Protect our motorcyclists: What riders and non-riders can do

Motorbike Learner riding with another motorcyclist on a curving roadIn the first few months of 2016 we have seen many motorcyclists lose their lives on Victorian roads. By early March, sadly 24 motorcyclists have died*, a third of the total lives lost in Victoria.

We haven't seen anything near this level of trauma for motorcyclists this early in the year since the 1980s. All of those who died were men aged between 18 and 75 years old.

The devastating increase in deaths among motorbike riders  prompted an emergency media conference from Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Doug Fryer at the location of one of the recent crashes. The spokesperson for the Victorian Motorcycle Council, John Eacott, joined him.

He emphasised the riders who lost their lives were "not faceless men in black helmets" but "brothers, sons and fathers whose deaths will never be forgotten by their families and friends."

All of these crashes could have been avoided. Many of those who died are everyday people underestimating the risks and making a mistake - then next thing you know, they're not with us. According to police data, in a third of the crashes, driver error was a contributing factor in the crash, while a quarter of them only involved the motorbike. Of the riders killed, almost 25% were unlicensed and three riders were on stolen bikes.

A lot of these crashes have involved speed; not necessarily going over the speed limit in some cases, but inappropriate for the conditions.

It's important not to overlook the reality of severe injuries many motorcyclists suffer in crashes as well, changing their lives forever. During 2014/15, more than 1000 motorcycle riders were hospitalised after a crash. Unlike cars, which are equipped with safety features to protect passengers, motorcycles do not offer the same protection. Riders on bikes have virtually the same protection as pedestrians but with the added risk element of travelling at speed. As Mick Doohan recounts in this video, you can walk away in some instances if protected with the right gear, but you can also end up spending months in hospital.

*This article has been updated to reflect the number of lives lost as of 23 March, 2016.

The best outcome would be for no crash to happen at all, but as part of Towards Zero, we acknowledge that mistakes are human nature and that our bodies are fragile. Protecting against these errors in every way we can is the best way to ensure people aren't seriously injured or killed; it is the shared responsibility of every person using the road, from car drivers to motorcyclists.

The assistant commissioner has said there would be police out on the roads in the coming weeks with an enhanced focus on the interaction between bike riders and car drivers, as well as checking bikes are registered and meet the requirements for road use.

"I challenge the whole community not to let their deaths be in vain but instead for them to be a wake-up call to change our behaviour on the roads," he said. "We need to share the roads and respect each other at all times."

John Eacott agreed with the assistant commissioner, calling on motorcyclists to ride within their limits, practice robust road craft, have the right clothing on and not speed. He also encouraged returning riders who had not been on the road for a while to get retraining before they go riding – something he did himself.

"Take it easy, go and engage yourself with one of the companies that provide basic learner training and get back those skills you used to have," he said. "You'll enjoy motorcycling far more than you would otherwise."

What you can do as a rider

As Doug Fryer, a motorcyclist himself, said at the conference, "[riding is] a great way to get around but it does come with its risks." The statistics reflect this risk: while riders make up 4% of roads users, they account for 17% of the trauma we see on the roads.

Acknowledging these risks is the first step you can take to ensure each ride is the perfect ride.

  • Ride within your limit and experience
  • If you're not licensed, you haven't got the skills to ride a bike
  • Wear protective clothing - unlike people in cars, you're not shielded by vehicle safety features like airbags
  • The mild weather makes it easier to think "I'll just jump on a bike and go for a spin". But if you think it's too hot to put on protective gear then it's too hot to ride

  • Keep watch for yourself, and others
  • Look ahead and don't assume other road users have seen you

  • Get to know the bike you're riding and how it behaves
  • Show respect to other road users and share the road
  • Understand and adhere to the new rules around lane filtering. Check out some FAQs here.

The second stage of the Graduated Licensing System rolls out soon with changes to assessments for Learners and restrictions - March 19 in metro areas and April 2 in regional areas. Find out more about GLS on the VicRoads website.

What you can do to keep motorcyclists safe

  • If your friend or loved one isn't wearing protective gear or takes risks while riding, call them out on it
  • When driving always keep an eye out for motorcyclists, check your mirrors and pay attention to your surroundings
  • Don't let yourself be distracted while driving or as a pedestrian
  • Show respect to other road users, particularly motorcyclists who are extremely vulnerable in a crash