Motorcyclists say they are to blame for most accidents: Views from 2 riders

Ms Cheryl Ong with her motorcycle. A recent survey found that nearly three in four motorcyclists in Singapore have had an accident before, and most admit that the accidents were of their own doing. -- ST PHOTO: CHERYL ONG
Ms Cheryl Ong with her motorcycle. A recent survey found that nearly three in four motorcyclists in Singapore have had an accident before, and most admit that the accidents were of their own doing. -- ST PHOTO: CHERYL ONG

SINGAPORE - A recent survey found that nearly three in four motorcyclists in Singapore have had an accident before, and most admit that the accidents were of their own doing.

Poor judgment calls, from tailgating to cutting off other vehicles, were the leading reason why they lost control of their motorbikes, according to the survey on motorcycle safety commissioned by local automaker Alife Air Automobiles.

But in accidents involving external factors, other vehicles were blamed as the leading culprit, the findings revealed.

Many riders also say that they have experienced aggressive behaviour from other motorists.

Here are two views from two bikers, one past and one present:

Staying safe on a bike doesn't happen by accident, says Cheryl Ong

The biggest danger motorcyclists face on the road, it turns out, is themselves.

A recent Straits Times article reported that a survey found that 71 per cent of riders who have been in an accident blamed themselves. They cited poor judgment calls, tailgating and cutting off other vehicles as some of the things they did wrong.

The survey also found that 73 per cent of motorcyclists have been in an accident.

I consider myself lucky as I fall in the category of riders who have not been in an accident - yet.

In fact, when I was in driving school, my instructors often said that for motorcyclists, it's not a matter of whether an accident would happen, but when it would.

That's not to say I've never had a harrowing encounter in the past three years (and counting) that I've been on a two-wheeler.

Considering the statistics and fatalities, why am I still riding a motorcycle?

A major reason is cost.

A new Class 2A motorcycle costs about $19,000 with insurance. This includes a certificate of entitlement of about $4,000.

A new car is easily 10 times as expensive. Maintenance is also prohibitive, assuming I can find a place to park the car when I'm not using it.

Past public transport hiccups merely served to reinforce my determination to own a vehicle.

The risk of an accident is no less real to me, but I am still riding because I believe most accidents on the road are preventable.

This means taking safety very seriously: Don't treat the road like a racetrack and don't take stupid risks.

Sometimes, it also means perceiving every driver on the road as someone out to get me. This paranoia has saved my skin more than once.

Just on Monday, for instance, a car leaving a carpark came pretty close to hitting me when I was on the road. Fortunately, I saw the vehicle pause at the carpark barrier - and having assumed its driver would turn into my lane even though I had the right of way - I gave myself enough room to brake when he did.

Motorcyclists in the West swear by the abbreviation "ATGATT", or all the gear, all the time.

It's a difficult policy to enforce in humid Singapore; the few riders I've seen wearing a full-face helmet, armoured jacket and pants, riding boots and gloves, tend to be heading for long road trips to Malaysia or the like.

But I put on as much gear as I can - an armoured jacket, long pants, covered shoes, gloves and a full-faced helmet.

Will this be enough to protect me?

Statistically speaking, I'm just as likely to get into a crash as anyone else on the road.

But I believe I can lower my risks of getting into an accident, and even serious injury, by taking responsibility and doing all I can to protect myself if (or when) the unspeakable happens.

Motorcyclists are the underdogs on the road, and a misunderstood bunch, says Stephanie Yeow (right), who offers a few tips for bikers and drivers.

When I read Monday's headline in The Straits Times on a survey which found that 71 per cent of motorcycle accidents are self-inflicted, I was aghast at the suggestion and proceeded to read every word of the story, ready to dispute its findings.

You see, I used to ride a bike many moons ago and while I traded my two wheels for four in 1999, I still identify with motorcyclists and take special care when driving near them.

I remember my riding days fondly. Back in 1994, female bikers were a definite head turner. I was the only female in my class of about 10 learning to ride a motorcycle.

I secretly took lessons behind my mother's back as I knew she was dead set against it. When my cover was eventually blown, I pleaded with her to allow me to continue with my lessons and made her promises I probably couldn't keep just to have my way.

I passed the test on my second attempt and there was no looking back. I pumped all my savings on my first and only bike, the Yamaha TW 200, with its fat and chunky tyres meant for off road and on.

