Friday, May 4, 2012

Letter to TAC

As part of my campaign to force the TAC to engage with motorcyclists on the issues of safety, I have today sent the following to TAC and to Spokes:

To: Tracey Slater
Acting CEO
Transport Accident Commission
and Spokes

4 May 2012

Re: ‘Motorcycle Reconstruction’ Campaign

Dear Ms Slater and Spokes,

I am writing to express my deepest dismay and disappointment with the latest campaign produced by the TAC targeting motorcycle safety.  I am passionate about safe motorcycling both for commuting and for recreation, which compounds my disappointment at the wasted opportunity and money which this campaign represents.  In light of the TAC’s experiences with the 2009 “reduce the risks” campaign which saw no reduction in the death toll of motorcyclists but generated a lot of animosity and distrust towards the TAC, I had hoped for a more collaborative approach and better outcomes with subsequent campaigns aimed at motorcycling safety.

My concern is a simple one: the TAC has again failed to address the substantive issues of motorcycle safety in this campaign.  I have other concerns that I hope you will invite me to discuss with you at a later time, but my overwhelming concern is that this campaign over-simplifies the complexities of safe motorcycle operation.  I am so concerned and angry about this failure of the TAC to grapple with the real issues of rider safety that four days ago, I started a petition calling on the TAC to get real about rider safety.  As of the time of writing, there are over 500 signatures on this petition calling for you to change your approach to motorcycle safety.

I appreciate the stated goals of the campaign to educate riders and pillions about the impact of speed in the event of an accident, and to highlight the benefits to crash avoidance and injury reduction by riding at a safe and legal speed.  This I believe that the TAC has singularly failed to do in any meaningful way.  I can justify this – despite your assertions in your statement reproduced today in the Herald Sun – with one simple illustration.

Take your ad, the television commercial, and set it in a 70 zone.  I beg you, take a moment to re-watch the ad, but in your mind replace the 60 zone with a 70 zone.  You can leave all the rest the same; he is travelling at 68, the driver cannot see him, he collides with the car and suffers a fatal injury.  But now that it is set in a 70 zone, the carefully scripted (and disingenuous) culpability of the rider for speeding cannot be the punchline of the ad.  Do you see it now?  Now we have a real life, every day high-risk situation for a motorcyclist, and you cannot gloss over the realities of this danger with a jingoistic cry of “don’t speed.”

Now when your investigating officer tries to determine why the rider didn’t make it home, he has to answer the real questions of why the accident took place, and you have to deliver real, informative answers to the viewer.

Why did he crash?  Because, although the speed he was travelling was legal, it was not safe.  And now you can get to the heart of motorcycle safety; the need to exercise judgement; the need to scan for risks; the need to practise emergency braking manoeuvres; the advantages of buying a bike with ABS; what position on the road should you adopt to maximise the ability of drivers turning out of side streets to see you; and so on.  All these topics which are of genuine life and death value to the motorcycling community, especially at a time when we have seen continuous, unprecedented growth in the number of motorcyclists taking to our roads.

But because the TAC chose not to address the real issues of motorcycle safety, and because the TAC chose either not to consult with the motorcycling community in the production of this ad or to ignore the feedback they would surely have received, other real motorcyclists will continue to ride blindly into high risk situations, because this ad tells them that sticking to the speed limit is the key to “physics deciding if you live or die” coming down in their favour.

Sadly as I write this, the news is breaking of another motorcycling fatality on our roads.  Last night on the Ring Road, eye witness accounts report a truck changing lanes into a motorcyclist, fatally injuring him.  It is not fit to speculate on the exact causes of this tragedy, but as a motorcyclist who commutes daily on Melbourne's freeways, major and minor roads, I am very well aware of the road craft, the broad array of skills, strategies, habits and practises that can and must be employed by a motorcyclist to give themselves the best chance of avoiding an accident.  I am speechless with grief and rage that the TAC has yet again failed to even touch upon the life-saving topics of appropriate speed determination, hazard perception, evasive and defensive riding and so forth, and has instead placed the lives of motorcyclists in jeopardy by their continued insistence upon their fictitious version of reality whereby all a motorcyclist needs to do to stay safe is stick to the speed limit.  It is simply not good enough to bury a few nuggets of information in the depths of the spokes site and claim that TAC is taking a broad, scientific and educational approach.  You are bombarding tv, radio, print and digital media with the message that choosing not to speed will save your life; your responsibility to the motorcycling community of Victoria demands that you do much more than that, and your present dereliction of that duty is an outrage.

This failure to consult, and subordination of the genuine safety issues to overly simplistic slogans is reprehensible.  While I do not condone speeding you must surely be aware of the utter unsuitability of this answer as the panacea to the risks faced by motorcyclists.  I cannot state forcefully enough how badly the motorcycling community is being failed by this approach.  I urge you on behalf of Victoria’s motorcycling community and particularly the 559 signatories (at time of writing) to immediately contact me and and/or other representatives of the riding community of Victoria.  Your ongoing defence of this deplorable state of affairs must end immediately.  The TAC and the motorcycling community of Victoria need to be working together to achieve those goals which I trust we hold in common: the lowering of the motorcycle road toll, and the promotion of safe motorcycling in Victoria.


Ross Daws


  1. I just love the way this is based on a 1975 study, bikes had drum brakes front and rear in those days, why don't they use current data?

    because their ad would be

    " the bike pulled up safely at both 60Kph and 80Kph, shit, we even tried it at 100Kph and he still didn't hit the truck, at 120Kph he came close to the front of the truck, but at 140kph he sailed past the front of the truck before it could even move. Motorcycles , they brake better than you think!"

  2. How realistic it is in not necessarily the issue.

    To a driver it may appear realistic and reinforce the commonly held view that bikes are hard to see therefore you are not really liable if you hit them. This ad will not save lives and may cost more.

    The real issue is that TAC failed to consult AGAIN.

    Well done Ross

  3. Excelent letter Ross.
    And yet again the TAC puts all the blame/responsability on the rider and not the vehicle that failed to give way.
    The fact that the driver couldn't see what's comming & yet still turned out of the intersection is totaly missed.
    We all have times on the roads when drivers either don't look or don't care. Driver education should also be an aim of the TAC.