Tales of the unexpected

Tales of the unexpected

There are two consistent threads which run through cases where I think to myself, ‘the rider could have avoided that crash,’ where as a matter of law the car driver is wholly or largely to blame.

Those two threads are being in an unexpected place or being in a place much more quickly than the car driver expected you to be there. This is not the same as speeding. Drivers, in the main, have no perception of how quickly and nimbly a motorcycle can move. Your bike can move at a rate of acceleration a car driver simply cannot comprehend.

For example: you join the back of a queue of slow moving cars, with a Nissan Micra at the front driving at 25mph. You work your way to the front of the queue and tuck in ahead of the Micra. There is a car ahead of you, on the opposite side of the road waiting to turn right. As you pull away from the head of the queue the car crosses your path. You are there to be seen.

Nevertheless the driver turning right fails to note your presence. You have done nothing wrong. The car driver is wholly to blame as a matter of law, but how did this accident happen? It is because the car driver saw the queue of cars but failed to see your smaller and massively more quickly accelerating motorcycle. Legally the case is a slam dunk.

Another one of the classic collisions I have seen over my 25 years of lawyering is a straightforward win where a motorcycle goes for an overtake of two or more vehicles, and one of the drivers stacked up behind the slower moving vehicle goes for the same overtake, scooping up the lawfully overtaking motorcycle.

Again, this is an easy win in front of most Judges. The leading case on overtaking is Smith v Cribben, which says that a vehicle being overtaken owes a duty to maintain a safe and steady course. A driver moving to his tight and scooping up a motorcyclist who is already overtaking has breached this duty.

Bear in mind personal injury compensation is exactly that – it compensates you for your losses but is not a magic money tree. As somebody who makes his living providing compensation to injured motorcyclists I can tell you the crash is rarely worth the cash. So while the law in the Highway Code will not criticise you for using your acceleration and nimbleness it is wise to consider whether or not your being in a position in the road is unexpected, and if it is likely to be unexpected, be alert to the fact that other road users might do strange and dangerous things in front of you.

It is a matter of well-established science that the human reaction time to an anticipated hazard is three or four times quicker than that to an unanticipated hazard, so if you are going for a multiple overtake have it in mind that one of those cars might well bob out for the same overtake and cause an accident. And while, yes, you will win the case, motorcycle collisions are much better avoided than litigated.

Andrew Dalton

Bike Magazine April 2019

Disclaimer: The legal advice and statements contained within this/these articles is correct at the time of printing. If you are seeking legal advice after a motorbike accident please contact us to speak directly with one of our lawyers.


  1. Chris DurhamSeptember 7, 2019

    The second incident does worry me. In daylight I use full beam and give a polite bib on the horn a second or so before commencing the manoeuvre. So far so good.

    I do enjoy your blogs, always good food for thought. Looking forward to winning a bike from you. 😊

  2. I call it riding with anticipation. Expect the worse case scenario that the vehicle(s) in front will do the unthinkable and be ready with a plan if it happens. That usually means backing off the throttle, giving a little more braking or distance between you and it etc.

  3. Andrew DaltonSeptember 13, 2019

    I suspect Dave it is more thinking “this could go wrong” and then if it does, not panicking. The human brain reacts about 3 times faster to an anticipated hazard than it does to a surprise hazard. The truth is most accidents are not unthinkable but the law says you do not have to anticipate every bit of stupid or unobservant driving. Like you, as soon as I get a sniff of potential trouble, and the longer you ride, the stronger your senses get, I start reacting by rolling off or repositioning myself. So far, it has saved my sorry hide on more than one occasion. I have backed off innumerable times – most of the time I have not needed to but definitely, I am happier being safe rather than sorry!

    Chris, I do think conservative use of the horn is a good thing. I did a piece for Bike magazine about why a horn pierces the brain in a way day-glow and lights does not. Polite Bib, I am not convinced. It cannot do any harm though and thanks for the kind words.

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Posted by Andrew Dalton. Last modified: February 25, 2019 at 1:31 pm

Andrew Dalton is a highly experienced trial lawyer who delights in taking on difficult and demanding motorcycle cases. He has a tough and relentless litigation style and is utterly focused on getting the best possible outcomes for his clients.

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