Sunday 19th October 2014 – The Crash!!
It started with the ‘reminder’ text on my mobile, that this night was my ‘On Call’ night with Serv(Sussex). I was also in possession of ‘Debbie Bike – RX06’, one of our Charity Fleet Honda Pan Europeans, for the forthcoming week, having only taken it over that day.
The family and I settled down to an evening in front of the tv, for the inevitable Sunday programmes, after having consumed a lovely roast dinner. I stuck to fizzy flavoured water, whilst my wife and daughters washed their meal down with a nice bottle of wine.
A fairly busy day was planned for the following day, so it was off to bed just after 10.30pm, after digesting and debating the evening news. Some sad news from around the world in general, made us realize what a comfortable existence we enjoy here in Sussex.
The inevitable happened, Danny decided I’d slept enough and rang me just after 2am. You know how it is, the phone rings when you’re dead to the world, in your semi-conscious state, you think it’s a dream, but by the time you realize it’s your phone, and try to answer it, it stops ringing. Still, any good controller has this knowledge and will ring again after a minute. So, true enough, the phone goes again, and I answer it, telling Danny I’m awake this time. My run, Danny informed me, was an ‘urgent ish’ Blood consignment to be collected from Godstone and taken to Worthing Hospital.
My rendezvous time was 3.30am. I am also given directions to the new RV point, although this location is known to me. I was surprised I was called out, as it wasn’t raining. Perhaps those sort of conditions are reserved for when Simon is duty controller! To be fair, others had been called out before Danny rang me, so it was the right thing to do.
In order for my wife to get back to sleep and get enough rest before going to work herself later, I drag myself out of bed and take myself off to the bathroom to get ready.
After a quick cup of tea, it’s out into the dark I go! I check the panniers to confirm that there are enough straps and covers for the job ahead (I’d already done this inventory check during the day, so why I did it again?). Again a check of the bikes lights, indicators and brakes and I was ready for the off.
Out of Horsham and onto the A264 and up to join the M23 at Pease Pottage. Traffic conditions were light, and the roads dry. As I was on the Marked Bike, I stayed out in lane 3 (until challenged by faster traffic) and maintained 70 miles per hour, until I reached the contra-flow system where there is a speed restriction of 40 miles per hour. There must have been a couple of flights landed at Gatwick as the M23 northbound traffic was fairly heavy and congestion at the roadworks, although we all kept moving. The roadworks clear before the M23 & M25 junction, and so vehicles picked up pace again. I joined the M25 and travelled the short distance to the first exit to the A22 and onto my RV at the petrol station in Godstone. I arrived at 3.10am, and set off the censor controlled forecourt lights, woke up the all night attendant and parked up to wait for the arrival of my Surrey colleague with the units of blood destined for Worthing Hospital. I prepared the straps and cover for the box and the Surrey rider appeared five minutes later. Once loaded up, and consignment signed for, I was off, at 3.16am. Great I thought, 15 minutes before scheduled time, I could be home by 5.00am, if Worthing Path Lab staff were on the ball. I set off, back southwards along the M23 only to see the overhead information signs tell me that the A27 is closed westbound, so I weigh up the prospect of still going in that direction, and follow the diversion (probably via Shoreham, Lancing and into Worthing that way) or exit at Pease Pottage and make my way to the A24, bypassing Horsham and straight into Worthing. I decide on the latter, and took the A24, a road very familiar to me than the less known diversion route.
I couldn’t believe it, still no rain, and the extra thick touring jacket and textile trousers I had decided to wear, were keeping me nice and warm. It was a pleasant nights ride, very little traffic and unusually for me on these occasions, dry roads (take note Simon!).
At the A24 and A27 roundabout junction, I took the A27 which leads into Worthing along Broadwater Street, after Broadwater Green. Broadwater Street is a commercial area, with retail units either side of the road, which at this point is a single carriageway road with one lane for vehicles travelling in opposite directions. There were a few vehicles parked along the southbound kerbside, but with it being a wide road, caused no restriction or visibility issues. The area is well illuminated by street lights. It is also a road that has a 30 miles per hour speed restriction.
About 150 meters ahead, I saw vehicle movement. A small ‘Mitie’ Transit Connect van was moving away from the nearside kerb and started travelling south, the same direction as me. At this time, the vehicle did not have its lights on. As it was travelling very slow, I was catching up with it, even though I was travelling at 30 miles per hour. I knew there were a set of traffic lights ahead, I was thinking that I would advise him he didn’t have his lights on, if had caught him up by then. As we went around the slight bend in the road, this vehicle was right along the nearside, adjacent to a bus stop. The vehicle was travelling very slow, and as the road widened at this point, I could get a view along it’s offside towards the traffic lights. I positioned my motorcycle to the left of the center white dividing line and prepared to pass the vehicle.
When I was less than 5 meters from the rear offside of this van, it suddenly turned right, across my path. I didn’t see any indication lights come on and I knew that we were going to collide.
