Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Mandated Failure

There's a reason why it's not mandatory for airline passengers to wear a parachute: it's simply cheaper and more effective to make sure the planes get where they're going in one piece.  If your plane doesn't blow up or fall apart midair, you won't need a parachute.  Give the man a nobel prize, and light a cigar (but not in the in flight toilet; I have it on good authority that those smoke detectors work).

Which is why whenever the government or its agencies start talking about mandatory protective clothing for motorcyclists, I find myself starting to look for the hidden cameras.  This has to be some elaborate practical joke that the ministerial committee for road safety is pulling on me, in retribution for the seventy-two emails I've sent them since April.  They have to know that it's bad policy, a bad idea that won't even begin to improve safe motorcycling outcomes for riders, don't they?

I'm not so sure.  I'm beginning to think that in their chesterfield leather, sound-byte analysis, electoral Spring Street world, they may have listened to one too many actuarial "road safety experts" who has told them that wearing a parachute really will help you if your A380 loses a wing over Uluru.  It would almost be funny if it wasn't our own tax dollars funding this pantomime.  Still, if we spell it out for them in simple monosyllabic phrases, they'll figure it our, right?

Now between you and me, just as I'd rather the jumbo landed safely than have you strap a chute on my back and toss me out at 30,000 feet.  Sure I've got more chance with the parachute than without it, but honestly those motorised stairs aren't really all that steep, and coffee at the airport has been getting better of late, so if it's all the same to you I'd rather just let the pilot touchdown on the runway and brave the mind games of the other passengers trying to psych me into letting them into the aisle before me.  (No way lady, that cafe has a latte with my name on it so just keep your pink power suit in your damn chair or I'll do a Dexter on you!  Yeah!)

So too, given a choice between coming off the bike in full leathers and not coming off at all, I'll choose the latter every single time.  And with almost 60,000 kilometres of the very worst that Melbourne weather, road repairs or BMW drivers can throw at me, I simply don't buy the lie that all riders crash or that motorcycle crashes are inevitable.

The TAC likes to think it knows about the risks of riding.  In fact representatives of the TAC have stated, on record and to the Victorian parliamentary inquiry that they know more about the risks facing motorcyclists than the riders themselves do. But even their notorious "38 times" statistic is underwritten by the pessimistic caveat that motorcyclists are more likely to be seriously injured in the event of a crash. 

(Interestingly when I went searching the TAC website to find an example of them rolling this stat out I found that Sam Cockfield of the TAC has taken to omitting that little caveat in her statements: 'we would like to clarify that the statement "riders have 38 times the risk of death or serious injury" is a national figure based on serious injury per distance travelled' she said in response to a 2009 letter published in the Herald Sun, challenging them on the figure.  Once again, I'm looking for the hidden cameras.)

What I'd like to point out to them is that while crashing with protective gear on is most probably going to have a better outcome than crashing au naturel, not crashing would seem to be a better option yet.  So let's step back and look at exactly what mandatory protective gear will do to prevent crashes in the first place?

Exactly that.  Zip.  Zero. Nudda. Not a single sweet little thing.  Protective gear is a consequence mitigation strategy that has sod all to do with causality.  Not a single crash will be prevented by introducing mandatory protective gear.  Now that's a quality outcome if ever I saw one.

But what would the other consequences be if mandatory protective gear was introduced?  Surely there's a silver lining in here somewhere, some upside that would help set such a policy apart from the home insurance scheme that saw more than 200 homes burned to the ground?  Let's take a look.

Firstly, the government would have just created a new market.  Shopping time, happy days!  Just what people need to take their minds off all the other demands being made upon their pay packet.  But hey, it's for safety, so that means we can't afford not to splash the cash, right?

Except of course without any form of standards, they've just created a market for something that achieves something towards motorcyclist safety.  Brilliant, can't see anything going wrong with this scheme at all.  Mandate that riders have to wear gear without a clear definition of what that gear should be.  We could spin up another working committee to nut out a standard, I suppose, but what sort of riding are they going to set the standard for?  Shall we all wear MX gear that offers no abrasion resistance for sliding down the bitumen?  Or head to toe leather that won't do squat if we come off into a tree beside the bush track?

Of course it gets worse than that.  After all, we live in a free market economy, even if the market is arbitrarily and inadvisedly made.  And let's be honest; some of us got into motorcycling in the first place because running cars was just too bloody expensive.  We can't all afford Dainese and Alpinestars.  Thankfully the very instant that mandatory protective clothing legislation is announced, factories of underpaid workers all over south-east asia will spring into action to start churning out Lucky Biker Boy protective jackets, pants, gloves and boots that will tick the legislative boxes.  In the absence of any standards there's no guarantee that you're any better off wearing it than you would be wearing an iridescent tutu made from the hides of rare albino wombat fleas, but that's not the point, is it?

The point is that even though it will have achieved nothing to reduce motorcycle crashes, and it is far from guaranteed that it will achieve anything by way of reducing trauma among crash victims, your state-made decision to wear all the gear makes you legislatively compliant, and that's what a good nanny state looks for in her citizens.  After all, once they've introduced mandatory gear and still the number and the consequences of motorcycle crashes hasn't reduced, they'll need us to be nice and compliant so they can outlaw motorcycling as being just too gosh darn dangerous.  

But don't worry, you can get a shiny new volvo with full black leather trim, won't that be nice?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results

To: The Hon. Gordon Rich-Phillips, Minister for the TAC, and
Ms Janet Dore, CEO of the Transport Accident Commission

Dear Minister Rich-Phillips and Ms Dore,

I was both excited and anxious to learn that the TAC had launched a new online training tool aimed at educating new and returning riders, and helping them improve their hazard detection skills.  The media release (available on the TAC website) states the following: "To develop Ride Smart, the TAC consulted with motorcycle riders, riding experts and road safety agencies."

I was hopeful that this consultation would have resulted in the best possible quality for this tool.  Over the last five years, the TAC's track record with motorcycling initiatives has been mixed at best.  Based on TAC's own data, one has to look back 10 years to the 2002 Vice Versa campaign to find evidence of motorcyclist support and positive recognition of a TAC initiative.  I have gone to great lengths to try and address this failure with the TAC, both instigating a petition calling on the TAC to change its approach to motorcycle safety, and when all attempts at dialogue with the TAC failed to receive so much as a response, launching an independent magazine to draw attention to the issues of motorcycling policy and safety and to highlight the concerning discrepancies between published research and recommendations and TAC practice and behaviour.  In short, I hoped that this new tool would be a turning point in the TAC's model of engagement with riders and riding experts, and would be the beginning of a constructive collaboration between the TAC and riding representatives that would see a steady improvement in motorcyclist safety over the coming years.
The very first exercise depicts a motorcyclist approaching a 4 way intersection (crossroads) with the rider facing a stop sign.  As the rider approaches the stop line, the video pauses and the user is asked to identify any hazards they can identify.  Having identified a couple of common hazards (oncoming traffic, road surface conditions) the voiceover goes on to make this statement:
"But the biggest risk is the motorcycle speed.  Braking at this speed while leaning into a turn will cause loss of control and a crash."
Not to put to fine a point on it, this is blatantly and demonstrably untrue.  Before the motorcycle commences turning, it must come to a complete halt at the stop sign.  The motorcycle, approaching the stop sign on a straight stretch of road, will have no lean angle whatsoever.  You can see this exercise for yourself to verify what I have said here:
This factual error providing erroneous and potentially dangerous misinformation is both disappointing and disturbing.  Not only does it call into question the usefulness of the tool that has been created, but more troublingly it reveals that the problems of consultation with appropriate experts has not been addressed in any way at the TAC.  I would challenge the TAC to produce a single motorcycle rider or riding expert who can defend the assertion stated above but there is no point in doing so.  It is evident that no experienced rider - let alone a riding expert - had any input into or review of that content prior to it being launched to unsuspecting would-be or new motorcyclists.

