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Motorcycling is seeing a surge in popularity across Australia.

While car sales sank in 2020, new motorcycles, scooter, all-terrain vehicles (ATV) purchases jumped by more than 20 per cent from the previous year, and continued to grow in 2021.

Tragically, deaths and injuries on our highways remain stubbornly high. More than 1,100 people were killed on Australian roads in the 12 months to October, 2021 – with two-wheeled road users more likely to be hurt.

With the growing number of people taking to two wheels, is it time to put riders at the centre road design and layout? Could these six simple changes reap huge benefit for motorcyclists – and all road users?

1. Repair and maintain roads – and report dangerous spots

Potholes, cracks and debris are a major cause of stress for every motorist – but these can prove extremely dangerous for riders. Poorly maintained road surfaces often play a significant contributing factor in accidents.

Local authorities are responsible for maintaining the roads. However, if they’re not aware of a dangerous spot, they’re unlikely to be held responsible if a motorist suffers an injury as a result.

If they are aware and do nothing about it, they could be deemed negligent and then held liable for an injury. Being vigilant and letting your local authority know of hazards is a small but crucial way to improve safety. The notice of the defect or issue on the road should prompt them into action to at a minimum, inspect the road site.

2. Expand current use of bus lanes for motorcyclists

Allowing motorcyclists into bus lanes is claimed to improve safety and reduce congestion and pollution, according to the Motorcycle Action Group, a UK-based advocacy organisation. But while the benefits for all road users seems clear, the same can’t be said for the rules.

At the moment, there’s a confusing mix of laws across Australia. 

In Victoria, VicRoads commenced a bus lane trial and has intentions of expanding its use to new trial sites. The policy appetite for these road safety changes needs to be considered and explored further to ensure safer roads for motorcyclists and all road users.

Given the advantages appear to significantly outweigh the drawbacks of allowing two-wheeled vehicles into these segregated lanes, it could be time to clear up the confusion and give riders a green light to enter the lanes all the time.

3. Separate lane for vulnerable riders 

With space on our crowed roads at a premium, it can be difficult to convince four-wheel users of the benefits of giving up a lane for another mode of transport.

But building “cycling superhighways” has become a priority for Infrastructure Australia to alleviate congestion and encourage more people to cycle in Melbourne.

Instead of seeing all roads as a shared space for motorcycles and cars, is it time to think differently, designate some routes for four wheels and others for two-wheels?

These zones could include segregated lanes, priority at traffic lights, or no entry for certain types of vehicles all together.

It would require a complete over view of traffic patterns across each city, but with careful thought, it could create safer spaces and less congestion from our congested streets.

4. Improved road furniture and design that is safer for riders

Roads have become a forest of signs, street lights, rails and barriers. The sheer volume of information lining most inner-city roads can create a distraction for motorists and obscure visibility. Simplifying and decluttering streets will enable drivers to focus on the road.

Fixed furniture – bollards, signs, street lights, telegraph poles, traffic lights - can significantly increase the risk of serious injury for a motorcyclist from hitting an object. Greater consideration needs to be given to motorcyclists at the design stage.

Roads should include clear zones free from obstacles, the edges of roads should have adequate run-off to allow a rider to recover if they stray off the road.

New barriers, street lights and signs should have to comply with rider crash standards before being used.

5. High grip road surface, paint and markings

Anyone who’s ridden across a white line in the wet has experienced that heart-in-mouth moment when you temporarily lose grip. These white lines can become slippery and dangerous like ice when damp.

The widespread use of high-grip road markings would significantly reduce this obvious hazard.

VicRoads carried out a trial of high friction road surfaces in key accident hotspots. It found 46% of the total sites reviewed had a reduction in the number of traffic incidents on the treated area.

6. Rider training

It is never too late to brush up on your skills. There are various rider training programs on offer. Rider skills are always evolving so don’t be too proud to get down and rediscover some of those forgotten or rusty skills before heading out on a big road trip or starting to commute again as the weather improves over the warmer months.

A small shift in thinking to put vulnerable road users at the heart of road design and infrastructure could result in a safer network for all motorists.

Encouraging more people to ditch their car in favour of two wheels would reduce congestion and pollution – a win-win for everyone.

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