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What it's Like to Crash a Motorcycle

“Damn it. John Burns thinks I’m a dick.”
That was one of the predominant thoughts going through my head as I slid down a Florida highway at 60 mph back in March.
It’s weird how the mind works. Time slows in a crash. Every tiny image burns into memory, so your brain can replay it over and over and over at night for the next who knows how many weeks.
In the moments before I crashed, I was riding the Harley-Davidson Street Rod along County Road 34 in central Florida. I’m not sure which county. The accident report simply records it as “County Code 61,” but the internet can’t agree on which county that is. Maybe I was in Indian River County; maybe I was in Suwannee County; maybe I was in Flagler County; I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter; I was somewhere. The road passing through that somewhere was long and straight – not the sort of place where one usually crashes – and the weather was perfect.

“My God, I am so happy,” I was thinking. “I am so incredibly lucky to be here – to live t…

Study confirms what a lot of us already knew

This makes him a better driver.
I took my UK driver's exam on 26 June this year -- about two months after I had earned my motorcycle license. I realise I haven't ever told that story, so I've put it in italics below. But the important thing to take away from the experience is that I passed the driving exam without fault. That is not an exaggeration, I mean it literally: I was not marked down for one single thing.

And as I sat in the car, feeling a wave of relief at having passed, waiting for the examiner to finish the paperwork, he said offhandedly: "Of course, that's what I would expect from a motorcyclist. They make much better drivers."

Certainly that's a sentiment that many motorcyclists like to hold about themselves. Our fragility on the road forces us to compensate with extra awareness and caution, and that helps develop and improve the skills we use when we're behind a wheel. Before I earned my UK license I had been driving for some 21 years, but I can honestly say my driving was improved as a result of my riding a motorcycle.

And it turns out this is not just something we think. There is statistical evidence to back it up. A study has shown that, in the UK, at least, motorcyclists are 23-percent "better" at driving a car.

There's something to throw at the "murder-cycle" goofs.

Of course, one of the logical explanations for this statistic in the UK is that our licensing is so stringent. Getting my motorcycle license was a long and exhausting process, with almost all of my training taking place on the road, amid the zip and unpredictability of traffic. And because a motorcycle license and a driver's license are completely different things in this country, it means that anyone who has both will have had to go through a very similar examination process twice. Of course that person is going to be a better driver.

But I'm willing to bet that the same finding would be true in the United States. Perhaps not to the same extent as in the UK, but still a large enough percentage of "better" drivers to help prove motorcycling's benefit.

Training in the UK is extensive.
What do you think? Does riding make you a better driver?

__________

It took me seven years to get my driver's license in this country.

That is to say, it took me seven years to finally get around to getting my driver's license in this country. When I moved here, I had a license from the United States, which is valid in the UK for 12 months from one's arrival date in the country. Applying a loose interpretation of the law, I decided this meant that if I took at least one trip out of the country a year I would not have to go through the tedium and red tape of getting a UK license. 

I kept this up for five years, until I got stopped by a police officer. After a very long discussion, the police officer eventually conceded to my point of view, but the experience put the fear in Jenn. The rule of my life in Her Majesty's United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is that I must always be a Very Good Boy. Because even relatively minor brushes with the law could result in my being shipped out of the country.

True, the sordid tale of Abu Hamza al-Masri suggests I would actually have to do quite a lot to be kicked out of Britain, but, hey, best not to push my luck. Certainly that was Jenn's view. She didn't like the idea of her partner being sent packing because of his laziness over a driving test, so she started lobbying for me to finally jump through the DVLA hoops and get a UK license.

The idea cooled, however, a few months after that, when we decided to get rid of our car because of the exorbitant cost. Why get a license when you haven't got a car? And that's how things stayed until about a year ago when this whole motorcycle obsession became too much to hide.

If you are reading this in places other than the UK, the rules about motorcycle licensing are probably similar to those of my beloved and adopted home state of Minnesota. There, according to the state's Department of Public Safety, you must have a valid driver's license to apply for a motorcycle endorsement. In other words, in order to be licensed on two wheels you must first be licensed on four.

Not so in this part of the world. Here, although it is generally the case that a motorcyclist will be licensed to drive a car, it isn't required. So, when I decided I wanted to ride a motorcycle, it was at that particular license I focused my attention.

Jenn was initially resistant to the whole motorcycle thing but soon realised how important it is to me and became supportive. Part of her requirement in allowing me to spend loads of money for training and testing, though, was that I also finally get my UK driver's license.

Comments

  1. Chris,
    After Road Pickling since the spring of this year, and only riding my motorcycle for all of those months, I recently returned to San Diego. Highway left his pick up at my nieces' house when we left, so we both drove it just a little when we arrived. There's a fun, albeit short, canyon road that is heavily traveled near my old home. I rode it many times on my V*Star Gracie and enjoyed it immensely, but the day came that I had to drive the pick up truck through the canyon.

    To my surprise I handled the truck better than I ever have. I felt keenly aware, more relaxed and more adept at driving. Keep in mind, I had sold my Mercedes sportscar to buy my first motorcycle and I've always loved driving, especially fast. I haven't had an accident in over 25 years, so I felt I was a fair driver. But now I feel like a safe driver. There's a big difference. And I'm sure it comes from being on two wheels.

    Smooches,
    Sash
    www.SashMouth.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes, motorcycle training made me a better driver. In fact, the MSF instructor mentioned that in the intro to the class: lots of people had said doing the training had made them better drivers overall.

    I think most of the lessons learned on a specific vehicle can be applied to other vehicles as well.

    For example, I know there have been a couple of instances where my Dad's experience snowmobiling saved his bacon in a car in the winter.

    By the way, congrats on getting your UK driver's license!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hubby is a motorcycle safety instructor and he has always stated that motorcyclists make better drivers. They are more aware of their surroundings and are looking 20 seconds ahead anticipating other drivers.

    Here in Oregon you have to have a driver's license before you can get a motorcycle license. We figure that is because the Team Oregon Motorcycle classes don't teach the rules of the road, street signs, etc.

    Congrats on both your m/c and driver's licenses.

    ReplyDelete

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