Sunday, 29 August 2010

Motorbike accidents in the media - Part 14

No, I don't know of any 14-cylinder motorbikes, either.

Also: Yes, I know the formatting is a little strange. I don't know why, it's Blogger's fault.

Something strange happened.

Stories dried up.

I'm not sure if I just missed a lot, or if there really was a late-winter lull, or if suddenly they weren't being reported, but August was a barren month for motorbike crash stories.

Then, suddenly, they appeared again.

So hear we go. Again.

I shall begin with a story from the Courier Mail, way back on July 26.

It is called, wait for it:

Motorbike rider killed after hitting 170km/h before slamming into car and crashing through sound barrier on M1 at Ormeau

I have mentioned the CM habit of excessive headlines before, but this is just a joke.

Also: sound barrier? I'm guessing they mean a concrete barrier to prevent houses near the motorway getting all the noise, but the term does have one other meaning. Ambiguous is not good.

The opening paragraph is:

AN allegedly speeding motorcyclist has paid the ultimate price, after slamming into a car then catapulting into sound barriers on the Pacific Motorway at Ormeau last night.

Is this news, or editorialising? Or script-writing perhaps?

Spot the distinction between the headline's "hitting 170km/h" and the opening paragraph's "allegedly speeding". Spot the useless euphemism of "ultimate price". Spot the equally useless verb forms "slamming" and "catapulting".

Rewrite: AN allegedly speeding motorcyclist has died after hitting a car and sound barriers on the Pacific Motorway at Ormeau last night.

See? Says just as much but doesn't waste time, space or punctuation.

Second paragraph: informative and brief.

Third paragraph:

His large high-powered road bike was spotted prior to the crash travelling northbound on the M1 at estimated speeds of between 160 and 170km/h.

This is trash journalism, it really is. If you know what the bike is - put it in. If you don't - leave it out. Saying "large high-powered" not only begs for an "and" or a comma - both of which should be telling you to consider rewriting a news sentence - but is meaningless. A Honda Goldwing is "large high-powered". A BMW K1200LT is "large high-powered". They are also both luxury tourers ridden by wealthy retirees. Come to that, a Range Rover is "large high-powered".

Not only but also, it is possible to hit speeds in excess of 170km/h on bikes that are "small" and, comparatively speaking, "modest powered". In fact, it's more likely on a small bike. Superbikes these days are the size of yesterday's supersports.

My bike is heavier than a sports bike and wasn't super powerful in 1982 when it was launched, but it still has a listed top speed of greater than 200km/h.

Next point: Estimated by whom? Police, who at least have some training, or other motorists, who can't be relied upon to spot bikes at all unless they're speeding, and generally can't judge their own speed let alone someone else's?

That entire sentence can be usefully distilled down to: Other motorists said he was speeding as he headed northbound on the M1.

The final five paragraphs, three of them about the accident and two about the road toll, are brief and to the point. Only the paragraphs dealing with the motorbike are poorly written and should never have been delivered by a competent journalist, let alone passed by a halfway decent editor.

I don't often say this, but that article was rubbish.

Okay. We can trust the ABC not to do that, can't we?

Now if that doesn't grab your attention, I don't know what will.

The gist is that it was off-road, on a farm, and she ran into a cow. The bike and the cow then fell on her and she is alive and being treated for serious head and back injuries.

The first point to make here is that there is no way to write about a cow falling on someone without suppressed laughter. It's just an inherently funny thing to happen, unless it's you or someone you know.

Getting that out of the way: "four-wheel bike". Pedant hat on for a second: A "bike" is from "bicycle" which is from "bi-cycle" which translates as "two wheeled". It's a "quadcycle". Repeat after me: "Quad. Cycle. Quadcycle."


Getting that out of the way, there's nothing I can say to fault this. Not sure how she managed to have a quadcycle fall on her unless she ran up the side of the cow and it flipped, and not sure how she managed to hit it unless she was, to use a technical term, "larking about". 

But the article was brief, to the point, and clear.

Finally, we have one article from the CM again, from August 18:

Motorbike rider dies after losing arm and leg in Bundaberg crash

Strangely, this appeared in the RSS feeds twice, under different headlines. They've done this sort of thing before. Not sure if it's because article publish automatically and somebody then changes the headline, or what the story is.

Unfortunately, the opening paragraph adds exactly two pieces of information and one adverb: "horrific", "died in hospital" and "overnight".

The actual information is in the second paragraph, which gives us where and how, but also gives the bike credit for causing the crash of its own free will.

The rest of the article isn't too bad, with reasonably succinct sentences and a logical flow, although I have issue with this: 

A Department of Community Safety spokesman said the man suffered "traumatic injuries" that included the amputation of an arm and a leg.

If the injuries really did include amputation, the journalist should have rewritten .

I'm intrigued by the comment that speed hasn't been ruled out as a factor but there were "inconsistencies" with that theory, but if it was still under investigation there probably wasn't any more information available at the time.

It's actually a reasonably complete article, and not bad.

At this point in the year the main factors uniting all stories so far have been sloppy or incomplete reporting, and euphemisms. Things like "his bike clipped a guard rail" can be forgiven as standard practice, but "paid the ultimate price" should have been repaid with corporal punishment.

If you want to write like that, go and work for a tabloid.

If you want to comment on the Courier Mail, keep it to yourself.

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