Ride like you are going to be hit anyway
The ‘no surprise, no accident’ theory rapidly gaining traction with bikers is that you need to ride expecting every other road user to run into you. After seeing a near no-fault accident happen right in front of him, Keven Turner is already on board with the idea.
Yesterday, under the mournful shadow of the Caer Caradoc hillside, I sat and watched with dismay as the driver of a pale blue Hyundai drove straight into a passing cyclist, knocking the elderly rider to the ground and dragging him a not inconsiderable distance before the driver realised her mistake.
The cyclist was badly shaken but otherwise unhurt, which was remarkable given the wallop he’d taken and the Tarmac he’d bounced along.
After various details and a few carefully considered words had been exchanged between the cyclist, the driver and myself, as the sole witness, I returned to the Kawasaki and pondered the incident a while. The driver was at fault, no doubt; she had checked right before exiting the junction but was then so fixated on checking left that she hadn’t bothered to check right again before setting off. She drove away still gazing left, which was sad for the cyclist because he was right in front of her at the time.
The blame lay squarely on the driver’s shoulders and she should have done a lot more than offer a begrudging apology; she had pulled out of a small junction onto an A-road without looking and it would have been strange if she hadn’t hit something – I was only glad it wasn’t me.
Yet, as I sat contemplating the very near disaster, I couldn’t help but marvel at the cyclist’s unquestioning faith in the abilities of his fellow road users. He rode out from an awkward junction right in front of that car, totally convinced that the driver wouldn’t be an idiot and hit him. His mindset was one of total trust in everybody else, which is reassuring in terms of the human spirit but exceptionally dangerous when it comes to travel, no matter what your vehicle.
I learnt to ride in the free-for-all madness of the London rush-hour, where words like ‘trust’ and ‘faith’ carry little weight. It was in that hotbed of ineptitude and inconsideration that I quickly learnt to assume nothing, beyond the fact that everyone was trying to kill me, either intentionally or otherwise, and I rode accordingly. There is no place in the psyche of anyone on two-wheels, whether pedal or petrol powered, for the reassurance that comes from believing everyone will do the right thing. They won’t, and if you think otherwise, you will be very lucky to even crawl away from the scene of the accident.
But this is what my friend on the bicycle assumed moments before he was almost flattened and if the lesson was harsh, it was at least effective. I doubt in future he will take for granted that other road users are going to have his best interests at heart when they clamber into their cars and start jabbering away on their blue-tooth phones.
It’s something we would all do well to remember. I believe firmly that on the whole, motorcyclists are pretty sharp when it comes to safe riding; we have to be, otherwise our numbers would diminish to the point of extinction, like that caterpillar in the Simpsons that’s sexually attracted to fire.
But too often I read about battered riders bemoaning the fact they were clouted like flotsam in a bad surf; there is often an element of the sanctimonious in such complaints, but ‘sanctimonious’ is a long word, and there is little room for it amid more pertinent words like ‘hospital’ and ‘wheelchair’ – you can be in the right all you want, but it won’t stop someone crashing into you – it’s a truism rarely taught in road-awareness classes.
Video: YouTube/Unknown Rider – On this occasion the biker involved was OK and the driver extremely contrite. It doesn’t always happen like this…
Many years ago, when my feet didn’t reach the pedals of my father’s Lotus Elan, he asked me a question which in hindsight has probably saved my life on countless occasions.
“What do you think is the most dangerous part of a car?” – he said.
My little mind went into overdrive as I listed off every component that might in some way prove harmful, and my dad let me carry on and on until, days later, he found me hunched over a Haynes manual, in desperate search of ‘the truth’.
It was at that point he took pity on me and let me into a secret that should sit in bold letters as a sub-title to the Highway Code:
“The most dangerous part of a car,” he said, “is the nut behind the wheel”.
I’ll admit to feeling a little vexed by this at the time; it felt like a ruse; I felt duped. But it was and remains a very valid piece of advice that anyone who takes to the road with fewer wheels than they have limbs should bear in mind.
If you get hit there is no point saying it was someone else’s fault. You must shoulder some of the blame because if you hadn’t been hit the accident wouldn’t have happened. That might sound unfair – crass logic that even Joseph Heller would have frowned upon – and it is indeed very unfair; but ‘fairness’ is another of those words that has no place in the dictionary of the road.
If you want to stay alive, you need to do more than ‘be right’ in terms of the letter of the law, because being right won’t fix your spine. You must ride with a level of anticipation that is practically spiritual; see through the eyes of every driver within a quarter mile of your machine, pre-empt the stupidity, avoid the incident, so you don’t have to complain about it afterwards.
Either that or buy a Hyundai, because the driver of that wasn’t even shaken.
If you are interested in SMIDSY theory, take a look at https://nosurprise.org.uk/, a group of motorcyclists aiming to reduce the number of motorcycle no-fault accidents by shifting the way we think about road safety, through their ‘No Surprise: No Accident’ campaign.