It was my everything. I went everywhere on it, venturing to the far corners of Singapore and discovering new places which I would otherwise never have seen had I depended on public transportation.

Twike - the name I gave it (TW+Bike = Twike) - and I formed a bond. I depended on it for my independence. Even my then-boyfriend (now husband) who rode pillion literally took a back seat as we spent our carefree youth riding around with the wind blowing against our faces. This uninhibited feeling was exhilarating and I often pitied those who would never experience this unique state of heightened senses.

My four years of riding was thankfully accident-free although there were minor incidents of skidding on slippery surfaces when it rained.

Twike helped me land my job as a photographer at ST 19 years ago. I was sent out for a test shoot as part of my interview and took my trusty bike off the main road to an undiscovered part of Choa Chu Kang.

There, I found a middle-aged man operating a temporary drinks stall out of a makeshift wooden shed, catering to lorry drivers and construction workers who were building new projects in the area. The man would throw out empty drink cans in the path of the heavy trucks so that they would naturally be flattened as the vehicles travelled along the dirt road. My pictures from this must have impressed my prospective bosses because I got the job soon after.

I bought a car once I had saved enough, much to my mother's delight. I held on to Twike for awhile after, but hardly used it once I started driving. So with a heavy heart, I sold it.

A part of me wants to go back to riding but it isn't just my decision to make anymore. I have to sacrifice my wants for the sake of my safety and my family's piece of mind. I'm not ruling it out for the distant future, when I foresee that my want may become a need if I can't afford to buy another car.

From the outset, motorcyclists are a disadvantaged lot. Their road footprint is small and they are often inconspicuous specks in the car driver's rear view and side mirrors.

There has always been an unspoken animosity between the car drivers and motorcyclists. The former blame it on the reckless riding habits of the latter but it's probably the envy of seeing them whizzing past during a traffic jam or enjoying all day parking at just 65 cents that really gets their gout.

Motorcyclists see drivers as inconsiderate bullies, lording over them because their cars are bigger and faster. One cannot deny that riders are the underdogs on the road, constantly exposed to external forces beyond their control.

Last year, netizens watched in horror, video footage of a female rider being sideswiped by an impatient lorry driver. She could have sustained far greater injuries than the nasty cuts and bruises she ended up with, but that incident proved yet again how vulnerable motorcyclists are on the roads.

In the past, the motorcycle was seen as the poor man's mode of transportation. It was cheap to buy and maintain, easy to park. Today, the high COE prices have driven people to turn to bikes instead of cars. Luxurious two-wheelers costing no less than $20,000 are a common enough sight and people now ride because of the 'cool' factor. Even so, the motorcycle population has remained stable in the last six years, with the number on the road just shy of 145,000 as at 2013.

Are motorcyclists really to be blamed for the accidents they encounter? According to the survey of about 450 of them, yes. According to the general riding population, probably not.

Riders are an oft misunderstood bunch who would really prefer to own a car if they could afford it.

At the end of the day, the thrills and highs of riding a bike are not worth risking one's life for, especially so if the loss of life was self-inflicted.

I leave you with a few tips I'd like to share with riders and drivers out there. Since I have experience with both types of vehicles, I declare myself qualified to dispense advice.

For the motorcyclist:

1. Always ride in the centre of the lane. Take up the entire lane. You've paid your road tax and have every right to your own space on the road. Don't hover over the lane dividers. Drivers are often annoyed by riders who do this. It is difficult for them to overtake a motorcyclist who lingers on the line. If one rides at the centre of the lane, the driver has no choice but to overtake by moving completely to the next lane.

2. Always have your headlamp turned on. Let others know you are there, Stake your claim on the road. You've paid your road tax. Visibility = awareness.

3. Upgrade your vehicle horn. Most built-in ones toot a small, midget sound. You need a loud, piercing one to make yourself heard.

4. Don't weave in and out between cars. Drivers detest that. It's a very dangerous and aggressive way of riding and gives riders a bad reputation.

For the car driver: Be patient and give way to motorcyclists. According to George Orwell, four legs (wheels) are better than two so you already have the upper hand. Don't live up to the "ugly Singaporean" label on the roads and relish the fact that you are shielded from the elements and won't have to seek shelter under a bridge every time it rains.

Be safe on the roads. Ride and drive defensively. Share our roads equitably because we've all paid our road tax.

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