Sorry mate, I didn’t see you: safety tips for bikers in Malta

Rachel Agius has been riding across Malta’s roads for four years and has met her fair share of distracted drivers: here are her must-read tips on how to stay safe

A new motorcycle safety campaign by Transport Malta and the Malta Road Safety Council aims to raise awareness on dangers riders face on the road. In Malta, one of every three who are grievously injured in a traffic accident is a rider according to 2016 data. Together we can change that figure with awareness from both riders and drivers. We spoke to Rachel Agius who has been riding for over four years across Malta's roads. She has seen her fair share of distracted drivers, has a story or two and some must-read tips on how to stay safe on the road.

Do you feel safe Rachel? Or are there days where you’re like, "ajmaa this is so stressful, I’m getting a car"?

I think I feel more safe now than I did, say, two years ago. Having a bit more experience means there are few surprises nowadays when it comes to the batshit crazy maneuvers motorists can pull off.

Of course, I take nothing for granted. I always wear a good full face helmet from a reputable brand, not those glorified bicycle helmets some (usually older) riders wear. Those are called brain buckets, because that’s what the paramedics will use to scoop your brain matter off the tarmac when you fall. Sturdy, closed shoes are also non-negotiable, as are long jeans, in any weather.

I share a car with my partner and make use of it when it’s particularly bad weather. That said, after a few days driving a car, I’m usually itching to get back out there on two wheels. Maltese traffic is insane.

I bet you have a story or two...

There was one driver in a large commercial box van, who I had the misfortune of following for a kilometer or two. In the space of five minutes, he completely disregarded three stop signs, drove at oncoming traffic in the wrong lane and swung dangerously wide when taking a turn – I’m pretty sure I saw the wheels on one side lift briefly off the ground.

People driving the wrong way up one-way roads are common, as are people who open their car doors without looking first. I’ve also seen people completely lose it at other drivers. I remember being stopped at a red light and watching two drivers, stopped at the same lights but facing the other direction, nearly come to blows. That altercation ended when one guy reached into his car and emerged with what looked like a bicycle chain and the other fella decided he wasn’t really that annoyed after all.

So you’ve been put in some dangerous situations haven’t you? 

Really, the best advice is to stay calm. Operating a motorcycle relies on doing a series of things correctly, at the right time and in the right order. Much like a car in that sense, although most people don’t realize how complex that is unless they stop to think about it. If you panic, you run the risk of losing control of your bike, stopping when you should be moving or going too fast when you need to be going slower. In some cases, braking suddenly is the worst thing you can do – I’ve been in situations where quick acceleration was what got me out of a sticky spot – and a clear head is needed when making those split-second decisions.

They always say with accidents it’s not the motorcyclist but rather the distracted driver you need to watch out for who is busy texting or speeding. What should riders look out for when they’re on the road?

An American motorcycle safety study in the 1980s, the Hurt Report, remains a pretty good indicator of the causes of accidents today. The large majority (two-thirds) of accidents are caused by motorists who do not notice motorcycles. In the UK, they actually have an acronym for it – SMIDSY (Sorry Mate, I Didn’t See You).

Motorists need to be more attentive on the road, for everyone’s sake. No messing with your phone, applying your make-up or eating your breakfast. Check your mirrors regularly and keep to the inside of your lane so riders don’t have to take unnecessary risks when overtaking.

Another piece of advice would be to be aware of your environment. When visibility is low, stay extra careful. Our road surfaces are far from ideal, even in bone dry weather, so the rider you meet that is going a little more slowly is just trying not to eat tarmac. Don’t ride up his tail pipe.

Mostly though, it’s people on their phones. This is truly the bane of any motorcycle rider. And once you’ve seen a few of these imbeciles, you can start to recognize driver-on-the-phone behavior from afar. Not reacting well to changes in traffic, the slight weave and overcorrection, leaving too much space between their car and the next vehicle – these are all hallmarks of someone who is distracted. We can tell when you’re playing Candy Crush, buddy.

But of course there are some undeniable benefits of being a motorcyclist like whizzing around traffic, saving on petrol, easily finding parking...

Riding has made me appreciate how much time people waste sitting in traffic, contributing to pollution and being completely unproductive. I realize that our public transport system needs work and alternative transportation and remote working hasn’t really taken off, but why is that? Because no one raises enough of a stink about it. They just get back into their car and spend an hour in traffic each day. Madness.

My bike is cheap to run and a well taken care of motorcycle does not depreciate as quickly as a car, so it retains more resale potential. Repairs are also much cheaper than a car and a whole host of YouTube videos exist to guide anyone who wants to do their own work.

With a top box, I can do all the errands I need to, short of the monthly grocery shopping. Most parking garages allow motorcycles to park for free or at a tiny cost. Malta is relatively safe for parking your bike outdoors too, so getting to even the busiest events is nearly stress-free.

The only downside is other motorists.

What do you want Maltese drivers to know from a motorcyclist’s perspective to keep our roads safer for everyone?

I’m not trying to rub it in your face that I don’t have to sit in traffic, I’m just trying to get to work. When you move towards the outer side of the lane to block my progress down the centre, you’re just being an asshole.

Motorcycles can in fact park in white car spaces. Most of us don’t, because there are often other places we can park, but we can. If this bothers you, remember that car drivers generally think nothing of parking in MC parking bays. Share and share alike.

Look before you turn, keep an eye on your mirrors and please, put down your phone. I have a family and I would like to get home safely to them.

Rachel’s Safety Tips:

1. Assume that all vehicle drivers are a) drunk and b) out to get you. Act accordingly.

2. Invest in quality safety gear – helmet, jacket and gloves should be the minimum

3. Keep your bike in good order. Regular servicing and a daily pre-ride check will keep your machine in good order and you safe

4. Need advice or support? There is a huge rider community online willing to help.

5. Road paint is extra slippery when wet. Don’t brake hard on gravel

Eyes on the road for riders: raising awareness on dangers on the road

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