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.