In that split second, my first thought was ‘This is going to hurt’, it would just be a degree of ‘How much?’ At the same time, I was steering the bike to the right, in order to minimize the impact. If I could go with him, I would glance off the vehicle, as opposed to colliding head on. The impact was a combination of a sickening crunch and immediate pain. There were bits of plastic and glass fluttering around. My recollection is that it all happened in slow motion, and that the debris was like confetti blowing in the wind. In reality it was a very quick. I remember trying to keep the bike upright, straight after the crash, as the box of blood was still strapped to the rack on the back of the bike. I guess that the damage, and any injuries that I had suffered prevented that, and the bike, and I fell to the ground, with the momentum of our speed sending us skidding across the road. I saw the bike slide away from me, before I flipped over and saw the road surface passing in front of my eyes at a very, very close range ( later inspection of my visor showed just how close). I came to rest against the offside kerb on my back. I was suffering extreme pain to my left chest. I was having difficulty breathing. My left thumb and left foot were very painful. I thought that, at the very least, I had broken some ribs and possibly caused some injuries to my hand and foot.
As I lay there, I thought I ought to ring Danny to advise him of the accident and that the Blood Units had not been delivered. I managed to get my phone out of my trouser pocket. I checked that I could move my legs, arms and back, by wiggling my toes and fingers and that I could move my back and neck. Although I kept my crash helmet on, I rang my wife first (just in case she heard about it from another source) and then rang Danny. I decided to remain lying on the ground (after all I was warm and the road was dry) until he ambulance arrived. I was still having trouble breathing. I think the wind had been knocked out of me by the impact. I recall a member of the public talking to the emergency operator and asking me my name and ‘where did it hurt?!’.
Everything happened very quickly after that, Danny arrived and dealt with the Blood delivery, the ambulance tended to me. I was insistent that they did not cut off my motorcycle kit (even though I was unaware if it had been damaged, or not). They rightly went through the neck examination first and eventually took my crash helmet off. I was placed on a spinal board and carried to the ambulance. I spoke with a number of Police Officers, the first a very nice female officer, who enquired if I needed anyone informing. I spoke with a Traffic Officer who questioned me about the circumstances and with my consent, breathalysed me (which was I passed, thanks to my fizzy flavoured water).
It felt quite strange, trusting my movements to someone else, which included not moving my head in response to questions being asked. I kept getting told off for moving my head. Then being strapped to the trolly – well that’s an experience, especially when you arrive at hospital and they try to lift you off to a static examination bed and they forget the strap that goes across my damaged chest! My scream was a clue that something was amiss!.
I then received first class treatment from the A & E staff at Worthing Hospital, with extensive checks being carried out, including blood tests, X-rays and CT scans. At first, although I was in pain, I was quite buoyant and jovial. However, after I went for my X-rays, I felt very different. I felt very nauseous and really need to have wee. A cardboard bowl and a peepot were produced and I am pleased to say that just the peepot was used! The sick feeling lasted a little while but soon passed and then the pains kicked in! However, the top class care continued and with pain killers being administered, it was bearable. I was grateful that Danny came to the hospital, but I found out it was his birthday that day, and apologized for getting it off to a bad start. Still I made sure he’d remember this one, for all the wrong reasons! Later on, after I told Danny to go home and open his presents, take the children to school and get on with his celebrations, my Step-Daughter arrived, which I found quite emotional.
I have self-analysed the crash and wondered if I should have done anything different? Was there something I missed? Did I misjudge the other driver? Did I lose concentration? Well, somewhere in that incident, one of those answers must be yes, but to which one? I have been riding two wheeled vehicles for 44 years and have undergone some intensive training to gain advanced accreditation. There is an inordinate amount of experience packed into that period of time, and this is the first accident I have had on a motorcycle. I am thankful that it was a relatively low speed accident, not that makes it less likely to have been a serious, or indeed fatal accident. I believe that I did everything that my training, and experience had taught me. I remember that the driver of the vehicle I came into contact with, came over to see me whilst I was lying on the ground, with his head in his hands saying ‘”Sorry mate, I didn’t see you”. I recall saying something like “first, you have to look in order to see me”, but I think it was a bit more colourful than I’ve written here.
We, as motorcyclists are at risk to the driver who doesn’t look before making a change of direction. Would he have done it differently if it hadn’t have been at 4am? Who knows?
I will recover from my injuries, which were relatively minor, but I’m absolutely gutted that a Charity bike has been damaged and is now out of service, possibly ‘written off’.
For those of you who haven’t taken on any further training since passing your test, and although it can’t prevent what happened to me, happening to you, it will help you become more observant and highlight positioning and hazard perception which will help minimize the chance of you being involved in an accident.
Lastly, thank you to everyone, far and wide, Serv and non-Serv who have sent me their best wishes for a speedy recovery, it is much appreciated.