The ARCS Approach

Accidents are all about probability

The ARCS (Attitude-Readiness-Conditions-Situation) approach is a way to break down risk. Accidents are all about probability. You could be struck by a meteor while riding, but that is unlikely. Someone could hit you if you go through a red light, and that is more likely. The ARCS logic is that accidents occur when probabilities cumulate. The four sources are: mental attitude, physical readiness, surrounding conditions, and the current situation. These form the four ARCS elements:

Attitude: To the world.
Readiness: Your physical state.
Conditions: The environment.
Situations: The current scenario.

ARCS create accidents

If I am in a hurry, my attitude is bad. If I have no helmet, my readiness is poor. If it is raining, conditions are bad. Finally, if someone pulls out suddenly, that is a danger situation. In general, ARCS create accidents.

Safety is no accident

Most accidents are not 100% bad luck, as there was something you could have done to prevent them. Accidents with simple causes (like dangerous driving) are easy to prevent (e.g. by not driving dangerously). However the accidents with many causes catch out even good riders. These are the accidents this book is about. Anyone can figure out one-cause accidents. However riding safely over time is mostly about dealing with multi-cause accidents.

The general formula is:

Risk = Attitude + Readiness + Conditions + Situation

There is also an element of luck in everything, but by definition, that is something we can do nothing about.

He feels a peculiar crack as his head hits the ground

Example: Suppose Bob is late for a meeting. He hurries to his bike and doesn’t properly clip his helmet. He speeds off without gloves, jacket or boots. Soon the sun sets and it starts to drizzle. Conditions are dark and wet. At an intersection a person in a car turning left, accidentally clicks their right turn indicator. The green light turns amber, and Bob figures to overtake the right turning car before the light goes red. As he passes the car, it suddenly turns left. He brakes, but the bike skids in the wet. He hits the car front side, and goes awkwardly over the bonnet. The road rips his skin, and as he lands, his unclipped helmet flies off. He feels a peculiar crack as his head hits the ground.

When the driver indicated the wrong way, the accident was borne, but it was conceived much, much earlier

Bob wakes up in a hospital with a skull fracture and permanent road grazing scars. He thinks, “If only that stupid driver had signaled correctly!” Certainly, when the car driver clicked his indicator the wrong way, Bob's accident was borne, but it was conceived much, much earlier. What really caused this accident? The stupid driver was the final cause, not the only cause! The real cause was that Bob was not riding safely.

What caused the accident?

Think what could have changed the outcome:

  1. Bob didn’t hurry: He decided right away that even though he was late, he would not hurry. So he clipped his helmet properly, wore the right gear, and did not rush the lights. He noticed the left indicating car turned right, and thought “What a Turkey!”
  2. Bob was ready: He wore his riding jacket and gloves. As he rode off a “helmet tug” revealed his helmet was unclipped. He stopped, and clipped it properly. In the accident, he rolled over the bonnet and walked away unhurt, without grazing or concussion, a little shaken but a lot wiser.
  3. Bob adapted to conditions: Seeing it was dark and wet, he slowed down accordingly. Hence the crash was much less. He didn’t go over the bonnet, but just dented things (mainly his ego).
  4. Bob recognized the situation: Seeing the right indicator, he did not assume, but worked from real options, including a left turn. It was an intersection, so he slowed down, and adopted ready reaction mode. When the car starting turning left, he veered and halted, and with horn on, just “kissed” it. He cursed at the stupid driver.

Any the above outcomes could have happened. Bob's hospital trauma was caused by a combination of his bad attitude, poor gear, poor conditions and an unexpected situation. No one thing alone entirely “caused” the accident. Bob had ridden in a hurry before, and nothing bad had happened. He had ridden without gear before, and nothing had happened. He had ridden when dark and wet before, and nothing had happened. Once he saw someone indicate wrongly, but nothing bad happened. However when all these things combined, the result was a serious accident.

In accidents there are many causes, and most of them, you control

We like to say the other driver was “the cause”. But in most accidents there are many causes, and accidents occur when their probabilities add up. Yet many of them, you control. You control your attitude - you can choose not to hurry. You control your readiness - you can choose to wear proper gear. You control how you adapt to conditions - you can choose to ride slower in the rain. You control your ability to recognize situations - you can slow down at intersections. You have the levers in your hands that determine whether you have an accident or not. If you take hold of them, you find that what other people do doesn’t matter as much as what you do. If you do your part, then you reduce your risk total considerably.

The accident ARC

Each person in an accident has his or her own ARC

Most accident causes occur before the accident actually happens. For example, to hurry, to not wear protection, to ignore conditions and to not drive defensively. This is the ARC that brings us to the accident. Each person in an accident has his or her own ARC. The driver of the left turning car might feel the accident cause was a speeding motorcycle rider, who appeared out of nowhere. Accidents occur when ARCS intersect.

This book is about straightening accident ARCS

When accidents present themselves, it is often too late to do anything about them. We have all seen drivers pushing hard through traffic, all acceleration and brakes, pushing their risk "envelope". They are indeed “An accident on its way to happen”. Riding safely is not about pushing the risk envelope, but about creating a safety envelope. The rest of this book will tell you how to do this - how to add degrees of freedom to your riding, how to up your readiness, how to reduce the effects of weather and other conditions, and how to predict the predictable. It is about straightening accident ARCS, about avoiding accidents by reducing what causes them.