Road Safety News

Heli Bikes founder issues plea to improve bikers’ safety

Friday 27th June 2014

The founder of a motorcycle safety initiative has issued a ‘plea from the heart’ in a bid to reduce casualties among bikers.

Alf Gasparro is flight crew on the air ambulance which is based at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire, which covers Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. He is also founder of the Heli Bikes motorcycle safety initiative.

Mr Gasparro, who has more than 10 years’ experience of dealing with motorcycle casualties while working on helicopter emergency medical services on air ambulances in the UK, formed Heli Bikes in 2011 to promote motorcycle rider awareness and safety.

In a blog titled ‘Can anyone hear me?’ he says: “When anyone has an idea about road safety, one of the hardest things is to get people to listen.

“I have always claimed that any safety campaign, especially a road or motorcycle safety campaign, will not work unless it engages with the target audience.

“If a local government or police policy to improve road and motorcycle safety meant that their strategy was to go out in force, target riders with punitive methods and maintain a dismissive demeanour, then the target audience, i.e., riders will not be engaged, will be resentful of 'interference' from law enforcers and will likely not change their ways, or may only do so temporarily. There would be no winning of 'hearts and minds'.

“The same can be said for riders who wish to improve rider safety, but their main or only strategy is to blame other road users for hazardous situations and ignore the rider-induced ones. This method will gather much support within the biking community, but the target audience - drivers - will not be engaged, will not listen, will be resentful and the message will not get through.

“For anything to have a good chance of being effective in the long term, firstly it has to be factual, it has to be balanced and it has to be directed at the target group - and most importantly the message to that group should make them want to listen and to change behaviours.

“Secondly, anybody (or campaign) must be willing to listen to new ideas and new methods that are not only factual and applicable but are also manageable and practical - not some ideological nonsense dreamt up by a disconnected think tank or group of political players.

“Thirdly, any campaign must know when to call it a day, or change its focus. The message might be right or wrong, but regardless people may just get tired of hearing the same old tune.

“And last, no one can work in isolation and no group can be truly effective on a large scale without cooperation and collective application and support from other groups and agencies.

“We have to engage with our target audience but also with each other and be willing to listen - and act together to truly improve things, improve riding and driving standards and practices and move forward.

“Otherwise we'll be here in a decade and nothing has really changed. There will continue to be high accident rates, more injuries and more fatalities.”


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I think that the point of Duncan's argument is relative to the thread as it originally began and comments made by the originator of this thread. That maybe if the white line had been painted further along the road then it would have not only deterred drivers from overtaking as it would have been against the law but would also have indicated to all the oncoming danger of a bend a little further down the road.

An error chain as first described by the author of this thread. Something that I believe in having ridden motorcycles for many years and seeing for myself how dangerous some local authorities have made our roads.

Legislation may make it an offence to tailgate and many drivers don't understand what tailgating is but unless something is done about it accident will still happen...... even at 20 mph.
Bob Craven, Lancs

Agree (6) | Disagree (0)

"...a person doing an overtake in that situation would be fully compliant with the law" ...yes and possibly dead through his/her own stupidity!

The law 'says' I can walk across the highway, but it's still my responsibilty to do it carefully, as it is everyone else's.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (5) | Disagree (4)

It is you who are saying an overtake is allowable and within the law. Clearly it would not be regardless of the existence or otherwise of dashed lines.
Rod King, 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (3) | Disagree (4)

Our road safety system is overly reliant on the idea that only if the actors within the system are fully compliant with the rules of the system can system safety be guaranteed. As I have illustrated in my example a person could easily take your world view and assume that because the law says an overtake is allowable then it will be OK to do the overtake. What might or might not be approaching from around the corner would be completely unknowable at the time. The only issue in this case is compliance and a person doing an overtake in that situation would be fully compliant with the law. The fact that eventually it might go horribly wrong does not alter the fact that the overtake was performed entirely within the rules.

If no form of overtake was ever going to be possible in that situation then the law allowing overtaking would be in error, not the driver or rider doing the overtaking.
Duncan MacKillop, Stratford on Avon

Agree (2) | Disagree (4)


Taking this definition from the web:
Definition of dangerous driving offences under current UK law: prosecutions must contain the ingredient that your driving is alleged to have fallen far below the standard expected of a competent driver and it would be obvious to a competent driver that the manner of your driving would be dangerous. S 2. Road Traffic Act 1988.

I would suggest that to overtake on a blind bend where the random and unseen presence of an oncoming vehicle would result in a crash would always far below the standard expected of a competent driver.

