BACK in the March 2015 edition of PHC Magazine, Ian Kerr reported on the introduction of a transport initiative, Realising The Motorcycling Opportunity, which aimed to reduce deaths and injuries of motorcyclists and promote the use of powered two wheelers in the UK.
Two years on, he brings an update on the progress of the campaign…
CALL ME a cynic, but over the years I have attended numerous press launches of government reports, products and even bikes which have all sounded great and very positive, but have disappeared just as quickly as the launch notice had appeared. I have even gone away full of enthusiasm and written lots of encouraging words about how things are going to change for the better as far as motorcycling is concerned, but have found that all the good ideas have gone with a change of staff and or lack of funding.
As a result, when way back in 2014, the Motorcycle Industry Association (MCIA) in conjunction with what was then the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) – now rebranded as the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) – announced a joint strategy to cut death and injury amongst Powered Two Wheeler (PTW) users on the roads in the UK, I did not get too excited!
It was called a ‘Realising The Motorcycling Opportunity – A motorcycle safety and transport policy framework’ and it listed aims and objectives to cut the casualty rate and improve relationships between the riders and the forces of law and order. All parties that had an input to its publication, which obviously included the police and motorcycle road safety experts, acknowledged that the only way to reduce vulnerability of riders was to properly incorporate their use and needs into mainstream transport planning, which would help cut the death toll and reduce injuries.
The so called ‘Framework’ created a ‘safe system approach’ (which I am pleased to report is now widely accepted as a guiding principle among road safety professionals) that is underpinned by the understanding that humans are fallible and will make mistakes – which can be mitigated through ‘forgiving’ design, i.e. a road system built to absorb mistakes and limit the transfer of forces which can result in serious injury or death.
All those in attendance from the various bodies with a vested interest in reducing casualties, and of course selling more PTWs, were cautiously optimistic. But at the back of their minds was the question as to how long this would survive? Was it just another talking shop and/or PR exercise to show that something was being done? Or to give another Government minister some positive coverage and so on!
Well, the good news is that the Framework still exists and, as stated above, is working well and has even enticed a third partner who has some real clout in Government circles – Highways England. Unfortunately, what with Brexit and Trump making all the news headlines these days you might have missed the announcement of this very important player joining the party back in November last year.
Just in case you do not know, or understand their importance and the relevance of their joining the fight for safer motorcycling, Highways England is the company responsible for running more than 4,000 miles of England’s motorways and major trunk roads. The government-owned company is now an equal partner in facilitating practical changes to roads to benefit PTW’s and has funded the purchase of motorcycles to promote motorcycle safety via the police operated Bikesafe scheme
Just to emphasise how they can effect changes and make people sit up and take notice, there is, in addition to the original ‘Framework’ – a weighty 161 page official ‘White Paper’ which calls for motorcycles and scooters to be included in mainstream transport policy and for rider safety to be consistently factored into national road design, which has not been the case in the past. It also advocates unlocking the benefits of motorcycles and demonstrating exactly how they offer a practical solution to congestion, as well as improving personal mobility for people without access to other forms of transport, which will obviously help promote sales as well.
As a result of the original report two years ago, most motorcycle safety campaigners now know that there is a growing body of evidence from other EU countries showing that casualties actually reduce where motorcycle and scooter use is more common, as other road users become more aware of them. And Highways England itself has a goal of bringing the number of people killed or injured on the strategic road network as close as possible to zero by 2040, so they are a perfect fit to join the group.
While historians will argue that the use of motorcycles as a basic form of transport and commuting tailed off in the late fifties and sixties as cars became cheaper, the number of motorcycles and scooters licensed for the roads has nearly doubled in the past twenty years, with government statistics showing a continued increase. And with congestion set to rise, it is likely that many more people will opt for two wheel transport.
Highways England, the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the Motorcycle Industry Association believe this choice needs to be properly supported and managed. In others words being proactive, rather than just reacting to bad headlines which helps nobody. Least of all the manufacturers and dealers!
The ‘strategy’ identifies seven key areas which would help make roads safer for riders, along with actions as to how this can be achieved practically. These include: safer infrastructure, expanding road user education, increasing awareness and training and working in partnership with cycle groups.
The Framework advocates using guidelines produced by the Institute of Highway Engineers, which identifies simple practical steps to reduce risks for riders. These include using rider friendly barriers and road surfaces, repositioning pillars, removing unnecessary signage, using non-slip man hole covers and the prompt clearing up of diesel spills, to name just a few of the suggestions. Highways England will also work to promote safety messages and create awareness about motorcycles and scooters, since education of all road users is an important element of the Framework
Obviously things like rider training, proper protective clothing and general education of other road users as to PTW rider’s vulnerability, as well as the benefits to PTW use in terms of beating congestion and reducing pollution, are highlighted in the comprehensive tome that seems to leave nothing out in terms of motorcycling. Even the economic benefits of employment and the contribution to this country’s GDP are covered!
But, and here comes the real good news, the MCIA has appointed Jenny Luckman, who has been part of the strategy from the word go, to manage its aims and outcomes and to make sure it keeps up momentum and fulfils the promises made. So cynics like me can stop worrying that this document will, like some in the past, end up on a dusty shelf, or provide an excuse for endless talking shops.
Reading through it, one things is clear – it is not intended as quick fix, it is long term strategy. But hopefully, with careful management, it will decrease casualties and the PTW will become an integral and welcomed part of the living in the 21st century – a win a for all sides in the debate!