Motorcyclists are a passionate lot. When you write a column about them, you are sure to get a response. So it was, when the headline about a month ago suggested a motorcycle strategy for Northland, I got a few responses.
The writer described his experience and passion for two wheels, but was also anxious about the state of some Northland roads as the basis for developing a strategic approach to motorcycling in our territory. But that begs the question - that the horrendous fatal and serious injury statistics for motorcyclists is particularly unique to Northland's roads and is that where a strategy should focus?
There is an international trend fuelled by the pandemic, climate change, a changing population demographic and Baby Boomers' increased freedom, leading to a significant increase in the number of motorcyclists on our roads. We've seen a 10 per cent increase in motorcycle sales in the past year alone.
But with the increase in numbers has come a disproportionate increase in the fatal and serious injury rate in deaths per 100,000 registered motorcycles and per 100 million kilometres travelled. You just cannot blame those statistics on the state of the roads alone.
At the time of writing, there were 12 road fatalities in the current holiday period and four of these have been motorcyclists. The sole fatal so far in Northland was a motorcyclist in the early morning at Kaihu. A steady 16 per cent of our national road toll have been motorcyclists, and Northland's five out of thirty in the past year is consistent with that.
The question then becomes - is there anything particularly unique about Northland's motorcycling scene that requires a specific Northland Motorcycle Safety Strategy?
The strategic approach is about developing a big picture vision with targetted outcomes and some sense of achievability and control which we can all own. Then we develop a strategic plan to work towards those outcomes. Is that possible across the range of motorcycling issues in Northland and how does it fit with a national strategy?
Motorcyclists pay an annual registration of $585.94 a bike over 600cc. That's over five times the cost of a private car registration. Most of that fee goes to ACC to partly cover the lifelong cost of motorcycle injuries. It is commonly accepted that the fee does not cover the total ACC cost. Part of that registration fee goes to the Motorcycle Safety Advisory Council (MSAC) to develop and decide national actions relating to improving motorcycle safety. ACC and MSAC have together developed the "Single Point Of Truth" document as a blueprint for motorcycle safety action.
There are five key priority areas:
• Human factors such as attitudes and behaviours by both riders and drivers which contribute to crashes;
• Personal protective clothing - it's not just the helmet but all the gear, all the time (ATGATT), full leathers, gloves, and boots which are built to withstand the stresses, friction and potential injuries of a high-speed skate along the road;
• Vehicle technology with the specific emphasis on the uptake of anti-locking braking systems;
• Rider skills - increasing the uptake of Ride Forever training for new and experienced riders;
• and finally, roads and roadsides - with the specific focus of making high-risk and popular routes more motorcycle friendly.
Research in Australia indicates half of all motorcycle crashes involved just one bike and its rider, and they also found in cases where there was another vehicle involved, the motorcyclist was deemed to be at fault in over half of such crashes. It's probably a bit hard to digest that in a high percentage of fatalities, bikers are the architect of their own demise.
You can make roads more motorcycle friendly and the 320km Coromandel Loop is testament to that. The partnership of NZTA, ACC, MSAC, local councils and the police has, over the past 10 years, imposed a range of road treatments from signage, road sealing including drive entrances, earthworks, removing hazards and improving emergency service availability, to create a safe and picturesque motorcycle ride. It's fair to say that a good road for motorcycling is a good road for everyone.
A strategic approach to motorcycle safety is not just about roads. It involves all players in improving knowledge, attitudes, behaviours and skills as well.