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I have a lot of friends and colleagues who ride motorcycles. Most of them are passionate about their bikes and riding. It’s not just a means of transport and many of them would only ride their bikes on weekends. During the week they are ferrying children to school or sitting in traffic on the Westgate Bridge in an ordinary car like the rest of us. There are of course riders who use their bike for their main source of transport and a fast growing number of scooter riders whose scooter is their main mode of transport.
I tried to learn how to ride a motorbike many years ago and quickly discovered it was not for me, although I do still enjoy being a pillion passenger and going fast. In reading about the new draconian regulations the Victorian government is proposing (http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/rsc/inquiries/article/1406) I have found myself passionate about motorbike riding and the rights and freedoms of motorbike riders.
From my experience and from my reading of some of the submissions that the government inquiry received, motorcycle riders (especially the enthusiasts) are very autonomous and value personal freedom and freedom of choice more than most. This makes them my type of people. It also means that heavy-handed regulation is not going to work. And one has to wonder how far should governments go in trying to "reduce risk". Motorbike riding is not the only sport where risk is part of the attraction to the pastime. Off the top of my head rock-climbing, skiing, scuba diving, mountain bike riding, surfing and skydiving all have a certain level of risk and that (along with developing the skills to counter that risk) for many, this is a big part of the attraction.
In cities like Melbourne push and motor bike riding should be encouraged. More bike riders reduces congestion, parking pressure, fuel consumption and pollution. It is not surprising that the government proposals reek of ‘nannyism’. This is a government that tried to ban swearing in night clubs so it is no surprise that their proposals are draconian and out of step.
Before we look at the proposals lets look at the figures, which is not something that the government appears to have done. There has been a rapid rise in the number of bikes registered and not surprisingly that has led to a slight rise in fatalities but when you look at the fatality rate, that is, how many fatalities per number of motorcycles, the rate has declined by 31.6% over 10 years to 2009. There has been a 32.6% decline in car fatalities in that same period. (Thanks to Rex Deighton Smith who compiled these figures from "road deaths Australia”, the motor vehicle census and the ABS link to Rex's submission) Generally it is acknowledged by experts that there has been a strong improvement in road safety performance across Australia.
These are actually pretty startling figures. There has been a lot of new inexperienced riders hitting the roads, there have been no airbag type safety developments for bikes and the number of kilometres travelled by riders has increased due to the increase of commuter riders. But less and less riders are having fatal accidents.
With the facts at hand why is the government proposing heavy-handed regulation that seems to have the objective of reducing motorcycle use? I wonder if it is a discriminatory perception of bike riders? I think so. I also think it is just another heavy handed law and order policy that is not based on evidence and further erodes our rights and independence.
Enthusiasts own many if not most registered motorbikes. They understand the risks they take and most importantly there is no evidence that there is a problem.
One government proposal is to insist that fluoro clothing be compulsory for riders. There is nothing wrong with protective clothing. Leather (which I like since a ‘biker-boyfriend’ in my teens introduced me to it) and the new Kevlar jeans (I must have some of these!) is safe and frankly pretty sexy. Fluro is not - with the possible exception of fans of Olivia Newton-John’s hit from the 80s, Lets Get Physical. There is also not a scrap of evidence to suggest that there are any safety benefits in wearing flouro clothing.
The government is proposing ‘supervised training’ for new riders which will cost up to $6,000 to complete. This is despite the fact that the longer a rider has a license the less likely they are to have an accident.
We recommend that government provide incentives for riders to take on extra training by providing registration or third party discounts to riders who have completed. Encourage rider training but keep it affordable and possible.
The government has added special levies on the registration of motorbikes that are frankly quite outrageous and totally illogical. I laughed out loud at one of the uses of this levy and smacked the table at the other.
The first use of the levy is called "enhanced information". This involves putting up signs informing motorcyclists that they are entering a "motorcycle high risk area". The only thing that could be said about these signs is that they publicise roads that may be of interest to motorcycle enthusiasts.
The second use of the levy is enforcement and is absolutely discriminatory towards riders. Basically the levy pays to fund enforcement in motorcycle black spots. The motorcyclist is taxed so that they can be fined. Imagine if car owners were faced with an extra levy to fund more speed cameras?
This levy needs to be repealed or at the least redirected towards education of riders and motorists.
I know that it annoys motorists when they seeing motorcyclists filter through stationary traffic but we need to clarify that this is legal and positive for a smoother flow of traffic. It works in every other large metropolis around the world and can and should work here.
Scooters need specifically targeted education especially around protective clothing. The scooter riders I see buzzing around the electorate are mostly in Italian suits and stilettos! Hazard awareness and rider training are also important here but without the nannyism.
• Limited and discounted recreational registration for motorcyclists similar to the vintage car restricted registration
• Provide for advanced training via registration and insurance discounts
• Clarify that filtering is legal
• Specific education programs for scooter riders