Ms Dore: you are on record as stating that this tool was developed in consultation with motorcycle riders and riding experts.  I would like you please to justify that claim.  Who were the riding experts and motorcycle riders with whom the TAC consulted?  What was the nature of the consultation?  Were these people asked to provide input into the content of the training?  Or was this consultation the marketing oriented focus-group "consultation" that I experienced when I participated in a focus group for the TAC in July?  In short, can you please explain how, with the consultative support of riders and riding experts, this new program has been launched with such gratuitous misinformation as to defy both common sense and the laws of physics?
Clearly such a task is not befitting the CEO of an organisation.  However it appears to me that you are being given information to include in press releases that is clearly untrue, and I think it is incumbent upon you to take responsibility both for the integrity of your organisations approach to these issues, and for your own statements in the media release accompanying the launch of this embarrassment.

Minister Rich-Phillips, you are responsible for the TAC.  You don't need me to tell you that you ought to take that responsibility seriously yet the TAC appears to suffer from a systemic problem when it comes to consulting with motorcycling representatives (and also with basic physics, given their track record of the last 12 months).  What are you doing to hold this organisation to account?  Why have you not put anything in place to prevent the recurrence of this charade of consultation whereby the TAC tests it's favourite shock-value statistics on their target audience rather than seeking their input on the root causes and underlying challenges facing motorcycle safety?  If you have put such safeguards in place, why have they failed?

Mr Rich-Phillips, I assure you that I am as tired of writing to you about the TAC's conduct as you are of reading my concerns.  I would love nothing more than for these issues to be resolved, which is as simple as having appropriate expertise and representation present during the entire lifecycle of motorcycling related projects.  Please, do us both a favour: get off the bench and get this fixed.  It's not just time, money, and your political credibility that the TAC is squandering; it is Victorian lives.  And as cynical as I am that the TAC appears to be rushing through 3 motorcycle campaigns and projects in 2012 without waiting for the findings of the parliamentary inquiry (bearing in mind that according to the Spokes website, the TAC only created 3 motorcycling campaigns between 2003 - 2011), I would rather that they just got on with the job but did it properly.  These ongoing debacles of the TAC producing poorly executed and technically flawed motorcycle material and then defending them to the hilt is an embarrassment.  If I were you, I would put a moratorium on the TAC creating new campaigns until the RSC has reported back.  There are plenty of successful campaigns produced in other states that have proven both to have a positive impact on accident rates and have received strong support from motorcyclists (the Queensland "Out Here" springs to mind, as does the NSW safe cornering campaign).  So how about instead of persisting with the modus operandi you put your foot down and instruct the TAC to source some proven safety campaigns from interstate while the parliamentary inquiry runs its course.  Given that it may save lives as well as money, is that such an unreasonable thing to ask?

Yours sincerely,

Ross Daws

Saturday, August 25, 2012

They are at it again

"A new online rider training program will help reduce road trauma by improving the skills of new motorcyclists before they hit the road" according to TAC CEO Janet Dore.

Unfortunately, though the TAC claims that "the TAC consulted with motorcycle riders, riding experts and road safety agencies" it appears they failed to consult with those motorcycle riders, riding experts or road safety agencies who know anything about how to ride a motorcycle.  Or newtonian physics, come to think of it.

I get tired of taking aim at the TAC all the time, I really do.  But claiming that the biggest danger facing a motorcyclist approaching a stop sign is that at the speed they are travelling they brake while leaning into a turn they will lose control and crash is not just erroneous; it's dangerous.

If this is targeted at inexperienced riders, teaching them to worry about imagined and impossible threats is only distracting them from the very real threats that exist on the roads.  If the TAC had genuinely consulted with anyone who had ridden a motorcycle, they would have known that.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A broken record, but a good one...

Good Morning Minister.

I'd like to draw your attention to a news piece in The Age today that examines the TAC's most recent motorcycle campaign, and the stark contrast between the message of that campaign and the reality of motorcycle accident causation in Victoria:

Given that it is not only motorcycling advocates and lobby groups who are highlighting the discrepancy between the TAC's on-record claims and other findings but reputable, mainstream and impartial commentators and publications such as The Age, I am urging you to respond to the Victorian Motorcycle Council's call for a parliamentary inquiry into the role and function of the TAC.  Though unwavering support of those individuals and organisations that work for you is commendable, unquestioning support is not, particularly when that support is propping up a negligent motorcycle campaign agenda that targets and vilifies motorcyclists and has a detrimental impact upon motorcycle safety in the state.

Minister, it is less than one week since the last motorcyclist was killed on our roads.  Please, let his death be the one that prompts you to launch an independent review into the role and efficacy of the TAC in the area of motorcycle safety campaigns.  What ever you do, don't wait for the next motorcyclist to die before you realise that it is long past time to take action on this.

I am aware that being Minister for the TAC is only a small portion of your portfolio, but is there any other area you are responsible for where you can directly contribute towards saving lives?  The TAC quantifies motorcycle injuries as costing $100 million every year, and that is only the financial cost.  With so much evidence that the TAC's approach to motorcycle safety is ineffectual, if not outright deceitful in light of The Age's story and the expose from Motorcycling Review, isn't it your responsibility to get off the bench and do something?

In order to make this as easy as possible for you to get the ball rolling, I have prepared a few questions that you might like to seek an answer to from the TAC, to help you decide whether indeed there is reasonable grounds for closer scrutiny.
  • What are the qualifications of the Senior Manager for Road Safety?
  • What are the qualifications of the road safety experts who report to him?
  • How many members of the road safety area have specialist knowledge or qualifications in motorcycle safety?
  • Why has the TAC ignored the key outcome of the 2008 Motorcycle and Scooter Safety Summit that all motorcycle safety campaigns should target drivers as well as riders?
  • How can the TAC claim to be evidence based in its approach when it ignores and contradicts the findings of leading international studies into motorcycle accidents such as the Hurt and MAIDS reports?
  • What has the TAC done to address the significant gaps in their data as identified by the Victorian Auditor-General's Office report of 2011?
With the lives of so many Victorians being impacted by the lack of improvement in motorcycle safety in this state, I hope that gaining answers to the above questions will help you to make an informed decision as to the urgency and necessity of a parliamentary inquiry into the TAC's negligence on this issue.


Ross Daws

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Bike Grab

My beloved Ninja doesn't come with a centre stand option, and with the pre-exhaust chamber mounted beneath the bike my old strategy of jacking up the bike with a car jack for chain maintenance no longer works.

For the last year or so I've been doing the old "hold the bike upright with one foot on the brake to stop it rolling away while trying to hold the race stand in place to lift up the back wheel" routine.  This works, kinda, but I've been convinced for a little while now that one of these days I'm going to drop the ninja, probably onto my own foot.  This, not being my goal, I have decided to fix before it happens.

Friday, August 10, 2012

slip sliding away

As the rider himself put it: "bollocks!" 

The "fun" starts about the 4 minute mark

Monday, July 30, 2012

Dear Minister

Dear Minister,

Thank you for your letter dated 23rd July 2012, acknowledging my concerns regarding the TAC’s approach to motorcycle safety. I am grateful for you taking the time to look into this matter, and for your willingness to engage on this topic with me.

Though I would like to continue discussing these issues with John Thompson of the TAC I am afraid that he has canceled his last meeting with me and has not responded to my emails. I am afraid that my experiences of trying to discuss these issues with Mr Thompson has been on the whole both frustrating and unfruitful. This has been further complicated by my decision – in my desperation – to launch a new magazine to provide the public scrutiny of critical, academic examination of motorcycle policy and issues. Having informed My Thompson of this development he has directed me to deal with the media liaison team at the TAC, who I am pleased to say have been very helpful in turning up information for me. Alas this information has not allayed my concerns, which I shall summarise for you now.

1. The 70 zone scenario
I am pleased that you took the time to read and engage with my concern regarding the setting of this scenario in a 70 zone. However I am concerned that, judging by your response, you have failed to apprehend the significance of this.

The TAC ad portrays certain physics that dictate the crash scenario: a certain approach speed, at a certain distance, with a vehicle pulling into the intersection, resulting in a collision of a given force. While I note your objection that the conditions such as road configuration would be different, I think it is quite remarkable for you to be suggesting that such a collision is less likely in a 70 zone than a 60 zone. As I hope you are aware, the two major in-depth studies into motorcycle accidents, the 1981 Hurt report from the US, and the 2009 MAIDS report from the EU, both identified that vehicles failing to see motorcycles and as a result violating their right of way were responsible for at least 50% of all motorcycle-vehicle collisions. Globally, the phenomenon of car drivers not looking for, or not seeing motorcycles appears to be the single larges cause of multi vehicle collisions involving a motorcycle.

