a sidecar class. They intrigue me and I know they are a very much different ride. I thought I'd find out what I thought about them before I get into it . . . and, because training and safety do go hand in hand.

    I mentioned taking some time off to do this to my supervisor at work who is a sometimes rider. Taking the class will mean traveling at least six hours to get there. He commented that doing this seemed like a lot of bother. I reminded him how different of a ride they were and he said, "Yeah, but wouldn't a little common sense let you figure it out." That didn't sound like much common sense to me. Oh well.


  14. Keith:
    I think "Sometimes Rider" is apt as he clearly doesn't "get it"! Motorcycling is about the journey, not the destination - time is irrelevant. His other problem is that common sense doesn't always let you figure it out because it's not intuitive. Sounds like he he's not a commited rider. Maybe an accident waiting to happen? Good comments there Keith!

  15. Geoff:

    Your article makes a lot of sense. Too bad you don't run for public office and cut through the Red tape.

    I hope the riding hard in one direction was on the way back, as with your backwards riding on the wrong side, the safe side is against the hill. Also before a race you walk the walk first so in the interest of safety you ride the surface first to scan the imperfections and leave one rider behind as a scout. Then when you get to the end of the road you know if there are any police around, and you have also read the road. You phone your scout to get the all clear signal (that no police have passed his checkpoint), then you know the road is truly yours.

    Wet Coast Scootin

  16. Very informative post and yes I do agree that experience doesn't make you a good driver. Being constantly aware of things around you can prove yet to be your best tool in accident prevention.

  17. Thank you Carol. I'm part way through advanced rider training to put my money where my mouth is!

  18. Advanced training seems to enhance riders' awareness and responsibility on the road, making them safer riders. It's not just about experience. Great insights!

    1. Thanks for the comments Graham. I have never regretted my time practicing Police Roadcraft. If you type IAM into the search bar, you'll find plenty of specific detail.

    2. Hi. Only publishing this as "Anonymous" due the rigmarole associated with refreshing passwords etc on my Google account!

      In respect of motorcycle "training" in NZ where do we begin?

      Too little and too limited possibly describe it. The instructors are knowledgeable and passionate BUT they are severely inhibited by the current dominant Ride Forever structure which continues to train as if was 1999...BC! The lack of interest in using modern training technology, especially simulators, and the focus on the wrong rider demographic are quite appalling.

  19. I'd agree that Ride Forever requires sharpening. However, Police Roadcraft training had a massive impact on my riding career and many others of all ages. Available through IAM and now RoSPA with official support. Having recently retired from riding, I'll watch developments with interest


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