A police campaign to crackdown on speeding motorcyclists and and bad riding in East Yorkshire starts again this weekend. Chris Bond reports.
HEADING east along the A166 from York towards the Wolds the landscape stretches out in front of you.
It’s a pleasant drive punctuated by pretty little villages like Fridaythorpe and Wetwang, but as well as the now customary signs welcoming “careful drivers” you might notice the occasional picture of a motorbike accompanied by the words “To Die For?”
At this time of year there aren’t many bikers out on the roads but with Spring just around the corner they will soon be back and the signs are being used to remind people about the dangers of speeding and reckless riding.
This weekend Humberside Police launches Operation Achilles – aimed at cracking down on the scourge of speeding motorcyclists in East Yorkshire and reducing the number of accidents and fatal crashes. The annual operation, run from Driffield, is funded by East Riding Council with the Humberside force providing the vehicles, equipment and manpower.
It’s run by a core team of six specially trained officers led by Inspector Mark Hughes and was started to cut what he calls the “astronomical” level of motorcycle-related accidents and deaths on East Yorkshire’s roads. In 2008 there were 59 people killed or seriously injured, but that figure has now come down to 44.
The operation is carefully planned and focuses on times when bikers are most likely to be out. They target different stretches of roads, usually between two villages, and use a high-powered unmarked bike with a specially fitted camera that records traffic and any speeding or dangerous driving. This is accompanied by a marked police support bike while a third officer is located further up the road to pull over any offending rider.
It can be a difficult job because they have to try and stop motorcyclists, who are often speeding, without putting other road users at risk. “It’s not just a case of chasing people on bikes and we’re not trying to trap people who are just going over the speed limit,” says Insp Hughes.
“Our aim is to stop people doing it which is why we stop them and explain what we’re doing and show them video footage of what they’ve done. Quite often they’re surprised because they don’t normally see it from other people’s perspective.”
It is also about making people aware of bad riding like crossing double white lines or overtaking in dangerous situations.
Some of the roads here including stretches of the A166 and the B1248 have become hotspots for motorcyclists. “They are straight and fast and have some sweeping bends which makes them more like a race track for the sports bikers.”
Casualty reduction officer PC Simon Carlisle says bikers come from as far afield as Nottinghamshire and Lancashire to ride here.
“One of the top biker routes in the country is the B1248 between Beverley and Malton and it’s advertised as that by the motorcycle press,” he says.
The team’s unmarked bike can record speeds up to 130mph, but Insp Hughes says there have been times when bikes have been going even faster. “There’s been get quite a few times where we can’t get their actual speed but we know that they’re going over 130mph, so we’re talking serious speeds.”
It’s the powerful, high- performance bikes that are often the problem. “There are set patterns to when people come out to play. They bring their powerful bikes out on a nice Sunday morning and go for a blast in the countryside and they come to our roads because they’re ideal for that,” he says.
“Because the weather’s been so bad this past year then as soon as you have a weekend that’s bright and sunny they will be out. So from spring onwards it will be every weekend when it’s dry.”
But even if the weather is good there are other hazards. Many of these roads are used by agricultural vehicles and as well as tractors pulling into fields, riders have to watch out for grain spillages and potholes. “If you get a bike going at 100mph and they hit one of these then they could easily come flying off,” says Insp Hughes.
The police say it’s often when you get groups of bikers together that accidents happen. “You get a group, say four or five, and the tail-enders who often aren’t as experienced a rider are trying to keep up and they’re the ones who have an accident.”
PC Graham Pierce, Operation Achilles’ co-ordinator, says over confidence can also be a problem. “One of the groups of riders we have problems with are retired people or those who have reached a certain stage in life and go out and buy a motorbike. They may have had one years ago but now the bikes are different and they perhaps aren’t as good a rider as they think they are.”
Then there are the inexperienced bikers. “We dealt with an offender last year who was doing over 100mph. We stopped him at a spot where a fatality had occurred and it turned out that he’d only had his licence a few weeks and his tyre was splitting in the middle because it was so badly worn. But these are the risks some people are prepared to take.”
When accidents do happen the outcome can be horrific.
“There was an accident on the B1248 involving two bikes going in opposite directions and they collided with each other,” says PC Carlisle. “The crash area was huge because the debris was everywhere and unfortunately there were bodily parts as well. It was absolutely horrendous.”
Watching some of the video footage the team has collated, including a motorbike going at nearly 100mph between single lanes of traffic on a busy road, is eye-opening stuff.
“I spoke to a couple of guys we stopped who were bus drivers and they said they just like to come out at a weekend for the adrenaline rush,” says PC Carlisle. “They were driving a bus at 30mph all week and when they get out on their bikes they get carried away with the thrill of it all and they don’t think that they’re doing 100mph.”
It’s not just speeding bikers they are on the lookout for, it’s anti-social behaviour, too. “We get calls every weekend if it’s nice and sunny from members of the public asking us if we can do something about the motorbikes.
“If you’re driving along and all of a sudden a bike flies past at 120mph it can be frightening,” says PC Carlisle. “You’re mixing high speed bikes with day trippers going to the coast as well as a few agricultural vehicles and they don’t mix well together.
“The bikers are frustrated with the holiday drivers who are frustrated with the tractors and it’s when the driver pulls out to overtake without seeing the bike that’s approaching at 90mph that terrible accidents can happen.”
The Operation Achilles team point out that the most motorbike riders are sensible on the roads. “We get a lot of motorcyclists questioning what we’re doing but when you speak to them the vast majority are quite happy with what we’re doing, because their view is that it’s a minority who are the problem, which it is, and who give them a bad name.”
The campaign wants to deter people from speeding and reduce the amount of bad riding by making them aware of what they’re doing wrong, and with warmer weather coming the team expects it will soon have its hands full again.
“I spoke to one of the national bike magazines the other day and they said sales of new bikes are on the decline,” says PC Pierce. “That may be the case, but people are keeping their bikes longer so there are still the same amount if not more recreational riders.”
Their job, though, remains the same. “The reason we’re out there isn’t just to catch motorcyclists but to make the roads safer for everybody. There is a small number of motorcyclists out there who spoil it for the rest, they’re not worried about the risk and they’re the ones we’re out to stop.”
Watch police video of East Riding bikers online at yorkshirepost.co.uk or on one of our tablet apps. Download a free trial from the Apple, Google or Amazon Kindle app stores.
Police aim to cut death toll
Humberside Police launched Operation Achilles in 2003 in response to the deaths of four motorcyclists in East Yorkshire earlier that year and in 2007 the unmarked police bike came into operation.
Since 2008 there have been 231 killed or seriously injured from motorbike-related accidents, with the figures dropping to 36 in 2011, compared with 59 three years earlier.
According to figures from the Department of Transport, the number of motorcyclists killed or seriously injured in 2011 was 5,609.