There are a number of measures that motorcyclists can take to help prevent these accidents from taking place. I challenge you to name three from the campaign material you have seen from the TAC.

The fact is that motorcycling is increasing in popularity faster than ever before. The number of registered motorcycles in Victoria rose by 60% from 2006 to 2011. Anecdotally a number of these motorcycles are being purchased and ridden by “returning riders” who hold a motorcycle license from their youth and return to riding in their (typically) 40s and 50s. These riders are able – with no additional training, information, or education – legally ride an unrestricted motorcycle, forewarned with only the safety information that they are exposed to through the mass media or their own reading. I suggest that you enquire of the TAC what percentage of their claims, and what percentage of fatalities, fall into this age bracket and category of riders.

In light of this, I consider it essential that public safety campaigns address all aspects of motorcycle safety that may help prevent collisions and fatalities, rather than focus on the topic de jour of speed, speed, or speed. The fact remains that there is no study either here or internationally that links speed with a higher propensity to crash; a point mentioned in the preamble to the current case-control study being undertaken by MUARC. Evidentially speaking, the TACs premise that speed is the primary causal factor in motorcycle accidents is both unproven and contradicted by studies such as the Hurt and MAIDS reports.

In contrast, that same ad scenario – be it set in a 60 or 70 zone – could have been used to effectively communicate motorcycle safety messages that would have reached the returned rider category as well as all other rider groups. Some messages that could have easily been incorporated into such a campaign would be: ride at a speed that is safe for the conditions; juxtapose the outcomes against a bike with ABS; the importance of lane position to the ability of drivers to see you; the necessity of practicing emergency braking; the value of advanced rider training. Any of these messages would have achieved the end of highlighting the risks of doing 68 in a 60 zone, but would equally have been transferable and applicable to all speed zones.

2. Speeding
I have mentioned the TAC’s fixation with speeding, and this is a point that deserves further attention. Firstly I need to point out that I do not condone speeding, and that I believe that encouraging motorcyclists to obey speed limits is important – as it is of course for all road users. However the TACs heavy emphasis on this one causal factor flies in the face of the available research. I have already mentioned the Hurt and MAIDS report, however a study in the last few years that was undertaken in Queensland measured six behavioural attitudes of motorcyclists – 3 positive, and 3 “risk taking” attitudes – and found no significant correlation between risk taking attitudes and the probability of crashing. In short, riders who had a “speeding is ok” mentality were not more likely to crash.

I would not be so concerned by the TACs stance on this issue were it not for their claims to be evidence based in their approach to motorcycle safety. The fact is that, as the RACV report of 2008 pointed out, there is very little clear information in the Victorian crash database and TAC claims database that speak to the causes of motorcycle accidents. When it comes to determining what safety messages they should produce, far from being evidence based, the TAC is selectively ignoring evidence and charting their own course.

3. Consultation
I have tried to discuss with the TAC that they need to change the way that they consult with riders. Mr Thompson was extremely helpful in this regard by inviting me to participate in a TAC focus group that was assisting them with the creation of their next campaign. This experience allows me to describe to you the exact failure of the TACs approach to consultation.

The focus group I attended sought to gauge our reactions to various statistics about crashes in Victoria. Putting aside the previously mentioned concerns about the veracity and efficacy of the crash statistics themselves, this process is not one of engaging riders to seek their input into motorcycle safety policy or initiatives. We were asked questions like “what were you thinking just before you crashed?” and “does seeing this statistic make you rethink how you would ride in a given situation?” These are very valid questions when one is constructing a behavioural marketing campaign. They are not, however, an example of consulting with motorcyclists about the issues of safety.

I am disheartened that I feel the need to point this out, but it needs to be said and said plainly: motorcyclists do not want to crash. I would have thought that should be obvious, yet it has been my experience that those who take issue with the approach TAC takes towards motorcycle safety are frequently written off on the basis that they are not as serious about motorcycle safety as the TAC is, or not as knowledgeable. I put it to you that the opposite is true, on both counts.

In light of the questions raised by both the 2008 RACV report and the 2011 Victorian Auditor-General’s Office audit report, it would seem to me to be essential both professionally and scientifically for the TAC to be seeking as much information – both from international studies and from Victorian motorcyclists – as to the causal factors of motorcycle crashes in Victoria. The number of individuals such as myself who devote their own time, energy and money to furthering the cause of motorcycle safety is honestly staggering. That the TAC’s only engagement with such individuals is focus groups to test out their latest statistic is an absolute disgrace. That you should be content with this approach to consultation from the TAC is also quite disturbing. I fear that you may have been mislead as to the level of ‘consultation’ which I have experienced with the TAC: aside from the focus group, I have had one face to face meeting, and two telephone conversations. My contention in these conversations has been that the TAC has lost all trust and credibility with motorcyclists, and that if they are to have any chance of positively influencing motorcycle safety, they need to change their approach and have meaningful engagement with riders. This was the message of the petition which I brought to your attention.

The response that I received (after several weeks and me personally chasing it) to the petition was that the TAC is delighted people are interested in motorcycle safety and would welcome ideas on how to get motorcyclists to slow down and wear protective gear. I encourage you to run your re-election campaign along those lines: invite your electorate to contact you with ideas of how to solve the two issues you think are the most important. I trust they will let you know very effectively whether they have been consulted with.

If you are serious about your responsibilities as the minister for the TAC, and if you are seriously concerned about improving motorcycle safety in this state, I urge you to understand that I am not complaining out of discomfort that the TAC has shined a spotlight onto the behaviour of riders, but rather that it is evident that from the Hurt report, to the Australian Summit into Motorcycle and Scooter Safety of 2008, to the reports of the RACV and VAGO into the crash and claims data and the latest edition of the MAIDS report, the TAC is systematically ignoring all evidence and recommendations that is not aligned with their pre-fabricated agenda for motorcycle campaigns. If you find this hard to believe, please take a look at the TAC’s Motorcycle Safety Strategy ( and observe the sources that they cite. In fact, let me make it easy for you:

• TAC Claims 2008-2009
• TAC Motorcycle Tracking Study, May 2010
• TAC Advertising Tracking Study Quarter 1, 2010
• Nielsen Net Ratings, 2008-2010

If you are satisfied that this represents the very best that Victoria can do to improve motorcycle safety, then I thank you for your time and suggest that you don’t need to reply to this letter.

If on the other hand you find it disturbing that several key Australian and international studies, and indeed several recommendations from the Motorcycle and Scooter Safety Summit are absent from TAC’s motorcycle strategy and safety campaigns, then please give me a call. I’d love to discuss how we can do better.

Yours truly,

Ross Daws
(Now editor of Motorcycling Review magazine)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Motorcycling Review


I am starting up an e-magazine, Motorcycling Review.  This will be a free magazine examining the news and issues that affect motorcycling in Australia.

I would love your support in this, and this is what you can do:

  1. Subscribe.  Like I said, it is free, so I hope that is a no brainer.  Go to the site, enter your email address, and you're good.
  2. Sponsors.  If you run or know a motorcycling related business that might like to sponsor or advertise in MR drop me a line and let me know (or drop them a line and let them know).
  3. Spread the word.  Once you read the first issue, if there's something in there that you think is worth people reading, tell them about it.  Forward the magazine to them.  If one of the topics really matters to you, send a copy to your local member of parliament.
Thanks for your support and for reading this blog.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Foot position

A fairly painful lesson in why foot position matters...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Self-sealing tyres

This is crazy, and I totally approve!!!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A few good men

There's a scene in every 80s courtroom drama where the witness is being cross examined and suddenly one of the lawyers jumps to his or her feet and shouts "Objection! Leading the witness."  Whether the objection was carried or overruled seemed to depend on whether the person objecting was a goodie (overruled) or a badie (sustained).  I had a very odd moment of cognitive dissonance last night where I wondered if I'd been transported into just such a court room, and I waited with bated breath for the shout of "Objection" to be raised.

