Fear of Riding After A Motorcycle Accident
Something disturbing that I deal with regularly are riders who have been in a motorcycle accident, and now are afraid to get back on their bike. It is very difficult to make a non-rider understand what this means, because most people who do not ride motorcycles consider it an unsafe activity to begin with.
Many of the riders I work with ride motorcycles as an important part of their lifestyle. Some retired in order to take long trips. Others choose to ride motorcycles as their main transportation.
I often compare these riders to those who give up riding because they lack confidence in their riding ability. When I hear someone say, “I had a motorcycle once” I almost want to ask them about the experience because of my belief that those riders scared themselves by riding without ever mastering the skills needed to ride safely and with confidence. Frequently, these riders either have a close call, or an accident, because they lack riding skill. Having been sufficiently scared, they give it up.
In this post, I am not talking about those riders, I am talking about good, solid, skillful riders with many years of experience who are suddenly involved in an accident they cannot avoid. By “unavoidable accident”, I refer to those accidents such as a car suddenly crossing the centerline and hitting the motorcycle, or suddenly coming out of a blind driveway.
In these accidents, as a matter of physics, the motorcyclist has no chance to swerve or brake, and no time to avoid the collision. Most of these riders tell me that they did not have time before the crash to be afraid. Others tell me that they had a certain calm knowledge that this was it – they were going to be hit or they were going to crash.
Something that seems to make the experience worse is that commonly, there is a blank moment when the rider does not remember the accident. Usually, this is the result of a head injury, even a minor one. I think the mind works hard later to try to fill in the missing gap. Normally, it cannot ever remember this moment in time.
The rider feels a lot of emotions after an accident, anger being a common one. The worst feeling is the knowledge that the rider was helpless to avoid the accident. Stress is usually caused by something we cannot control or do anything about. Fear is caused by an inability to control or do anything about something that can hurt us.
If you flip a coin 100 times, each time, it is (essentially) just as likely to be heads as it is tails. If you get heads three times in a row the next time it is still just as likely to be heads as tails. If you ride for decades without an accident, it should be just as safe afterwards as it was before (ignoring for a moment the changes in tension and riding behavior caused by the knowledge that you had an accident). Unless your riding changes in some way, it is just as safe to ride after the accident.
Some riders get back on the bike, and after a time return to the confidence level that preceded the accident. Others are never the same. Some never ride again.
I don’t know what makes the difference. Some say that it is important to get back on the bike soon after the accident. Some look at Post Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD) and the treatment given. There are psychologists who work with riders in this situation. There is at least one book on the subject. There are numerous internet posts on the topic.
I know that I see this symptom regularly. I know that some very high mileage, long term riders, never get back on a motorcycle again. I know that some badly injured riders get back on motorcycles and ride many miles. I have yet to see any serious study on the topic.
From my own perspective, I have been riding for a long, long time. It is an important part of me. I have tried any number of sports cars to see if they would provide what I get from riding a motorcycle. They can be fun, but they do not provide the same feel (Incidentally, the best of these was a lightweight Morgan Plus 8, a tiny sports car weighing less than 2,000 pounds, with a v-8 engine.) Only a motorcycle turns by leaning. No car gives you as much open air as a motorcycle. No car gives you that same connection, similar to being on a horse.
It is too bad that I don’t have any answers in this post, just questions. I feel strongly that this is an area where the motorcycle community can share experiences to our mutual benefit. Maybe just talking about it is a partial solution.