Motorcycle Safety Revs Up: Autofile

Autofile interviews MSAC Chair, Mark Gilbert

23 Nov 2013

Article courtesy of Autofile magazine -

Work on schemes designed to champion safety for bikers has been praised by the government. The Motorcycle Safety Advisory Council, chaired by Mark Gilbert, is progressing projects to reduce injury and accident rates among riders. Some initiatives link into the government’s Safer Journeys approach, while others come under the council’s general remit. ACC Minister Judith Collins has met with Gilbert to discuss upcoming projects and is pleased the council will start several large-scale projects over the next 18 months. “It’s important the council continues its work with ACC to bring down the injury rate for motorcyclists, which will ultimately have the flow-on effect of reduced levies for owners,” she says.

The council’s on-going work includes research into how motorbikes’ lights are set up. Data from validation trials on its visibility project are being analysed after different configurations were tested in Kiwi conditions and the results should be available early next year. Researchers recorded the responses of about 600 testers as they viewed oncoming traffic on a busy urban road, indicating what they saw coming and when it was safe to pull out. Test bikes with three different lighting set-ups were ridden through traffic and past the site. Sessions were filmed and the results are being analysed to compare visibility and conspicuity. In a survey by the advisory council, 27 per cent of riders use extra lighting so they are easier to see, but they’re unconvinced about drivers’ ability to judge distances and speed even when bikes are well-lit. A report commissioned by the council suggests there could be safety benefits for bikers from extra lighting and testing a variety of configurations will establish them. If the tests prove safety benefits, the council anticipates lobbying the government to change legislation so bikers can use these set-ups. “Motorcyclists are more vulnerable, but we’re tackling their visibility and conspicuity,” says Gilbert. “It used to be only bikes with headlights on during the day, but more cars now have daytime running lights so differentiation is harder.

By using different lighting configurations on bikes and having observers sitting in cars, we can see how they make a difference and our work will hopefully show how visibility can be improved. We’re also encouraging riders to wear the right gear, such as gloves, jackets, trousers and boots. This is a no-brainer. A project around engineering focuses on safer roads and roadsides, and aims to ensure motorbike safety is factored into design, maintenance, upgrades and signage. We’re prioritising hilly and coastal areas because they’re the most popular with riders. 

Mark Gilbert, MSAC chairman

“We have been working with the NZTA using an instrumented motorcycle to provide ‘a bike’s-eye view’ of the road. “We’re also working with academics and consultants from Australia to learn about best practice engineering, especially at intersections and with signage and other roading interventions.

“A safe-system approach could involve moving street signs that are hazardous and potentially fatal. “ The council is looking to move ahead existing programmes with other agencies and to look at roading differently. “We need to encourage engineers to look at roads from the rider’s view, recognising hazards such as gravel and mud spewing onto roads from farm driveways, locations of manhole covers and so on. “ Options around barrier design and safety standards are being investigated, including those on state highways. This involves consultation with Professor Raphael Grzebieta, of the NSW Transport and Road Safety Research Centre, which is dealing with this issue across the ditch.

The council is also liaising with the NZTA and Auckland Transport to develop an urban pilot project to drive forward what was learned from South Coromandel Loop Initiative, which tackled accident hot spots. The 81-page Safer Journeys for Motorcycling on New Zealand Roads has also been released, while work on safer vehicles includes trialling and promoting new technology. “There are views overseas that anti-lock braking systems [ABS] on bikes will save lives, so we can consider this,” says Gilbert.

“There may be other agencies and groups that can do more with this, such as ACC, the Ministry of Transport and the Motor Industry Association, which is a conduit to importers and distributors. “It and others may be better positioned to discuss this through appropriate channels and groups. “

The council’s fundamental future aims are injury prevention and reducing bike accidents. When it was set up in up 2011, the motorcycle safety levy fund stood at zero and has been built up over time. “The people involved then were pragmatic enough to invest wisely, rather than quickly, built up a fund and used it strategically on projects and initiatives likely to make riding safer. “Our proposals and recommendations to ACC have to be robust and ideally supported by evidence and desired outcomes. “

Gilbert realises the council cannot control some issues society needs to address, such as vehicle speed, drugs and alcohol in relation to accidents. “It’s like the Bloody Legend campaign to stop drink-driving or getting people to wear seatbelts. It’s a case of changing attitudes and that takes time. “

There’s no shortage of ideas but drink-drivers, speedsters and drug-drivers need to take responsibility for their own and others’ safety, which is where cultural change and peer pressure can come into play. The big picture stuff includes widening the base of what the council tackles and working with partner agencies. “We all need to remember that there’s only one piece of road,” says Gilbert. “Motorcyclists need to look out for car drivers, drivers need to look out for bikers. Both need to look out for cyclists and pedestrians. “Safer Systems recognises people make mistakes. It’s about personal responsibility, rider education, road engineering and design, reducing potential surprises for riders and recognising speed is still a big issue. “Campaigns such as Bloody Legend can change attitudes. It takes a long time and lots of money but it can be done. We want to reduce motorcycle injury rates, although it’s hard to predict by how much. “Bikers have been a key part of the latest Safer Journeys strategy, but it will take time to yield results because there’s no silver bullet. “ 

Article courtesy of Autofile magazine -