But no, I hadn't been transported into some obscure court case.  Last night I found myself in a focus group conducting research on behalf of the TAC.  In the wake of the Motorcycle Reconstruction campaign I challenged the TAC over the level of consultation with riders that it appeared to me must not have taken place, and I was invited to participate in a session in response to this challenge.  The moment in question occured about 20 minutes in, during a conversation about why we do recreational riding, what motivates us and what is it that we experience in that moment.  It's something I've done quite a bit of thinking about, and was happy to get on that particular hobby horse for a minute.  The conversation went something like this:
Me: "Studies in job satisfaction have talked about people are most satisfied in their work when you get to concentrate on one thing and you are challenged to the level of your ability.  That's why I enjoy riding, because I've got to concentrate and think about what I'm doing..."

Facilitator: "You challenge yourself to the limit of your ability, so you are pushing as hard as you can go?"
I smacked that notion down fairly hard, but the moment left a bitter taste in my mouth.  I can only speak to my impressions and not the actual intentions of the facilitator, but I was left without a doubt that trying to get us talking about why we are reckless.  I found the experience very frustrating because there was a lot of good stuff that was said that was passed straight over, but any comment that was made that seemed to focus on risk taking was quickly jumped upon.

A few things were made very clear to me through this process:
  1. TAC is not consulting with riding representatives in this process.  They are trying to shape a marketing message, not engage with riders about the issues of safety.
  2. If they had showed the Motorcycle Reconstruction ad to the group I was in last night, they would have received unequivocal criticism of the premise of the accident from almost everyone in the room.
  3. TAC has a very clear understanding of the consequences when a rider crashes.  They also have access to as much of the physical facts collected regarding a crash as VicPol collect.  But they appear to not have any idea why riders ride, or why riders crash.  They focus on the "physics" of the problem - the rider went too fast and lost control - but have no idea about the human part of the equation; what went wrong (if anything) in the rider's decision making on that one occassion that led to the crash.
The latter part of the session was testing out some statistics on us to see whether any of them would prompt us to change our riding style.  This bit was the most disappointing aspect of all for me.  The statistics chosen were poor to say the least.  For example: 42% of fatalities occur in 80km/h zones or faster.  Apart from mild surprise that the number isn't higher, I'm left asking "well, what did you expect?"  What kills a rider is striking something, or being struck by something, at speed.  It's a bit like saying that 42% of falling fatalities fell from a height greater than 5 metres.  It's both obvious and useless at the same time.

What the whole "how do you react to this statistic?" section brought home to me was this: the TAC seems to consider recreational riding to be a behavioural problem like drink driving, and is probing for some nerve-touching statistic that will shock us out of this reckless, risk taking behaviour.  They do not understand the mindset and motivations of the rider, and so assume that the crashes are a result of reckless risk taking and will seek to attempt behavioural modification to frighten riders out of taking risks.

In my opinion, they are not asking the right questions.  They are not asking why riders crash.  They are not listening when riders talk about why they ride.  To me, it appears that they are aiming to promote slower riding rather than safer riding, probably in the mistaken belief that it is the same thing.  When all you truly understand are the consequences of a crash, it must be easy to think that slower = safer, since an impact at 60 does less than an impact at 80.  But this - if it is indeed how the TAC is thinking - is a logical failure, as it aims to lessen consequences rather than prevent the crash in the first place.

So I'll go on record with my prediction.  The next TAC ad will feature a few riders on sports bikes in full leathers going for a spin through the hills.  They will do some risky overtakes, and the last rider will misjudge it or cut it too close and as a result go too deep into a corner and run off into a tree.  It will not mention target fixation, gravel or tree litter on the shoulders, poor road surface, oncoming traffic drifting wide... it will not talk about how to correctly judge approach speed, or about the safest cornering lines.  In short it will do nothing to educate or promote safer riding, but will instead splash an over-simplified stereotype of risk taking behaviour across the TVs, radio stations and billboards of Victoria.

So dear TAC, I dare, urge and beg you to prove me wrong.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Nursery Rhymes

When I was learning to drive (ye gods, 20 years ago!) my driving instructor had a little "rhyme" that she taught me for merging / changing lanes:

  • Check Mirror
  • Indicate
  • Headcheck
  • Go!
I know it doesn't rhyme but it had a nice lilting tempo to it and clearly it's stuck in my head for more than 20 years... and anyone who knows me will realise what an achievement it is to get anything to stick in my memory!

So I've been thinking about motorcycle safety (shock, horror, I know!) particularly around educating drivers to always look for bikes, and I've been toying with the idea of little rhymes like this to get it set in the public consciousness.  For example:

Lane Changes
  • Check Mirror
  • Indicate
  • Look for Bikes
  • Go!
  • Look Left
  • Look Right
  • Look for Bikes
  • Go!
I wonder how many times someone needs to hear a simple phrasing like this before it sticks... especially if it is being said "at you" from a bumper sticker or poster rather than to you by an instructor.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Road Surface

Yup, I've been looking at YouTube clips of bikes on Mulholland Drive again :)

Watching this near-miss compilation, I noticed that almost half of the rear tyre slides happen just after a change in the road surface.  The road goes light-grey to dark-grey to light-grey again, and the tyres don't seem to like that at lean.

Take a look and see what you make of it.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Out here revisited

You might have seen my previous post about Queensland's Out Here campaign from 2010.  I was delighted to receive another email from their data analytics department this afternoon with some of the results from the campaign evaluation.In addition to statistics about motorist recognition of the campaign, they reported the following findings from the campaign evaluation (which was undertaken by independent market research):

  •  There was also very strong support for the campaign. 90 per cent of motorcyclists and 95 per cent of motorists thought that the campaign was a good way to get the message across. 
  • By comparison, motorists are reporting that they are checking their mirrors more often (65%) and giving motorcyclists more space on the road (59%). 

 The campaign also created high levels of behaviour change with:

  • Has prompted me to think about my behaviour and take on at least one of the key campaign messages when I ride, such as staying alert, keeping my distance, easing back, looking for the way out or staying visible (motorcyclists, 77%). 
  • Has provoked me to ride more safely (motorcyclists, 66%). 
  • Has prompted me to watch out for motorcycle riders (motorists, 71%). 
  • Has reminded me to look in the mirror more often before changing lanes or turning (65%). 
  • Has prompted me to give motorcycle riders more space on the road (59%). 

As previously noted, Queensland motorcycle fatalities (raw numbers) fell by almost 50% in 2009-2010 compared with 2008-2009.  This campaign appears to have been well received, and their fatal motorcycle accidents are reducing both in raw numbers and proportional terms.

Job well done Queensland.  Any of you guys want to come down here and work in Victoria?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Survey Results - 4 Ads Comparison

In the survey, participants were asked to watch 4 motorcycle safety ads - the 2009 Reduce The Risks campaign, the 2010 No Place To Race ad, the 2010 Out Here ad, and the 2012 Motorcycle Reconstruction campaign.

Here are the graphs of some of the responses for the 4 ads:

Responses as to how well the ad engaged them in thinking about their riding behaviour -

Responses as to how informative or useful they found the ad -

Responses as to how trustworthy they considered the information in the ad - 

Though each of the ads was internally branded by the agency that produced them, the survey did not indicate to the participant which ads were TAC campaigns and which were from other states.  I have picked these three questions just as an overview of audience engagement, trust, and impact.  I think these graphs speak for themselves.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Asking for it

I've been thinking a lot today about the attitude that riders "bring it on themselves" and that we're "asking for it" by virtue of choosing to ride a motorcycle.  And I'm quite mad about it.

We need to acknowledge as fact that sometimes people make mistakes, and that accidents will happen; and when they do happen, if you're riding a bike at the time, the chances are you will come off worse than if you were in a car.  We do need to acknowledge that.  But we do not need to accept it.

