Sunday, March 27, 2011

Speeding is not always the reason for a crash

This weekend was not a happy one for the friends and family of a Canberra motorcyclist. He is dead, following an accident on Tharwa Road in rural Canberra.

Canberra Times photo of Police at the scene of the Tharwa Road accident

From the Canberra Times report (my bolding):

"Before 3.30pm, the Evatt man was riding south, when he swerved around a plastic road barrier that closed off the section of Tharwa Road south of the Lanyon Homestead.

The motorcycle then ploughed through a wire fence behind the road barrier, and the man was flung about 4m from his bike.

Emergency services arrived at the scene shortly after, and paramedics attempted to resuscitate and stabilise the man, but he was soon pronounced dead.

Police believe that the motorcyclist was speeding, and said there was adequate signage warning of the road closure."

So the sequence of events leading to this event are:
  • He was traveling along Lanyon Road, 
  • He rode around a 'road closed' sign,
  • He rode around plastic barriers across the road,
  • He collided with the fence across the closed off part of the road, 
  • He was ejected from his motorcycle and died as a result of the injuries sustained upon impact. 
Tragic. I feel very sad for the family and friends of this man.

On the ABC television news last night I watched the report of the accident, and then the Australian Federal Policeman interviewed by the media who attended the accident. The ABC News presenter, goes on to say  that police believe speeding was a factor in the accident. This is also reported in the Canberra Times.

This jump to immediately isolate speed as the cause is a knee jerk response. Its the sort of response given to the media without thought, intended to scare all drivers into driving slower. Does this mean I should travel at 60 km/h on the 80 km/h sections of the Parkway from now on ? I'm not sure.

I am not the coroner, but the information publicly available indicates that the accident was caused by careless driving and inattention. Speed may have been a factor, but not the major, primary or most relevant factor.

One factor which needs to be assessed is the proximity of the 'road closed' signage to the fence across the road, and the location of the signage. Was it easily visible or on a blind corner ? The following stills are from the ABC news report.
 Plastic barriers on corner
 The gate that the deceased rider collided with
Looking back from the gate are, you can see the corner.

The speed limit on that road is 80 100 km/h. If the motorcycle was traveling at the posted limit, and collided with the fence across the road, then the motorcyclist would still have been flung through the air and landed on the ground sustaining injuries.

The same result would have occurred at 60 km/h. I am not a physics expert, but I suspect there may be a speed at which one could ride a motorcycle head on into a fence and NOT be thrown from it, but I suspect its pretty low, perhaps lower than 20 km/h.

To often, speed is blamed as a cause of an accident, when it is merely one of a range of factors responsible - the primary factor being poor decision making by the rider/driver, or inadequate road engineering. I will try and keep track of this case, and see what the coroner concludes.

Update: Google Street View of the accident location.
Update 2: The speed limit is 100 km/h on Tharwa Rd
Update 3: The ABC News report is available online.


  1. As this person is a friend of mine, i went out there to pay my respects. The ROAD CLOSED sign he "rode around" was only about 5 to 7 meters in front of the fence that he hit both just around a VERY blind corner. The Road closed sign and the fence BOTH would have been a shock to him as he rode around that blind corner.

  2. and also if there was adequate signage warning of the road closure. Why did they then put up more since the accident?

  3. Thanks for that comment Anonymous. Im awaiting the coroners report with interest. It seems odd to place a sign on a blind corner. If that is the case, it supports my contention that speed was not the primary factor in this accident.

  4. Yes i fully agree, there was a small sign near the round about and another small sign just down the road from lanyon shops, easily missed if you ask me.

  5. Thankyou D.C. Haas i really appreciate this article

  6. I saw the road closed sign at the roundabout saying Tharwa bridge was closed, I expected it to be at the bridge as its been over the last few years. I only slowed for that corner because there was a car on the side of the road, I was shocked when I saw the barricade and fence around the blind bend. It could have easily been me. Someone has to take some of the responsibility for this, it was an irresponsible place to barricade the road on a blind bend without enough prior signage. Even witches hats before the bend would have assisted. Had a car not been parked there, I would have ploughed through it as well and I wasn't even doing the speed limit. I realised when I was returning, that I had completely missed the road closed sign before the barricade, it obviously wasn't enough for me, or this young man. My heartfelt condolences to the family.

  7. NOTE: I did say "some" not "all" of the responsibility. I accept, I didn't see the signs, but were they adequate? That is my question. I know from experience that they were not adequate, as I am not the only one who failed to see them or understand the closure was around that bend rather than at the bridge itself.

  8. The street view of the accident is wrong, for some unknown reason they have shut the tharwa road off at the homestead, hence the shock of the barricades so soon.

  9. They didn't even drop the speed down to 40 or 60km before the bend to give someone a chance as they would with any normal roadworks, road closures. It should have been at the end of the straight with better visibility. So many things wrong with this setup.

  10. I agree. Speeding is not always the issue. Sometimes it is the environment. It is sad when this happens because innocent people becomes the casualty.

  11. My deepest condolences to the man's family. We will never really know what happened exactly during the accident. I'd suggest to his family to look into The grieving process is a long and painful one but knowing someone is going through the same thing gets it a little less difficult.