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Time to stop victim-blaming motorcyclists and overhaul road safety 

A Motorcyclist riding in The Basin, in Melbourne’s east, slows for an intersection.

The bike, a Kawasaki Vulcan 900 grumbles loudly, in typical v-twin fashion, as it is manoeuvred through the roundabout.

Rider Sheri Ashley-Griffiths is atop and like all riders, feels at one with her machine.

Without warning she is rammed by an SUV.

The impact pushes both rider and bike across the road in a manner neither human body nor bike is designed for.

The protective layers of Kevlar clothing hold up as bike ends up on top of the rider, many meters from the initial point of impact.

Witnesses rush to aid Ashley-Griffiths, who is conscious but unable to move.

A nurse runs over yelling to helpers to leave her helmet in place. Ashley-Griffiths lies waiting for an ambulance.

Two kids in the SUV watch as police issue its driver a ticket that reads: failed to give way.

Riders gather near Queensbridge for the launch of Motorcycle Awareness Month. Picture: Justin Hanger

Ashley-Griffiths suffered a “half crushed leg and hairline fractures in both hands”, so the retired teacher who is now a school crossing assistant, will not be able to raise her stop sign for more than five weeks.

Many months later she wants to ride again but isn’t ready: “4WDs cause anxiety and I still have nightmares of the crash,” she says.

At least Ashley-Griffiths did eventually make it home. Many riders in similar incidents don’t.

A “shared” responsibility

This year – 2022 – will be remembered for the large increase in rider fatalities, with 50 riders’ lives lost to date, according to the TAC, compared to 36 for the whole of last year. The five-year average is 35.

The state’s Minister for Roads and Road Safety, Ben Carroll, said road safety is a “shared responsibility”. But riders may not feel as though it is shared fairly, as they are already paying a safety levy on top of their bike registration fee.

Now up to $78 extra a year, the levy has raised more than $100 million so far. Last year 2 Wheel Action Group spokesman Stuart Strickland said $15 million remained unallocated, and that he was angry at the secrecy that surrounded use of the funds.

Advocates such as the Victorian Motorcycle Council, among others, say that this levy fails to adequately address the real cause – other drivers – or even show it’s made a difference.

From Anti-Motorcycle Bias in Victoria – report by Stephen Bardsley, released October 2022

With the drastic increase this year in rider deaths, advocates are again seeking: that riders be treated fairly; the money they pay be allocated exclusively to rider safety upgrades; and the money collected be spent in a timely fashion.

One such advocate is Stephen Bardsley who has 50 years of experience in riding scooters and motorcycles. He is the rider safety representative for the Motorcycle Riders Association of Australia (MRA), former chairman and president of the Melbourne Scooter club and founder of the Victorian Scooter Riders Association, and has tried to solve many of the issues plaguing riders in Victoria.

Bardsley has authored several papers outlining road-strategy failures, unfair victim blaming of motorcyclists in crashes and more. “I have been proactive in motorcycle and scooter safety for two decades,” he said.

The myths of bike accidents

His latest paper, Anti-Motorcycle Bias in Victoria, takes aim at the narrative that riders bring it on themselves, and at the actions – or lack of them – by those agencies responsible for road safety.

“The effects of two decades of anti-motorcycle bias, long-term reluctance to acknowledge the real cause of many motorcycle accidents and an unwillingness to more effectively embrace motorcycle safety in road safety strategies and campaigns …”

He points out the good in the road safety partners’ efforts, praising the TAC in particular for the support they provide after a rider is injured.

“I want to try to make the roads a safer place for motorcycles,” Bardsley said.

And despite Victoria introducing a Motorcycle Awareness Month in October – a move universally applauded by rider advocacy groups – rider fatalities are still increasing. The latest figures indicate an increase of 39 per cent on 2021.

“I do believe that until the cause of accidents is addressed there is not much you can do about them,” Bardsley said.

The need for education

His reports illuminate the cause of most rider fatalities – drivers.

“Sixty-five per cent of motorcycle accidents involve another vehicle and around 65 per cent of those accidents the fault is with the driver… ”

However Bardsley says his issue isn’t primarily with drivers but with the road agencies. The drivers can’t be held fully responsible if they are not educated about riders, he said.

Jo “Pinky” Galea. Picture: Justin Hanger. Below: audio from Galea.

Jo “Pinky” Galea is another motorcyclist whose life has changed since her bike was struck. “Drivers are more distracted these days,” she says.

Galea sustained scaphoid, back and pelvis fractures, leaving her in a wheelchair for seven months.

Roadworks meant the speed limit had been reduced from 100 to 80km/h, but police believe the driver was doing at least 90km/h.

Although Pinky can’t remember the type of car, “ I can still remember seeing his face — he was petrified — he thought he killed me, he even said so.”

It’s the responsibility of everyone to look out for smaller, more vulnerable road users and programs such as October’s Motorcycle Awareness Month, are helping to do just that.

Advanced safety training for motorcyclists

Michael Stafford. Picture: Honda Australia

Michael Stafford, senior Instructor at Honda Australia Rider Training based in Somerton, says a system introduced in 2016 gives new riders the required skills.

It’s the best he’s seen in 25 years, he said.

A mandatory two-day course has all riders introduced to bikes and shown what to do, regardless of previous experience or skill.

Before they return for their licence their riding is looked at before another assessment, this time on the road.

Feedback is then given. “We see if any weaknesses can be turned into strengths,” he said.

The system itself works on the five major accident types that occur with motorcycles. They are:

  1. Single rider accidents either curve or straight line

  2. Intersection crashes

  3. Sideswipes

  4. Head-ons

  5. Same direction


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