This may sound like a hair splitting distinction, but it's a really important point that a lot of non-riders I speak to don't seem to grasp.  In desperation I've reached for the only parallel I can think of - that abhorrent attitude that some men have historically espoused which places the blame for rape upon a girl who was dressed in revealing clothes.  And while we acknowledge that rape happens, and is an evil and abhorrent reality, we will I trust never become accepting of this.  We will never accept it as natural or inevitable.

But in conversations I have had with non-riders, some people have been quite happy to say that in the event of an collision with a car, the rider has brought their injuries upon themselves by choosing to ride a bike.

Now if people want to point and laugh at me when I arrive at work soaked to the skin, with fingers and lips turning blue from the cold, I am happy to accept that.  I choose to ride a motorbike in sub-zero temperatures and so the consequences of being subject to the vagaries of Melbourne's weather are mine to enjoy, or at least endure.

When we cross over into talking about the consequences of other people's decisions and mistakes being our fault, however, we've crossed a line that should not be crossed.  If we make it acceptable for people to harm others through their actions, and blame the victims for being in the way, then we've chosen to let people get away with whatever they can blame on someone else.  What we ought to be doing, as a society and a culture, is encouraging and requiring people to take responsibility for themselves and for their own decisions, and to encourage and require people to behave in a socially responsible way that doesn't impinge upon the freedoms and happiness of others.

I'm not really satisfied with these images yet.  I reckon I'm better with prose than with punchy posters and snappy single sentences.  But I'm going to keep pushing this line because it isn't right for us to roll over and accept that other road users simply won't look for bikes and we should just live with it.  While it is a reality that we must accept, we should never be content with it as the status quo, any more than we should accept that girls who wear short skirts are more likely to be the targets of sexual harassment.  Some realities are worth fighting against.

13 seconds

When you talk to motorcyclists about road safety, often the first thing you hear is a complaint about bloody drivers.  I have always tried not to be like that, because other drivers are beyond my control, and so for me safety starts and ends with what I am able to control and influence.

That's still true, but the time has come for a determined push to influence driver behaviour.

I know I don't really have much of a sphere of influence, but I'd really like this video to go viral and get this on the national agenda.  If you can help, please do.

Monday, May 28, 2012

TAC Campaign Effectiveness Survey - Part One

I've received all the responses I can analyse without paying for a membership at Survey Monkey, so I'm starting to look at the results I have for the TAC Campaign Effectiveness Survey.

First up, let's look at the respondents' answers regarding this latest campaign, the 'Motorcycle Reconstruction' ad.  There are 58 responses making up these results.

The respondents were asked to watch the Motorcycle Reconstruction ad, and answer as a rider, to what extent did watching this ad make you:

The most interesting aspect of these results to me are the fact that for all questions bar 2, the largest answer group was "not at all."  All the questions were phrased in terms of an active response from the viewer - does the ad make you think about, change, or use - in response to the ad.  Overwhelmingly it appears that these viewers were not influenced by this campaign at all, at least so far as these questions go.  The two questions that defied this trend related to whether the ad focused upon the consequences of an accident, and whether the respondent considered themselves to be the target audience of the ad.

Some of the optional comments entered shed further light on this.  For example one respondent commented that they already wear all the protective gear all the time, and do not speed.  Since none of the questions asked whether a riders current practices and habits were reinforced or supported by the ad, this riders' choices are likely aligned with the goals of the campaign, but the campaign cannot be said to have contributed towards changing their attitude on those subjects.  Whether the ad reinforced that behaviour however was not assessed.

That 67% of respondents indicated that the ad made them think about how they ride their PTW "not at all" should be an alarming outcome for the TAC.  I stress that this is not a professional survey, and these are not "findings" and are not put forward as a scientific statistical analysis.  All I am presenting this as is a informal survey of viewers' responses to the ad.  But that 67% of responses indicated that they didn't think about their riding behaviour at all in response to the ad surprises even me.  I am not a fan of this ad and consider it a lamentable waste of an opportunity to make a real impact, but despite that it did prompt me to think again about road-craft skills that would help save a rider in this predicament.  For two thirds of respondents to walk away from this ad without asking those questions is a pretty damning indictment of this campaign in my opinion.

Two more themes jump out at me from this question.  Firstly, it paints a picture of mistrust of the TAC, with 89% considering that the ad was "not at all" trustworthy and accurate, 84% saying that the ad did not provide any information to make riding safer, and 60% believing that they were not at all, or only a little, the target audience of the ad.  Secondly, 63% of people responded that they didn't think the ad addressed the causes of accidents at all.  

If I were the TAC I would be taking a three-pronged approach to addressing motorcycle safety in response to this campaign.
  1. I would commission a new ad focusing on driver behaviour.  While the accident statistics indicate that other vehicles are involved in only 50% of motorcycle fatalities, that 50% is certainly fair game for trying to lower motorcycle accidents.  Furthermore, such a campaign would demonstrate that the TAC is listening to the concerns of riders and is prepared to do something about it.  The idea in my head is something along the lines of "Is that gap big enough?  If you don't know, don't go."  The other idea is to picture a driver checking left and right before pulling out, counting the seconds they spend looking "1 motorcycle, 2 motorcycle" in the same way that American kids are portrayed as counting "1 mississippi, 2 mississippi ..."
  2. I would look at the causes of motorcycle accidents with only passing reference to consequences.  This seems to go against the grain of TAC's track record of emotive advertising, but in my opinion the TAC is allowing their messages to get muddied by their overpowering focus upon consequences.  Of course that is to an extent understandable since the TAC literally pays for those consequences; however preventing accidents is preferable to minimising the consequences of accidents, and visuals such as a rider wearing all the right gear dying from a broken neck do nothing to aid the clear communication of how to prevent a crash.  Causes and road-craft should be the major focus of this three-pronged approach.
  3. Consequences also need to be addressed, as riders have the ability to influence how significantly they are injured in a number of accidents.  Again, this topic would be handled separately from causes, and would focus on unpreventable or "no fault" accidents where a cause has to be included at all.  Ideas such as a child running into the path of an oncoming car that then swerves into the path of a rider, or a rider passing a truck as the truck tyre blows out and flings rubber at the bike spring to mind.  The aim here is to get away from the whole "well I just wouldn't have ridden like that guy rode, therefore I can turn off from the rest of the ad" syndrome, and allow the viewer to engage with the examination of consequence mitigation, mostly dwelling on protective gear.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Queensland's Out Here Campaign

Somewhere in the year 2010 Queenslanders were first introduced to the 'Out Here' campaign for motorcycle safety.  It featured a tv ad component:

There are lots of factors that influence motorcycle safety and fatality and serious injury trends.  But the trends for Queensland in the years leading up to, and following the release of this campaign are as follows:

2005-06:  Fatalities - 64; Hospitalisation - 896 (Vic fatalities: 48)
2006-07:  Fatalities - 69; Hospitalisation - 931 (Vic fatalities: 47)
2007-08:  Fatalities - 69; Hospitalisation - 973 (Vic fatalities: 45)
2008-09:  Fatalities - 79; Hospitalisation - 971 (Vic fatalities: 43)
2009-10:  Fatalities - 40; Hospitalisation - 838 (Vic fatalities: 38)
2010-11:  Fatalities - 49; Hospitalisation - 770 (Vic fatalities: 49)

(The figures are recorded by financial year, July - June.  The campaign began somewhere in the last two reporting periods, exactly when I am not sure of.)

Like Victoria, Queensland has seen a large jump in motorcycle registrations during this same period:
2005: 109,258
2006: 124,511
2007: 138,661
2008: 152,289
2009: 157,597
2010: 161,276

I am not qualified to draw the causality bow in response to these high level figures.  But the data clearly tells us that in 2009 - 2010 there was a turn around in the trends of motorcycle accidents and fatalities in Queensland.  If I were involved with this campaign, trying to drive down the number of motorcycle fatalities in that state, I would look upon those numbers with a sense of satisfaction and pride.  Clearly dropping from 79 fatalities in 2008-2009 to 40 in 2009-2010 is a great outcome, and to whatever extent this campaign is responsible for that, those involved with it should be extremely proud.

My thesis, which I am not really qualified to make and am completely unable to verify, is this:

Motorcycle safety campaigns that positively or sympathetically engage the motorcycling community are more successful than those that are do not.  I hope that we can see a positive, sympathetically engaging campaign run in Victoria so that we can test this thesis ourselves.

