My Crash Was Not An Accident

CrashnotaccidentI sincerely appreciate the overwhelming support from my family, friends, and loyal blog readers wishing me well after I reported that I crashed my beloved Harley during my clear-dry-day commute to work on Tuesday, May 31, and broke 3 ribs as a result.

Many of those who reached out to me referred to this unfortunate mishap as an “accident.” Nope, it really was a crash and this is why…

… the cop who responded to the scene and first approached me while I was sprawled in the middle of the highway wrote a very good report about what happened. Upon review of his report, this was a “no-fault crash” … meaning that my motorcycle did not come into contact with another vehicle.

My recollection is that someone moved from the lane to my right to the lane in front of me, closing my usual safe-distance riding gap. At about the same time, traffic suddenly slowed. I referred to that person “cutting me off,” but what that driver did was occupy the lane that I was in and removed the usual safety cushion of stopping distance that I ordinarily have.

2seconddistanceAll bikers are taught to keep at least a two-second gap between yourself and the vehicle in front of you. That is, visually mark the rear of the vehicle in front (such as where it crosses a pavement marking) and count “1-1000, 2-1000”, denoting two seconds. If you pass that imaginary mark before two seconds have passed, you have insufficient stopping distance between you and the vehicle in front of you.

Experienced riders do this naturally and become familiar with the “visual feel” of this important two-second (minimum) gap.

For my riding style, I tend on the over-precautious side. I usually prefer a 3-second gap. But in traffic, even at oh-dark-30 in the morning when I commute, while I personally may try to keep a larger gap, most other cage drivers see a more-than-a-car-length gap as an opportunity to cut in front of me when they perceive that their lane of traffic is moving more slowly than their patience permits.

And that’s what happened last Tuesday. A cage driver “closed my gap” and then suddenly reacted when traffic abruptly slowed. All I remember seeing is stoplights waaaaayyy too close to me.

The police report indicated from witness accounts that I applied both brakes to avoid striking the vehicle in front of me, but then lost control and within milliseconds, the bike fell to my left. Somehow I popped off and was free of the bike. The forward momentum of my body propelled me straight down the road. My riding gear (ballistic nylon jacket, helmet, gloves, chaps, and boots) have a much reduced coefficient of friction compared with cloth or denim jeans or skin — so my body safely encapsulated in the gear — slid down the road.

The police report referred to markings on the road as follows:

Motorcycle: 80 feet from point-of-impact to place of rest.
Operator: 300 feet from point-of-impact (motorcycle) to place of rest.
Probable speed: witness account (driver behind motorcycle operator) at posted speed of 40mph.

But what the police report indicated as to the cause of this crash was “operator error.” No one hit me, and the driver who took up my safety cushion of safe riding distance did not do anything legally wrong.

When cage drivers have overtaken my safe riding space, which happens all the time, I just notch back on the throttle, slow down, and regain my safe distance again. That has happened every day, every time I ride, thousands and thousands of times over my 34 years of motorcycle riding.

This time, though, my reaction to having my gap closed and sudden slow-down meant that I overcorrected, locked up the wheels, lost traction and maneuverability, and went down. Boom. Milliseconds.

This was not an accident. This was a crash. The use of the word “accident” to describe what happened to me promotes the concept that these events are outside of human influence or control. Technically, what happened to me was well within human influence. And I “influenced” my motorcycle incorrectly by locking the brakes and losing control.

I have had a few people suggest that I sue the driver who closed my safe riding gap. Sue for what? What she did was legal, even if not proper and even if her action led to my losing control of my Harley and crashing. I’m not going to sue anyone. I lost control and suffered the consequences.

Suffice it to say, though, that without my ballistic nylon jacket, helmet, smooth leather chaps, gloves, and Chippewa harness boots — the skin on my body would have been shredded and I really could have been in much worse shape than I am.

Life is short: accept the consequences of actions and assume responsibility for same.