Opinion: Motorcyclists, it's time to take some responsibility
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The issue of motorcyclists and safety has been really playing on my mind of late, brought on partly by the approaching arrival of my firstborn, but also the appalling state of Kiwi motorcycling – with Kiwi motorcyclists behaving badly the primary driver for increasing bad press.
With the sickly hot weather of late, the number of motorcyclists forgoing the basics of protection in order to ‘stay cool’ on the roads, mixed with the classic Kiwi impatience towards motoring appears to be creating a clear spike in serious accidents.
As much as I hate to admit it, motorcyclists are by a long way over-represented in the 2017 road fatality statistics. Roughly one third of the 30+ fatal crashes so far this year have involved a motorcyclist. Just hit the nzherald.co.nz search button and you’ll see plenty of articles on the latest fatality on our roads. It doesn’t make for nice reading.
A recent article by One News (January 22) highlighting the “riding number of motorbike deaths and injuries” with a call by dogandlemon.com’s Clive Matthew-Wilson to “have compulsory retesting for drivers [sic]” caused outrage amongst the local motorcycling community online.
Throughout the name calling, finger pointing and anecdotes blaming car drivers for motorcyclists sickening over-representation in the annual statistics year on year, there was little to no self-reflection on what can actively be done about the issue. And it starts by taking a long hard look at ourselves.
Police block the road on State Highway One south of Warkworth . Further up the road, one motorcyclist is dead following a collision with a car. Photo / Daniel Hines
We ride motorcycles, and we know that they – according to the much vaunted stats – see us 21 times more vulnerable than car drivers. Nobody ever gets on a motorcycle and thinks they are safer than they would be in a car. Nobody.
What we seem blissfully ignorant of, however, are the decisions we make on every ride that put us at even greater risk.
It starts with wearing the appropriate riding attire. If it is too hot to wear the right gear, then it’s too hot to ride – something our Aussie neighbours have been pushing for years. While it is true that all that is legally required for riding a motorcycle on New Zealand roads is a helmet (which frankly needs to be toughened through legislation and enforcement), it is just plain reckless to not protect yourself further.
On a recent long weekend trip to Auckland, I was appalled by the number of riders out on their bikes not wearing the appropriate gear on State Highway 1. The number of exposed knees and ankles truly frightened, while the lack of gloves on many riders brought back memories I’d rather forget.
Then there’s the problem of riders – mostly men – over 45-years-old being the most at risk on a motorcycle. Is it hubris or something else that sees this demographic taking such a title?
One thing that crops up in conversations with these riders is that they have been riding for X number of years and have never had a crash. That’s all fine, but you’re not riding in the past, you’ve got to be prepared for the future.
Motorcycle accident on Hewletts Road, 22 November 2017. Photo / George Novak
ACC subsidises the Ride Forever program at great cost through our eye-wateringly high ACC levy on our motorcycles, and while the uptake has been good, it could be better! The skills refresher should be mandatory as the skills learned under professional supervision often uncover plenty of poor riding habits developed over the years. Plus, you’ve already paid for it partly through your Motorcycle Levy.
The quality of new riders coming through seems to be improving, as they can now can attain their license through a Competency Based Training Assessment (CBTA) which is far more comprehensive than the established test sat down at your local VTNZ.
Having taken a Class 6R (Restricted motorcycle) CBTA test recently with provider Pro Rider in Auckland – and failing – it was clear that the level of riding we’ve been getting away with is just not high enough.
Like it or not, we are the ambassadors for motorcycling, and if we don’t put our best foot forward and demonstrate best practice then we may as well hang up our helmets early.
It’s PR101; if the public continues to see us as idiots on two wheels, we're not going to be able attract newcomers to motorcycling and see our favourite pastime continue into the future.
What a tragedy that would be!