Motorcycling is without doubt a fantastic means of transport and the sense of freedom and the challenges it presents can prove to be an addictive mix.
However anybody who rides a motorcycle will also be all too aware that we face a raft of challenges and hazards the harsh reality of which means that for the five years up to and including 2009 motorcycle casualties accounted for 7% of all road casualties resulting from a collision on the roads of the Durham force area.
This figure rises to 22% of killed or seriously injured casualties which if you think about how many bikes are on the road demonstrates just how vulnerable riders are.
Statistics are the cold analytical side of things with figures for every eventuality but the reality is this we're talking about very real Human stories that sadly don't all end well.
The impact of a fatal or serious road collision goes far beyond the rider.
Families and friends and other road users who may have become involved are still living their lives and are also left living with the consequences of a death or even left caring for a rider or pillion suffering severe disabling injury.
Back in 1995 responding to rising injuries and deaths of riders it was decided that we had to be creative in our approach if we wanted to take really take control and reduce casualties; we could no longer rely upon traditional enforcement led campaigns.
For example 'simple' poor riding was and remains a significant cause of motorcycle crashes; enforcement led approach in many of those cases it was felt would not have made a difference.
The key to making sure riders in our area remained safe it seemed was to engage and where barriers had been put up it was to take them down.
When we engaged it was to talk with riders not on the back of a ticket but in a way that would raise their awareness of their vulnerability and importantly in a way that would encourage them to improve their riding skills, we enlisted the help of the Institute of Advanced Motorcyclists to support us in this and this saw the creation of Durham Advanced Motorcyclists.
In addition the BikeWise show was born; it was a start point at taking the barriers down by inviting bikers into what many may have perceived as the lions den, our Police HQ!
It was a simple affair at first but as many of you know it's grown and grown into a huge successful annual event which has given over £100,000 to charities and has attracted the best of the motorcycling world.
More importantly we can't know how many lives it's directly helped save through the promotion of responsible and safe riding but if we've been able to save one life it's been worth it ; it isn't simply luck that means Durham is firmly at the lower end of the casualty 'league tables'.
BikeWise however has evolved into more than a show it's become a motorcycle casualty reduction strategy in its own right seizing opportunities to engage including the Easter Egg Run, the Dales policing campaigns, BikeWise Training, bus back campaigns, road signing, the Killhope barrier along with many other initiatives, meanwhile the BikeWise Mini Bike Club offers a lawful opportunity for youngsters to enjoy riding mini bikes off the streets and estates and introduces them to responsible riding at an early age.
Such has been the success that BikeWise was awarded the Highway Magazine Excellence Awards in 2008 and in 2009 BikeWise was once again recognised with a prestigious Prince Michael International Road Safety Award.
Whilst the Durham Constabulary Motorcycle Section are the public face of this work none of this would have been possible without the support of members of the Durham and Darlington Casualty Reduction Forum which includes Durham County Council, Darlington Borough Council, Durham and Darlington Fire & Rescue and numerous other agencies individuals and volunteers who've thrown their time and money behind the motorcycle section and their work through BikeWise.
That brings me to this new website.
Be in no doubt that we're continuing to engage with bikers so don't be surprised if you're stopped whilst out riding by a member of the motorcycle section but the website is a resource for you to use at your leisure in your time.
Please look through it and take time to reflect on the advice offered and more importantly when you're riding put the messages into practise, better still enlist with BikeWise Training and speak to the officers on the motorcycle section they have a wealth of experience and advice to offer.
Remember our aim is to encourage enjoyable and safe riding whilst showing respect for other road users and the community; ultimately however it's to prevent you as riders and your families from becoming victims of a collision on our roads.
So please enjoy your riding but most importantly ride safe.
Ch. Insp. Andrew Huddleston
Cleveland & Durham Specialist Operations Unit.