My sincere thanks to Data Analysis team of Queensland's Department of Transport and Main Roads for providing the figures cited herein.  In case there is any doubt, they have provided me with raw figures only; any conclusions drawn or hypotheses presented are purely my own.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Food for thought

Take a read of this article about the benefits to everyone from the uptake in motorcycle commuting.

As I read it, a large part of the benefit appears to be derived from bikes filtering through the traffic... something to think about ...

Practice Emergency Braking

I don't really want to make light of safety but this is some spectacular footage!

Monday, May 21, 2012

It's not just me

The results are probably not statistically significant, nor can I make any representations as to the make up of the respondents since it is an anonymous survey, and one that is only presently advertised online in places where I post, which may not hit a broad spectrum of riders.  Bearing that in mind however, a pattern is forming...

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Stay Upright - Quick Stops

This is what I came to the course for - practicing emergency stops. I had a big improvement in my confidence in the brakes, which is what it's all about - getting to know and trust the bike, and getting confident to push and get the most out of it.

If you haven't done any training since you got your license, go do it.

Stay Upright - Advanced 1

I did Stay Upright Advanced 1 training course yesterday, held down at the Broadford Motorcycle Complex.  This is the second time I've done this course, and it was more fun the second time :)

I ran a camera for some of the exercises that we did.  Below is a taste of the swerve practice that we did.  It was a pretty full class so you didn't always get to travel at the speed you might like, but it was excellent fun - and excellent practice - nevertheless.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Last night at about 9:15 a motorcyclist collided with a car that did a u-turn in front of him.  He died as a result of this collision, and my deepest sympathies go out to this man's friends and family.

The accident occurred on a straight stretch of road with relatively unobstructed visibility of oncoming traffic.

 It took place after dark, when the headlight of the bike should have been clearly visible.  Based on the image below it appears that the bike struck the front passenger door of the vehicle.  I would guess that he struck roughly 2 metres from the front of the car.

How long does it take for a car to move forwards 2 metres into the path of an oncoming motorcycle?  That is about how much time this rider had to react.

In light of all this, I would have thought that the message from this accident would be clear: cars, look out for bikes.  Regardless of what speed the motorcycle was travelling, provided his headlight was on there is no reason why this car would not have seen him.

I honestly would have thought this is a clear wake up call for drivers to look twice for bikes.  I would have thought this would be the moment to remind all road users of their responsibility to take care.

Here is what Inspector Martin Tynan said:

"We are in the vicinity of Turner St and Napean Highway in Moorabbin, and the situation tonight is that at about a quarter past nine we've had a motorcycle hit the side of a motor vehicle, and the force of the impact has caused that motor vehicle to flip onto its side.  Unfortunate byproduct of it is that is that the motorcyclist has passed away, and we have two people - elderly people - from the car have been taken to hospital.

"I wonder sometimes what more we can do.  We are out there, we have police on the road everywhere, we are an enormously visible police presence.  The message is going out through every form of media that speed kills, to slow down.  The current TAC ads relate specifically to motorcyclists, yet here we are, again, going through this process.  It's a very frustrating process for myself and my members, and it's got an enormous impact on everyone: not just the relatives of the deceased, but the whole community suffer from this.

"Look, anyone that rides a motorbike, anyone at all, I implore them to just be aware of where they are, and just slow down."

I am disgusted beyond words that in the same breath as announcing this fatality, that Inspector Tynan has condemned the rider in an accident where the car clearly failed to give way with absolutely tragic consequences.

This commentary justifies the concerns of riders that the "safety message" portrayed in the latest TAC campaign reinforces the anti-rider mentality of blaming the motorcyclist, whatever the circumstances may be.

In the wake of this latest preventable tragedy, I would like for 3 things to take place:
  1. The immediate suspension or resignation of Inspector Tynan for his grossly inappropriate conduct in blaming and vilifying the victim of last night's accident.
  2. The immediate retraction of the TAC's "Motorcycle Reconstruction" campaign, and replacing all further airtime and billboard usage either with the Vice Versa campaign from TACs own collection or with Queensland's Out There campaign.
  3. The immediate appointment of an Ambassador for Motorcycle Safety to the board of the TAC, with discretionary powers to oversee the execution of safety campaigns and initiatives relating to motorcycle safety.
We cannot continue to exonerate this type of driving.  We cannot continue to reinforce the message that it is the rider's fault for choosing to ride.  We cannot continue to dishonour the deaths of Victorian motorcyclists in this way.

EDIT: I have had it pointed out to me that the amount of force required to tip that Honda CRV is not consistent with the bike travelling at the speed limit.  Extrapolating that, it appears I am overly harsh in my assessment of Inspector Tynan's comments. We know that it is difficult to estimate the speed of an oncoming motorcycle, especially at night.  We riders don't help ourselves if our speed is above the marked speed.  While drivers need to know a gap is safe before pulling out, not assume it is safe, riders too need to take responsibility for themselves.  I'll reserve any further comments until the coroner's report reveals the estimated speed of the incident.

Monday, May 14, 2012

State of the union

Sent to John Thompson today:

Good afternoon John,

as discussed I have spent the weekend developing my thoughts on how the TAC is failing in its current approach to motorcycle safety and its engagement of the motorcycling community.  You raised two concerns that you would welcome input on: protective clothing and speeding.  I have some suggestions to make on those two issues, however before I can do that I need to lay a little ground work addressing the core issues that I believe underpin the disconnect between motorcyclists and the TAC.  For this purpose, I am going to talk about "motorcyclists"; obviously I cannot speak the mind of all motorcyclists however I am going to relate my opinion and impression of the motorcycling community's thoughts and opinions, which has been confirmed to me by the response to the petition I launched (over 800 signatures now) and comments fed back to me via the facebook page and comments & emails in response to my personal blog on motorcycling.

1.  Motorcyclists do not trust the TAC

In his book 'The 7 habits of Highly Effective People', author Steven Covey introduces the concept of a trust bank.  This trust bank or emotional bank holds the balance of trust that an individual holds towards you.  Each time you do something that earns trust, that balance goes up.  Each time you do something that breaks trust, the balance goes down.  In essence he states that it is possible to break trust with people and still maintain a healthy relationship with them providing you have previously established a positive trust balance with them.  In other words, I can break a promise to my daughters (Sorry love, I won't be home in time to read you a bedtime story) and not damage the relationship providing I have proven myself trustworthy in the past and I haven't exhausted that balance of trust.  However if I promise to be home in time for stories every morning, and then every night I run late and miss it, I will do considerable damage to that relationship and my daughters will not trust me about story time or anything else.  That constitutes a relationship in peril.

In my view, the TAC has exhausted its trust balance with many in the motorcycling community.  The TAC simply is not trusted by the riding community at the moment, and this has been the case at least since "reduce the risks" in 2009, which was when I started to pay attention to people's views on this subject.

This has two implications for the TAC:

  1. Riders who do not trust them will not be receptive to any message from the TAC that is directed at them; and
  2. Anything the TAC says or does that can be interpreted in a negative way is most likely going to be interpreted in a negative way.
I have taken the following slide from your GRSP Asia Seminar slide deck to illustrate the point:

Engagement is the piece of this puzzle that is lacking.  The TAC burned a lot of trust capital with the "reduce the risks" campaign, and that lost trust has not been rebuilt in the years that followed.

(I trust that this doesn't really need to be said, but I am going to qualify this point anyway just for the sake of absolute clarity.  I am describing the emotions, attitudes and opinions of motorcyclists.  These are human reactions and responses, not necessarily reasoned, rational objections.  You may well dispute some of the conclusions that motorcyclists draw, and you may even have facts on your side to do so, but please hear me that the TAC getting defensive and justifying itself does nothing to improve motorcyclist engagement or trust in the TAC.  If you genuinely want to overcome communication issues with the motorcycling community, you will need to set aside the impulse to defend the TAC and past actions, and listen to these concerns because whether or not the concerns are justified, they are real, and they form a real impediment to motorcyclists trust in and engagement with the TAC.)

