Safety Advice for Motorcyclists and their Pillion Passengers

This personal story and advice article was written especially for RoadDriver by a courageous and beautiful young woman - Georgia Bennett. Georgia suffered appalling life threatening injuries as a motorcycle pillion passenger following an accident between the motorcycle which was being driven by her boyfriend and a car where the driver failed to see them travelling through an island junction.  

My story - On the 19th of August 2012 aged 19 my world was turned upside down. Me and boyfriend Joss had spent the day at the Safari Park before heading back to his and then traveling to my house.

We had spent the day traveling on his motorbike as always with him riding and me as pillion passenger. When we entered the usual island on the way to my house it all went horribly wrong, Joss got in the correct lane and indicated safely to our usual exit. When another driver coming off the dual carriageway failed to stop or slow down and as Joss tried to swerve, hit us.

Joss was thrown to the floor dislocating his collar bone and I was thrown into the air. Somehow the same driver then managed to drive over my body (suspected over my helmet and legs) and drag me a further 10 meters or so before coming to a stop with me trapped beneath the car.

The driver and passengers including a child got out with me trapped underneath. Luckily I remember none of that but became conscious again for a minute or so underneath the car. Another driver was laying on the floor in front of me holding my hand trying to keep me awake, I couldn't converse with him then, but I would love to thank him for that. I could hear myself screaming that I couldn't breathe and I couldn’t move my legs, the only pain I recall was the side of my face on the road and I can remember my mouth was full of blood.

I remember how hot the road felt on my cheek as my helmet had been ripped up, I couldn't stay awake and I was desperate not to die. I lost consciousness again and several ambulances arrived, the fire crew used inflatable bags to lift the car as an air ambulance with a specialist team on board arrived, administered emergency treatment and decided to anaesthetise me on the road. My mum was told I probably wouldn't make it and after being flown to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital major trauma centre in Birmingham, I spent 3 days in a coma and 6 weeks in hospital in intensive care, trauma wards and burns units before coming home to begin a massive road to recovery.

My long list of injuries include - Severely Broken Femur requiring permanent fixture with plates and screws, 7 pelvic breaks including the hip socket, fracture of the sacrum, lumbar 5 spinal fracture, wrist fractures, fractured jaw. Second degree road burns to my shoulder, hip, chest, chin and scalp from being dragged by the car. Resulting in hair removal, surgery and permanent scars. My liver burst and was torn in two places, my lungs were bruised and filled with fluid requiring lung drains. Deviated nasal septum and left nostril torn away and stitched back on.

Full thickness third degree burn to my back from being stuck to the cars exhaust pipe. These required skin grafts and intensive therapy resulting in severe scarring. Almost a year and a half on I have only just moved back upstairs at home and am slowly progressing with my walking with weekly intensive physiotherapy but still use a wheelchair. For 9 months I had to use a commode instead of a toilet and shower at someone else's house who had disabled facilities. My life has been changed by someone else's actions and now I blog about my experience in an attempt to raise awareness of motorbikes and road safety in general.

Pillion tips -

  • Firstly let the rider get on first and don't get on until they've got the bike to somewhere they're ready to leave from.
  • Flip out the pillion pedals before you get on if they aren't already as they're quite difficult to get out once you're up on the seat. If you don't know where they are, ask. You don't want your legs getting in the way when moving.
  • Decide what you want to hold onto. Most bikes have pillion handles either on both sides of your seat or behind you which you can grip or you can wrap your arms around the rider if they are happy for you to do so. Personally I always favour the handles as I feel I can get a better grip but it does mean on a particularly windy day you get pushed back slightly more with acceleration. 
  • When moving, try to lock your arms to stop you swaying around and try not to shift in your seat as it can distract the rider or even put the bike out of balance. 
  • It might be a good idea especially if it is your first time to arrange some sort of code so you are prepared for what is about to happen maybe the rider could tap the pillions leg when about to accelerate hard. If you are going particularly fast and feel you are being pulled back squeeze your legs against the rider. It will keep you more secure and tell them to slow down when possible.
  • A lot of people ask if you should lean with the rider, you should but it should happen quite naturally with the bike. Your back should be at the same angle as the angle of the bike, try to keep your shoulders in line with the riders. If you try not to lean or under lean you may affect the handling of the bike for the rider.
  • Lastly always wear the correct gear. sadly the pillion is usually (not always) worse off if a crash does happen, possibly because the rider is more likely to go with the bike whereas the pillion may be thrown off. That's what happened in our case. A correct fitting helmet is an absolute must, never ever wear a helmet that is too loose or it may come off in a collision, try not to borrow someone else's if at all possible as it may have been dropped and be less effective at doing its job. Motorcycle gloves will stop your hands feeling frozen and protect them greatly if need be. Proper motorcycle trousers and jacket are best but jeans will protect your legs somewhat. Secure boots are a very good idea for protecting your delicate feet and ankles.
  • Lastly if you don't feel comfortable or safe, say something. It is not worth staying silent if something were to happen.

All at RoadDriver would like to send Georgia our very best wishes as she continues along her slow and painful path to full recovery.

Safety Advice for Motorcyclists and their Pillion Passengers 

Tips and Advice - Article No 86 Written by Georgia Bennett for RoadDriver 2014