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.


  1. Sadly this doesn't surprise me in the slightest, and I'm afraid your prediction of the next campaign seems almost too logical to bet against.

    Yes, doing 200kph in a suburban street is stupid.
    Yes, taking a corner at 160 in the hills is risky.

    So is taking a 65 sign-posted corner at 90 in a 100 zone, especially if you don't know the corner. Even if you take that corner just fine, if the bozo in a 4WD coming the other way doesn't you may still have precious little traction reserve (or reaction time) to avoid a potentially fatal scenario.

    But the TAC doesn't seem to thing that is an issue - determining a safe speed for the conditions is just too hard for them it seems... and heck rider training will only boost our confidence and make us more reckless.

    Frankly I think the only thing that will ever get the TAC to start to understand thses issues is if they start actually employing riders, because they sure as hell don't seem to listen to them now.

  2. My thoughts too mate. Thanks for the write up.

  3. At last, someone has proven to me that TAC are actually doing what I have always though they were doing. Amazing......Grrr. These focus groups prove that TAC actually have no idea what they are doing. Congratulations on getting onto one of these focus groups. Now the truth is out - I hope TAC is reading this, and that they begin to recognise that they need to change their ways.

    Ross, what you have done here is prove to TAC what many of us have been telling them for a many years. VMAC rider members have been trying to get through to them for years. I have tried to get through to them in concert with an MRA(Vic) representation to them. Is it any wonder why we feel that they are our enemies - they don't trust qualified, experienced point of view......end of rant : (

  4. Well said Ross.

  5. Indeed, well said. Public service at it's finest.

  6. Initially I thought by loading that invite I got onto the forums was not such a good idea, but having read the response I am glad I did, well written Ross..

  7. Well written piece Ross. In one way it's nice to get an insight into what goes on in these focus groups, unfortunately as John pointed out above, it confirms what many of us thought or suspected in regard to TAC for many years. Until they start to actively listen to the people with the experience for something other than a new marketing angle I guess we'll keep seeing the same tactics used over and over again. The part that's really galling is that the "success" that these campaigns have then get other states continuing down the same path.

  8. The TAC should have different teams to advise them. Motorist for car drivers and Bikers for Motor Cycle riders. BUT motorist (and truckies) should be made aware of other road users, including motor cyclists, push bikes and pedestrians. Most bikers I know also drive cars and so understand the need to LOOK OUT for motorcyclists while they are driving. It's all about changing peoples attitudes. I have had several near misses on a push bike simply because the car driver WANTED to scare the "...." out of me. I have had the same experience whilst riding my motor cycle. CAR only DRIVERS DON'T CARE.

  9. its not only TAC, students participating in the Vic Rides coaching programme, in the initial phone interview, the inference is that they are risk takers, and will to break the law.
    Students have felt they didnt have any other option than to agree when they thought some of the questions were clearly, leading to a preconcieved agenda.

    Of course your data will reflect your opinion if you dont allow for a contradictory reply to your opinion.

    It would be nice if when we take the time to do, these surveys etc, we are allowed to disagree or have another opinion

    As i work in the industry i need to be annonymous.

    Let Truth prevail.

  10. Well written piece and exactly what I expected from the TAC.

    These unconsulted and poorly constructed ad campaigns are actually making our lives more dangerous, as they provide car drivers with more "legitimate" reasons not to "see" us. What is particularly galling is that our levy is paying for it.

    We need to demand a measurable outcome of this levy and if they can not provide it, it should be scrapped.

  11. A well written piece Ross, well done for making the statement.
    It is blatantly true that the surveys conducted by TAC will of course get the results they desire because not only are they asking leading questions, they are working from incorrect principles and a flawed hypothesis.
    I would encourage all who read this and similar critiques, to remember, that when all is said and done, the TAC is nothing more than an insurance company. They have the role of revenue collector and justify it by running “road safety” campaigns.
    And so, on and on we go...
    (I choose to be anonymous as I have been a recent client of the TAC).

  12. Well written piece Ross, typical responce from a goverment organisation! They only see and hear what they want too! Unfortunately this is typical across many other aspects of life.
    For example, Cars speed and are reckless so what do they do to try and slow them down, hm... Lets raise the fines, lets hide mobile speed cameras, lets hide police cars, lets put in double demerits over holiday periods; and does it slow people downm, does it stop cars/trucks from having crashes? Um.......NO. (In certain cases I think it makes people even worse drivers! Too busy watching the speedo and not the road!!)
    People are dying from Cancer from smoking and people are dying from the effects of alchol, what do they do about this, hm... lets put the prices up, becuase that will fix it!

    Why is it so hard to work out, we as humans will ride/drive fast, smoke, drink and do drugs, have unprotected sex and we will do stupid stuff!

    The more knowledge, information, guidance, training is provided the better we can handle situtations, just like doing an apprenticeship, start of young and dumb and by the time you've finished you know what can and can not be done and how the job needs to be done to do it right!

    Of course people will still crash, speed, smoke, drink and die... thats just life!