Why bikers make better car drivers than the rest of us

Data shows bikers safer on two wheels and four, says insurance chief

Good to go: David Newman (centre) and Jonathan Rea, 2015 World Superbike Champion, in the Kawasaki team strip, with a volunteer from the Blood Bike Leinster charity

Good to go: David Newman (centre) and Jonathan Rea, 2015 World Superbike Champion, in the Kawasaki team strip, with a volunteer from the Blood Bike Leinster charity

 

I bet you’ve been guilty of it at some point, that under-the- breath mutter of “lunatic” when some high-revving Yamaha or Honda whizzes past. All bikers are nutters, right?

No, they’re not really. The reason that bike “appeared out of nowhere” is that, as car drivers, we’re generally awful at paying attention to what we’re doing and what’s around us.

Bikers, by contrast, can’t be like that. On a motorbike, on the road, you have to pay full attention every second of the time, anticipating the grip of the tarmac, watching for blundering drivers and careless buses, and all the while knowing that a single lapse could have you somersaulting over the nearest hedge.

According to David Newman, chief executive of the insurance company Carole Nash, we could all do with being more like bikers, as it would dramatically improve safety on our roads.

“We’ve not only done research on this, but we’ve got data from both Ireland and the UK, where we’ve been in business for more than 30 years. We have proven beyond doubt that, based on the actual claims experience, motorcyclists are safer on the road, not only on two wheels but on four wheels as well,” Newman says.

More forgiving

“Our experience is that bikers are not likely to cause accidents: in the vast majority of accidents there is no fault with the biker; it’s usually the car driver who hasn’t seen them who has hit them.

“But then also when they get behind the wheel of a car that translates into being a better driver. We have some specific products in the UK where discounts are given for car insurance on that basis for bikers.”

Given that insurers generally treat Irish drivers and riders somewhat patronisingly, it’s refreshing to hear an insurance chief executive speak with such obvious affection for and understanding of his customers.

Insurance in Ireland is generally about seething rage over ever-rising premiums, against a background of insurers blaming poor driving. Carole Nash’s experience – it has been in the Irish market since 1999 – is a bit different.

Community-focused

“Biking is very community- focused; lots of bikers speak to each other, and we came in 17 years ago with a specific offer – price being very important within that – and we researched what bikers wanted.

“And so pretty much as standard we have full Irish and European breakdown cover and home start, legal expenses, and then things that are specifically important to bikers, such as pre-agreed values, salvage retention rights and up to 15 per cent off the premium if they’re recognised club members.

“That has allowed us to give bikers what they want, and in fairness our business is very profitable, not only for us because we’re the brokers – so we don’t carry the risk or pay the claims, but we do the servicing of both; we have underwriters – but it’s a profitable book of business. It works for our customers, in that they’ve got a very full offer which they asked for, and it works for us as a business, in that we can continue to invest back in the product in supporting motorcycle communities here.”

That commitment is being shown in an expansion of Carole Nash’s business here. The company has just opened new offices on Foley Street in Dublin, and even though it already covers more than half of all Irish bikers it’s looking to expand further.

“The market for bikes is growing” says Newman. “The market for new motorbike registrations between 2014 and 2015 in Ireland was up 30 per cent, which is one of the biggest growth areas in the world. There is strong growth and great heritage, and that’s very much something we try to be active in. For example, we’re title sponsors of the RDS bike show and of other shows around the country.

“And then there are things like the old Kells Road Race, which lost a sponsor and didn’t happen for a few years. They came to us and we got involved – and are now sponsoring that. It’s a traditional road race, and one that lots of people get involved, with a real biking community spirit. It’s a race that a lot of young racers cut their teeth on before moving up to other, bigger races, like the Isle of Man TT.

“So there really is a very strong biking community here, and what’s particularly relevant today is that the World Superbikes champion, Jonathan Rea, who we’ve sponsored for the past four years, he’s opening our new office and he’s a local lad, so there’s a great success story here.”

Classic-car cover

“We’ve done it with classic cars. Very often classic and vintage bike owners will own classic cars as well. They may even have a small collection, so we’re very keen to arrange insurance for that. We’ve put quite a lot behind trying to expand our market share in classic cars, so we’d like to see more of that.

“We haven’t actually launched anything yet, but we do continually look at and ask customers whether there is demand for having something like what we do in the UK , a ‘six-wheeled’ policy, which is for a bike and a car. We are actively looking at whether that would work over here.”

Baffled

“I can only assume that it’s based on the underwriting experience, but I have to say that it surprises me because in the UK that isn’t the experience. Older cars and older drivers going with them do tend to be good risks. There must be something that the underwriters are seeing.”

Perhaps it’s time we all started doing a bit of biking.