Shop Talk | See No Evil

I’ve got a motorcycle shop-owning buddy who often calls me whenever he’s got some sort of motorcycle-related dilemma on his hands. Normally, his problems concern straightforward mechanical issues, so I generally enjoy our conversations, if only because he helps me exercise some of the gray matter that’s taking up space between my ears.

He called the other day, and got right to it. “What’s the formula for correlating the length of a skid mark to a vehicle’s speed?” Talk about your early-morning brainteasers. Since it’s hardly something I know off the top of my head, I told him to hang on a minute while I looked it up, and casually asked him exactly why he needed such an arcane bit of information. He related the following story.

It seems a pickup truck—operated by a young, relatively inexperienced driver—had backed out of a driveway, directly into the path of an oncoming motorcycle. The rider was unable to stop in time, and struck the truck, with fatal consequences.

According to my buddy, there was a single skid mark about 80 feet long, which indicated the rider had at least enough time to lock one or possibly both wheels before he whacked the truck. The contention from those at the scene was that the motorcycle, a small-bore sport bike, had been traveling quickly—well over the speed limit, in fact—so the rider appeared to bear the bulk of the responsibility for the collision.

That opinion, and that’s all it was, was supported by the fact that the investigating officer hadn’t written the truck driver a ticket. On the other hand, the rider had not been cited either, so apparently, there were mitigating factors, and no determination of fault had yet been decided.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

The question my buddy wanted answered was, how fast the motorcycle was traveling when he locked the wheel(s). I located the formula, and reminded him, that despite what you see on shows like CSI-Ashtabula, accident reconstruction is an exacting process. There are dozens of factors to be considered, so simply measuring the skid marks doesn’t tell you a whole lot other than the approximate speed the vehicle was traveling when the brakes locked, and even that’s subject to several variables. That’s why accident reconstruction experts use adjectives like “approximately” when they’re on the witness stand.

His next question rocked me. He wanted to know, Would I be interested in appearing as an expert witness in the case? I was flattered and said so, but also pointed out that I don’t possess the requisite credentials, nor do I have any experience in accident reconstruction. “Well,” he went on to say, “All I really need you to do is testify the motorcycle was a sport bike and that it in likelihood it was being ridden too fast for conditions”.

Rarely am I at a loss for words, so that last one was something of a red-letter event. “Let me get this straight, you want me to testify against the rider?” “Basically, he said, “my buddy’s kid was driving the pickup and he’s being sued by the rider’s estate. He’s a good friend and I want to help him out.”

I made my decision in less time than it took to type this. “Sorry, but I’m not qualified to do accident reconstruction, or to even make a wild guess as to what happened. Your best bet would be to let the state cops and your buddy’s lawyer handle it.”

He understood and we parted amicably, which should have been the end of it, but in truth the moral implications of the situation have bugged me ever since.

We all know I turned him down because I didn’t want to point fingers at a fellow motorcycle rider; I didn’t give a tinker’s damn whether the guy was speeding, riding drunk, or breaking every law in the book. If he was in the wrong, which hasn’t been proven as I write this, then so be it—he paid the ultimate price, and fortunately no one else got hurt, but the bottom line is there’s no way I was going to help anyone else find him responsible.

The question is, did I make the right decision? Based on my lack of qualifications and the facts in this particular case, absolutely, but what if I’d had the right qualifications, and had been able to prove the rider was at fault?

In that case, don’t I bear a moral responsibility to do just that, and in doing so don’t I protect the greater good, which in this case would have been not only the individual being sued, but to some extent. motorcycling in general?

The question seems cut and dried. Morally, we always have an obligation to do the right thing, even if it leaves a very bad taste in our mouth, and yes, that includes policing our own if need be.

Shop Talk | See No Evil - Motorcycle Cruiser Magazine