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)

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