Why doesn't conventional advanced training make for safer riders?

Survival Skills Rider Training

Look at just about any advanced rider training and you'll see claims that it makes riders safer. But recent studies should make us all ask if that's correct.   

Just a few kinds of crashes dominate ALL powered two-wheeler crash statistics, but after sixty years of old-school safety - engineering, education and enforcement - each new generation of riders is still forced to discovering that humans make mistakes the hard way.

And rather alarmingly, there's little solid evidence that conventional post-test training actually reduces the risks for the riders who take it.

In a piece penned by David Williams, a freelance journalist, as part of a new series on the Devitt website, he looked at the figures revealed by the IAM themselves during a presentation in spring 2021. It was webcast as part of a RoadSafetyGB series of online seminars aimed at Powered Two Wheeler safety.

I've actually worked with David before, when he was motorcycling correspondent at the Telegraph. And as it happens, he wrote about exactly the same issue I had noted after watching the presentation at the time.

David wrote:

"The research exposed curious anomalies however – and they won’t all be welcomed by advanced training advocates. Drill down into the data and it shows that while advanced riders have fewer collisions per mile once their higher mileage is accounted for, IAM RoadSmart members do not report fewer injury and ‘damage-only’ collisions per respondent. In fact they have ‘similar proportions of collision involvement’ to others. They are also less likely to believe they were at fault, although that’s not much consolation if you’ve been knocked off."

So that's the IAM's OWN DATA... "similar proportions of collision involvement"... "less likely to believe they were at fault."


Why might this be? Why are riders who should be 'safer' riders after post-test training just as much at risk as those who don't have the extra coaching?

I have a couple of ideas.

The first is that conventional training at all levels from CBT to RoSPA focuses on 'correct performance'. We're taught "how it SHOULD be done" rather than much about what can go wrong, and very little about planning to get out of trouble when it DOES go wrong.

Secondly, we come to believe that our skills are keeping us out of trouble when the reality is that serious crashes are pretty rare - there are upwards of 300 fatal bike crashes every year here in the UK, and in excess of 3000 serious injuries.

That sounds pretty horrific - and it should be our goal to get the numbers down...

...but we have to put that in context with 1.2 million riders covering several billion miles every year. The overwhelming majority of riders do NOT have serious crashes.

And so the danger is that we think it's skill keeping us out of trouble after training, when it's actually just statistics.

Put the two together, and it's much easier to see just why it is that crashes and collisions come as a SURPRISE! to most riders.

Crucially, work in other safety-conscious industries such as aviation is increasingly showing us that being caught out is a critical issue - however well trained people are, in ANY field, it's SURPRISE! that derails our trained responses.

Conventional 'skills-based' training hasn't solved these problems. And so, since I launched Survival  Skills in 1997, my approach has always begun at the opposite end.

On our courses, I'll use my extensive experience as a courier (and yes, my personal experience of some crashes) to give you some much-needed insight.

We'll look HOW, WHERE and WHY crashes happen.

We'll investigate WHO causes them - and it's not the the car driver, nearly so often as many of us believe! Many bike crashes - and most of the fatal ones - are rider own goals.

And we'll finish by working out WHAT risk mitigation strategies are open to us and how to look at crashes not as a failure but as a learning opportunity.

In short, I'll show you how to plan for the Worst Case Scenario and why we ALL need Survival Skills!

Not too surprisingly, this approach hasn't found a great deal of favour amongst the rider training groups. But there are other people who think the same way as myself. For example, back in 2012, an new programme to reduce motorcycle accidents was rolled out in Tasmania in response to the high crash rate.

In most places, the solution has always been to roll out more, or more complicated, or more AND more complicated mandatory training, or to promote post-test training. UK and the EU are a good example - just look at the incredibly long-winded and complex path to a full motorcycle licence. The bad news is that there's little concrete evidence the theory test, Module One off-road exercises or the stepped licence system have actually had any effect on bike casualties - we certainly still crash in exactly the same places.

But get this. Infrastructure minister Rene Hidding said:

”It became obvious that people in the industry knew [the process] was wrong.”

The revised curriculum has been built around "educating riders about those five common crash types that we see most often". So in Tasmania they have realised that teaching riders 'perfect skills' isn't the answer. It's not the way forward here either.

WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THE NO SURPRISE? NO ACCIDENT! APPROACH? All Survival Skills courses are based on the need to correctly identify hazards, assess the risk they pose, then employ PRO-ACTIVE risk mitigation strategies that deal with the WORST CASE SCENARIO. Will the car pull out? What will we do about it? Will the bend tighten up? What will we do about it? Will the overtake go wrong? What will we do about it?

We not only need a plan to deal with what we see, but we need a PLAN B to deal with the unexpected. Rather than aiming to 'make progress', we need to look at the road and not see places we could ride quickly, but the places we MUST ride slowly - only when we have decided there are no reasons to keep the speed down should we CONSIDER adding speed. 

Assessing what COULD go wrong rather than what SHOULD go right offers every rider a better-balanced Survival Skills approach to defensive riding.

So if you're looking for a course that will genuinely improve your riding, and push your threat awareness and response to new levels, then why not give me a buzz?