You seem to suggest that the "legality" is somehow based upon random events that are unconnected with the actions of the driver!
Rod King, 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (3) | Disagree (6)

I think that Duncan was making the point that the overtake was legal as the white line had in fact stopped short of some form of bend and as a result drivers do not necessarily offend against the law but are making wrong judgements based on the fact that the line has stopped.

I agree with your argument and no doubt that Duncan would also agree that just because a line is not there doesn't make it safe to overtake and one should not do so if considered a danger manoeuvere. However, that potential danger could have been avoided if the authorities had extended the white lines further up the road and past this particular bend.
bob craven Lancs

Agree (3) | Disagree (1)

I would be very interested to see the statute that says that such an overtake is illegal. The presence of a broken centre line is an indication that overtakes at that point are entirely legal, but whether they are safe or not is a different matter altogether. The point of my argument is that there are a great many things like the example given just lying in wait to spring a nasty surprise.
Duncan MacKillop, Stratford on Avon

Agree (5) | Disagree (1)

Sorry Duncan but I cannot understand your logic. How can overtaking on a blind corner be a "perfectly legal overtake". Am I missing something?
Rod King, 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (7) | Disagree (4)

I think errors made 'years before' is stretching things a bit! I think we should take most accidents at face value i.e one or more individuals made an error at that time or in the seconds leading up to it and work backwards from there only if there is a strong reason to suspect something else as an underlying, significant factor.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (2) | Disagree (6)

Alf is using a different form of words to describe 'resident pathogens' in the system that are lying in wait to kick in when different sets of circumstances combine. I have a nice example which I call the 'sucker punch' which is when the solid white (no overtaking) lines change into broken lines. There is a particularly good example of this just down the road from me where several miles of solid lines change to broken lines just before a particularly nasty corner. A law abiding driver that has been following a slowcoach for miles sees the opportunity for a perfectly legal overtake and even though he is potentially unsighted due to the upcoming corner attempts the manouvre. If there is a huge crash then nobody would consider that the termination point of the solid line had anything to do with it, yet that would be the resident pathogen that set everything off.

In this example the error chain started many months or years before when the Highway Engineers decided where to make the change between solid and broken lines. The tendency is for people to only ascribe errors to the proximal actors and completely ignore the possibility that the actions of the distal actors were critical to the event. Drilling down further we might find that the Engineers were following a set of rules that did not take into account the possibility of the lethality of various combinations of circumstances.
Duncan MacKillop, Stratford on Avon

Agree (4) | Disagree (3)

Hi Hugh
Well an error chain is related to anything that could develop into a problem and is not noted, ignored or not given the attention or priority it deserves. There are countless examples for every facet of causation factors, but here is just one.

1. You put your vehicle through a service/MOT and although it passed, there was an observation that the brake pads were wearing thin. The advice was to get them changed relatively soon. However, this was ignored, this was not given the priority etc and some time passed. All the while you are driving your vehicle in a normal manner, never demanding high performance from the brakes. Then a situation develops directly in your path requiring an emergency brake but the pads have now worn down further which reduces the braking efficiency to the extent that the stopping distance is increased just enough to not avoid a collision.

The error chain may have started a long time before the MOT. It might be your diligence in checking your vehicle or brake pad thickness, it might be your attitude or lack of appreciation of reduced performance and efficiency or it might be your own training etc. Then weeks before the incident when the observation was made at the MOT, the inspector may not have made it absolutely clear that although it was within legal limits, it should be a priority that the pads are changed. Your attitude towards the observation may mean that you did not consider it to be of immediate importance etc.
Because it was not appreciated and not prioritised, then time passed by and it was not regarded again, until the performance required exceed the performance limit of the pads.

This is an error chain. It may have started years before and the individual elements combined to create a failing in the system and a failing in the individual and of course a failing of the component!

Error chains appear in every incident. It could be that reports of dangerous roads or dangerous surfaces were ignored, it could be that medical conditions were not recognised or ignored, it could be training and testing deficiencies were overlooked.

Whatever the situation, the error was present but was never resolved, thus leading to more errors which ultimately led to the collision.