Motorcyclists are a minority group.  We feel like a persecuted minority group.  Drivers fail to see us, or fail to look.  Our families nag us, harass us, disown us.  Victoria Police run special operations targeting us.  This all contributes to a heightened sense of alienation, which the TAC needs to overcome if they are going to effectively communicate with motorcyclists.  This is not happening.

Here are some examples of TAC actions or behaviour that undermines or erodes trust:
  • "Motorcycle riders targeted in new TAC campaign" - headline, press release 26 April 2012.  The TAC targets dangerous, illegal, and socially unacceptable practices and behaviour such as speeding, drink driving, texting while driving, and so on.  In that same list, and in that same language, the TAC announces that it is targeting motorcycle riders.  This inclusion of motorcyclists alongside a list of other vices is a very effective way of communicating that the TAC is against motorcyclists, not for them.  The first sentence of that press release reads "The Victorian Coalition Government's attack on the road toll was boosted this morning with the launch of a new, hard-hitting TAC campaign targeting motorcycles and speed."  Targeting motorcycles and speed.  Two evils of our roads.
  • Further in that same press release: "Despite accounting for only 3.8 per cent of all registered vehicles, injuries to motorcyclists account for 20 per cent of the TAC's no-fault costs..."  Starting press releases focusing on how much money TAC has to spend to compensate and rehabilitate riders is not a particularly wise place to start.  Riders would prefer to think of themselves as a vulnerable and valuable road user group rather than a financial liability.  The facts are immaterial compared to the message being sent: riders are too expensive, we are going to do something about it.  Not "riders are being injured in too great numbers."  Think about what is being communicated, and the impact that has upon the receptiveness of your target audience.
  • 2009 Reduce the Risks campaign: the tv commercial for this campaign compiled every negative behaviour and stereotype of motorcyclists into one action-packed segment.  The TAC has been quoted (it may even have been you John?) as saying that their goal is to make speeding as socially unacceptable as drink driving has become.  This ad seems to indicate that TAC is aiming to do the same with motorcycles; make them socially unacceptable.  The ad was overwhelmingly negative in its depiction of riders, and its reception amongst riders was correspondingly negative.
  • 2009 Reduce the Risks - post campaign response: it is believed that the TAC considers the Reduce the Risks campaign to have been successful, as it generated a lot of discussion among motorcyclists.  (I hope that isn't true.)  That rumour or belief poured fuel on the fire of motorcyclists' distrust; in response to that ad, motorcyclists were up in arms, indignant that that TAC ad was so overwhelmingly negative, focusing on the worst behaviour and delivering a negative image of riders where everything bad that happens to them is their own fault.  For this outcry to be interpreted as meaning the campaign is successful is out and out offensive, and further estranges riders from the TAC.
  • 2009 Reduce the risks - response to criticism: the response to individuals providing feedback in that campaign was extremely poorly managed.  I know of one person who read the Flinders University report upon which some of the statistics were based (the 38 times stat), and discovered that the authors of the study identified that particular statistic was based upon crude approximations of kilometres traveled and therefore they stated it was a dubious figure that should not be relied upon.  This individual delivered this feedback to the TAC via email.  When a response was received, it stated that the 38 times figure was drawn from a recent study undertaken by Flinders University, etc.  This response left the clear impression that the feedback had not so much as been read, and that the responses to it were form letters or paragraphs copied from the Spokes website.
  • 2012 Motorcycle Reconstruction - post campaign response: again the release of the tv ad provoked an angry response from motorcyclists.  The response to this anger and criticism of the ad has been a stubborn repetition of statistics rather than an acknowledgement of or engagement with the criticisms leveled or questions raised.  This is true of the defense published in the Herald Sun in response to the Maurice Blackburn opinion piece, and is equally true of the response I received from Jessica Truong on Friday night, my reply to which I cc'd you on.  In that instance, I asked one question: "if you repeat that exact scenario but set it in a 70 zone, what has the ad achieved?"  The fact that nobody has spoken to that question in any way does not engender trust in the feedback and accountability processes at work within the TAC.
  • Speed fixation.  For example, in the TAC defense of this latest campaign, it was stated that "[a]nalysis of crash data from 2008-2010 shows that speed was a contributing factor to 50% of motorcyclist fatalities in 60km/h zones and in 70km/h zones."  As was brought out in the parliamentary enquiry into motorcycle safety earlier this year, this "crash data" captures speed as a binary field: yes, or no.  It does not elaborate or state that speed was excessive or illegal, it just states that in the view of the investigating officer, speed was a factor.  Indeed in my question previously raised - what happens if you set it in a 70 zone - one speculates as to whether speed would be identified as one of the causes; the answer is that it ought to be, since regardless of the speed limit of the road, the rider was traveling too fast for him to be able to respond to the hazard, given his level of riding skill.  I make this observation merely to highlight the difference between (inappropriate) speed and speeding, a distinction that I will come back to.
(Again let me state that I do not want you to defend the TAC with respect to the above list.  I am not trying to accuse the TAC here, nor am I looking to enter a reasoned debate about the facts above.  I am trying to explain to the TAC that they are not trusted by the motorcycling community, and are not recognised either as experts in the area of motorcycle safety or as advocates promoting safer motorcycling.  You may not like that opinion being held of the TAC, and you may disagree with it on every level.  But it is I believe the reality that the TAC is facing, and is the biggest hurdle to the TAC making a positive impact communicating directly to motorcyclists.)

To summarise: the TAC is not trusted by motorcyclists, and is perceived as being adversarial towards motorcyclists and anti motorcycling.  Whether this view is justified is not the point; it is a reality that the TAC needs to accept and address if it is going to be successful in its attempts to communicate with riders.  This should come as no surprise to the TAC; during the Parliamentary enquiry into motorcycle safety, the Hon Mr Languiller asked the TAC representative whether discouraging riding was one of the goals of the TAC campaigns, and on receiving a negative answer, indicated that the ads certainly had that affect upon him.

Coming back to your diagram then, the situation is that the necessary engagement is not present with the target audience.  Furthermore because of the lack of trust, the emotions that are generated by the campaign are not the ones that were intended.  No motorcyclist I know or have heard from responded to that ad with a sense of fear of that possible outcome, or shock at the difference those 8km/h could make.  They all responded with outrage that the focus of this ad was upon the speed of the rider not the (perceived) negligent driving of the car, an outrage that was amplified by the supporting materials on Spokes which exonerated the driver of responsibility for the crash.

So we have a lack of engagement and a negative reaction.  The educational component of the ad has for all intents and purposes been lost.  Not only do the riders not want to hear it because of anger and mistrust, but the technical execution of the ad elicits scorn from a number of riders due to perceived errors and inaccuracies with the physics of the braking distances etc.  That the TAC appeared to try to enter into debate about the question of braking distances in one radio piece (I think it was 3AW) was a particularly poor choice, further alienating the audience who now feel that the TAC has no idea about the realities of riding a bike and doesn't even understand how motorcycle brakes work.

Before the TAC can have any broader success trying to deliver a safety message targeting riders, trust will have to be re-established.  This is no small task, and it is made harder every time the TAC responds to criticism with a justification of its actions to date.  Self-justification and rebuttal are not the same as listening, and one of the criticisms of the TAC that has eroded trust is the perception that they do not listen.  The TAC has a big job to do simply to convince riders that they care about rider safety, and starting press releases focusing on how much money TAC has to spend to compensate and rehabilitate riders is not a particularly wise place to start.  Riders would prefer to think of themselves as a vulnerable and valuable road user group rather than a financial liability.  I don't think that's too unreasonable.

2.  The TAC is choosing the wrong messages

There are two things that keep motorcyclists alive on our roads: riding skill, and road craft.  I don't know if you have ever ridden a motorcycle, but the safe operation of a motorcycle is very different and more demanding than operating a car.  The reality is much more complicated than this, but for the simplest of introductions to the topic, consider gravity.  Leave a car at the mercy of gravity, and it does just what it is supposed to do - it stays in position, all 4 wheels in contact with the road, and all is well.  Leave a motorcycle at the mercy of gravity, it falls over.  Everything a motorcyclist does while riding the bike is focused upon balancing gravity against other forces while getting the bike where they want it to go.  This makes it much more difficult to construct a nice sound-bite safety message that targets motorcycle operation, since it isn't helpful or useful to present motorcycle safety as the byproduct of "slowing down won't kill you" at work. 

Working with the current ad as an example of the message being wrong, slowing down to the speed limit of 60 (as the ad was scripted) wouldn't kill the rider.  Set the incident in a 70 zone, and slowing down to the speed limit of 70 wouldn't save him either.  Safe operation of a motorcycle is dictated by what speed is appropriate for the conditions.  I am not trying to justify it being "safe" to go above the limit if the conditions are good, though I have heard that argument from riders.  The point is that for a rider to be safe in the kind of scenario the ad depicts, the rider needs to be able to judge what is a safe speed in those conditions, and that speed is determined by, among other things, their level of skill in operating the motorcycle - in this instance, emergency braking and counter-steering.

So the choice of messages is wrong; of course it is valid to say that the rider suffers less injuries if they travel at 60 rather than 68, but then we enter the spiral to the lowest common denominator whereby the rider suffers less injuries if they travel at 50, or at 40, or at 30.  The kinds of messages that may be more effective are those that focus upon rider skills and road craft; in essence, the difference between a legal speed and a safe and legal speed; and how to ride to avoid and prevent situations like this from happening in the first place.  The RTA of NSW has a long running campaign devoted to choosing your corners which I trust you are familiar with.  It is an excellent campaign in my opinion, as it highlights the need for appropriate riding skills, it identifies both the positive and negative consequences for getting it right or wrong, and it is applicable to any rider on any corner without being tied to a certain speed limit, road type, environment etc.  Another ad I highly recommend is SA's "no place to race" campaign.  It is much more targeted at a specific demographic within the riding community but it is well scripted, and very visually striking.  But they haven't gone for the angle that would have my wife up sleepless at night; in other words while being an arresting ad, it has an intellectual hook rather than an emotional one.  The thing that makes this ad, however, is having Mick Doohan deliver the punchline in a way that is very natural.  He is a voice that motorcyclists know and respect, and he is saying something that is easy to believe.  Far too often this kind of "celebrity endorsement" seems cheap and false, like if one was to get Mark Weber to say "no kids, you shouldn't drive fast or spin your wheels" reading it dead pan from an autocue - it just wouldn't work.  Mick Doohan pulled it off, and if you insist on going for graphic, negative consequence ads, I suggest you have your team study that one and see how they've pulled it off.

So what are the right messages?  Ones that focus on riding skills and road craft are in my opinion best.  Ones that focus on consequences certainly have their place, but your challenge there is how to overcome the "it won't happen to me" factor.  This is where the technical details of the ad can let you down, like a rider skidding the back wheel of a sports bike for 21 metres... it leaves lots of wriggle room for your intended audience to dismiss the ad because it lacks credibility in the mind of the audience (no matter what the stats may or may not say).

Again, motorcyclists are a stubborn mob who don't trust the TAC and are very used to being told that "motorbikes are dangerous" by people who have never ridden one in their life.  If you want to overcome those obstacles and start effectively communicating with the riding audience, you are going to need to:
  • (re)establish trust with riders
  • choose messages that make sense to riders, and
  • deliver them in a trustworthy way
I won't elaborate any more on this theme.  On the whole there's nothing that I've said here that wasn't said in the presentation made to the TAC by the MRA Vic back in 2010, so none of this should come as any great shock to you.  Which, by the way, makes the current campaign that much more disappointing, but I'll come back to that a little later.

3.  Choosing the right message

Of all the statistics surrounding motorcycle fatalities from 2011, the one that I find the most disturbing is that 17 fatalities were recorded as "running off straight road."  That's more than 30% who in the eyes of the investigating police officer(s) just ran off the road.  Now there's nothing in this world that a motorcycle likes to do better than travel in a straight line.  If you watch videos on stunting crashes on YouTube you'll notice the regularity with which once the rider has fallen off his bike, the bike just continues on straight ahead until it hits something.  So why did 1 in 3 of the fatal accidents occur on straight stretches of road without the involvement of another vehicle?  I can think of a number of possibilities, some are more or less likely than others, such as there was an oncoming vehicle that precipitated the accident by driving onto the wrong side of the road, but it failed to stop.  If you watched the videos that I sent you in my previous email you will have seen a couple of examples of this sort of driving which could easily have resulted in a motorcycle fatality of this nature.  If you add in the number of crashes marked as "run off road on curve" we account for 25 fatalities in 2011 - half, in other words.

Half of the fatalities in 2011 are attributable to a lack of rider skill and road craft on straights and bends, that don't appear to involve other vehicles.  How do we address that?  We need to focus on rider skills and road craft:
  • Planning corners
  • Understanding target fixation
  • Correct determining of safe speed
  • Counter-steering
  • Emergency braking and emergency stops
  • Evasive maneuvers
  • Anticipation of hazards ahead
  • Lane positioning (to keep away from gravel on the shoulder of the road)
And so on.  These topics may not lend themselves to nice sound bites, but I reckon they will be more effective in saving lives.  And they are consistent with the TAC's statements that regardless of who's at fault, the rider always loses, and that it is up to the rider to reduce the risks.  Riders must take personal responsibility for their safety, and the TAC should be encouraging that with positive reinforcement and education, rather than trying to outdo itself with negative and emotive shock advertising.

4.  Outcome Evaluation
The presentation to the GRSP Asia Seminar talks about Outcome Evaluation of a campaign.  Clearly this isn't something that is published for general consumption, but I think it would be worth your while re-evaluating the evaluation of the Reduce the Risks campaign.  Certainly by the primary metrics I have available to me - annual motorcycle fatalities, and % of TAC spend - the campaign would be considered a failure.  Furthermore it should have ticked boxes in your "negative media coverage" column, not to mention the outrage is triggered in the motorcycling community, leading to a protest ride around Melbourne CBD with state news coverage.
From a motorcyclist's perspective, that campaign was an offensive debacle from start to finish, compounded by the TACs refusal to acknowledge that they'd screwed it up.  I would encourage you to compare my assessment with the TACs own post campaign review, because I suspect the internal review will tell a very different story and, if it does, I think you should be very concerned.
I am a pretty reasonable and forgiving individual, but I fully expected that in the aftermath of the reduce the risks campaign, the TAC would have learned some lessons and improved its approach.  Now that the Motorcycle Reconstruction campaign has been released it is evident that there hasn't been any learning or change of approach in the TAC towards motorcycle safety.  As the head of that area John, I think you ought to be asking the question why.  If I were a shareholder of TAC I would be attending the AGM to demand answers, with the expectation that whoever was responsible for this campaign would either resign or be shown the door.  As it is I am limited in my powers, I have to content myself with trying to raise the problem within the TAC by speaking with yourself and Tracey Slatter, and from without by going through the minister for road safety and my local MP.  With more than 800 names now on the petition I am able to speak representing more people than just myself; I hope that is something that the TAC is mindful of and takes seriously.

5.  Next Steps

Once I hear from you that you've had a chance to read and digest what I've written in this and my previous emails, I will make an appointment with you to come down and discuss these issues face to face.  We are in agreement that the reality of motorcycle accidents in Victoria is appalling and over the last 2 years has gotten worse instead of better, so I trust that we are also in agreement that the TAC needs to change its approach and methods on the subject.

As a next step I would be grateful if you could provide me with:
  • your responses to the issues I have raised both about the current campaign and those issues contained in this email
  • a summary of the post campaign review of the reduce the risks campaign, with a particular emphasis on what the TAC has already done to attempt to repair trust with motorcyclists
  • any plans that are currently under way to address the fallout of the current campaign
With that information I will be able to put together an agenda of ideas that we can discuss in person without going over old ground that has already been covered.  This should enable us to start taking some positive steps towards stemming the human tide of motorcycling casualties by focusing on the causal issues that are precipitating so many injuries and tragedies, and on rebuilding the relationship between motorcyclists and the TAC so that we can more effectively work together to improve motorcycle safety in this state.

Yours Sincerely,

Ross Daws