Probably not the best example, but I hope this helps.
Alf Gasparro - Berkshire

Agree (5) | Disagree (0)

Hello Alf.
I'm afraid I'm puzzled by your reference to the 'error chain' and how what happened weeks before may be relevant - any examples of this? I can't think of a scenario where one may have to delve in to the recent past to work out what happened.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (1) | Disagree (1)

Thanks Hugh.
Of course individuals make errors and are major causes of accidents, however there are error chains that can be traced back in most cases to some time before - sometimes even weeks, however the error chain was not recognised and this culminated in the accident unfolding. This error chain contains the individuals involved at the scene of the accident, the individuals involved preceding and the 'system' also. So usually one individual is rarely totally isolated in culpability, the problem is that in road accidents we rarely look that deep into the root causes.

Thanks Bob.
Absolutely the case. Without funding and without overwhelming enthusiasm from the motorcycling press to discuss these kinds of issues, it has been a slow organic process in promoting HELI BIKES as an information resource. However, it has nonetheless gained recognition among many individuals, groups, clubs both nationally and internationally. Some of course welcome this kind of information and frank discussion, and of course there are many that readily dismiss it also - from within the biking community and outside of it also. But what I have always said is that the information I provide from the coal face of motorcycle accidents does not have to be agreed with, but should be recognised as being based in fact at least. Nobody need agree with me, however if it acts as a catalyst to commence practical motorcycling and rider safety discussions amongst riders and rider groups & press, then it has served a purpose.

But I could not agree more and I question my reach and value of the information on a daily basis, hence one of the reasons I wrote my original blog.

Thanks Dave.
Very kind and I'll endeavour to attend if possible!
Alf Gasparro - Berkshire

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Very interesting and refreshing. Will Alf be attending the National Motorcycle Safety Seminar? If so I'll try to say hello.
Dave Finney, Slough

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Acts of God aside, I've yet to hear of a road accident that wasn't caused by an individual(s). Some are safer than others, so we have to concentrate on the less safe ones. Over the years vehicles and the road environment have been made more forgiving but the standard of their users does not seem to have improved.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (4) | Disagree (2)

Just looked a the Heli (Bikes) website and after all these years of motorcycling and involvement in numerous forums and magazines and papers etc I have only just heard of it. Perhaps that says something of getting a message across - or rather the opposite.
bob craven Lancs

Agree (4) | Disagree (0)

Well said, but hard to put into practice.

Different authorities aim at different audiences and over relatively short periods of time, some of which are annual events, with little new initiatives. Some initiatives seem to go on forever; two spring to mind, 20 is plenty and everything to do with accommodating cyclists, with neverending money being ploughed into both. In winter it's alcohol related. In the summer it's motorcycle related. During term time it's child related. There are many who need to be kept safe and its never ending.

So as I said it's easy to simplify and talk about it but much harder to get it done, and for every initiative there is not just a success or failure effect but at least a willingness or optimism that it will effect upon its target audience.

The Air Ambulance is very well thought of and supported by motorcyclist and that's where they can help by becoming proactive in reducing the carnage on our country roads.
bob craven Lancs

Agree (6) | Disagree (0)

The problem with the bulk of past & current strategies is that any incident never actually calls for the system to be reviewed. It almost always assumes that the incident was caused by the individual rather than the system. In other industries, incidents immediately pose the question...Is the system wrong?, Is the system out dated?, Is the system fit for purpose?

Now the question is what do we regard the 'system' to be? Is it the environment, the individual...or is it much more deep rooted than that?

Is it the way in which we train road what standards are we testing them to. What techniques are we using and what attitudes towards skills & risk are we promoting and embedding? Is it the way in which we regard initial training as sufficient or is there a need for compulsory recurrent training, either by skills or knowledge?

Is it the way we design roads or have to review existing roads layouts, street furniture and verges? Does the design process optimise physiological performances such as vision acuity and does it allow for increased error margins etc?

Does the system provide feedback to the road users...especially when we ask questions of it? Why isn't there an open information stream direct to road users to help them improve knowledge and to evolve as drivers and riders? Are there untapped ideas, methods & resources that could produce viable solutions to existing problems?

Finally, in short, isn't it about time that we look at an individual incident and ask ourselves..."How do we stop this from happening again?"

Because currently we we repeatedly see incidents caused for the same reasons and our only action is to employ blanket policies and coping strategies. Maybe we need to at least entertain the notion that we have been getting it wrong and we need to think again. Or maybe not!
Alf Gasparro - Berkshire

Agree (7) | Disagree (0)

All very well and not much to disagree with, except after countless similar initiatives, campaigns, subtle and not-so- subtle road safety ads, attempts to 'win hearts and minds' with I'm sure some success, there comes a point when the authorities do have to resort to the strategies outlined in paragraph 6 to deal with the die-hards - whether riders or drivers.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (4) | Disagree (9)