Motorcycles account for less than 1% of the vehicle kilometres travelled on New Zealand roads but nearly 20% of the serious injuries from crashes. This decade, about 420 motorcyclists were seriously injured and about 46 were killed – each year.

For a group that makes up a relatively small fraction of the traffic on the road those are horrifically high numbers. With the Government set to produce a new official road safety strategy this year, finding ways to reduce the risks for motorcyclists will be an important area of focus as New Zealand tries to improve its poor road safety record.

But risk is only one side of the coin in any conversation about motorcycling. While it’s viewed as dangerous by many non-riders, those who ride have a very different perspective. The freedom, the fun, the ability to manoeuvre through traffic, the frugal fuel bill and the flat-out coolness of motorcycles make them more a way of life than a means of transport for many riders.

So, what can be done to reduce the risks of a crash for motorcyclists? When we asked some of the experts in the field they all responded with the same answer: training.

“Whether you are just starting out, a returning rider who has been off the bike for a while or an experienced, regular rider – everyone can sharpen their skills and learn new things with professional training,” AA Driving School motorcycle expert, Mark Revill-Johnson, says.

“It doesn’t matter if you are riding a scooter or a Harley; sticking to city streets or heading out on the open road. The consequences of being in any type of crash as a motorcyclist are severe, so even picking up a few small adjustments might make a life-saving difference one day.

“One of the most common things that people say after completing one of our training sessions is that they didn’t realise how much they didn’t know.”

ACC’s Motorcycle Programme Manager, Dave Keilty, sums it up perfectly when asked how long it takes to become a good rider. “The idea of how long it will take you to be a good rider really should be replaced with the idea of being a better rider every day.”

And the statistics confirm that professional training makes a difference.

Ride Forever is an ACC initiative that started in 2012 to give riders information and access to training. By late 2018, 20,000 courses had been delivered to 14,000 riders. ACC’s research and monitoring shows motorcyclists who have completed a Ride Forever course are 27% less likely to have an injury and an ACC claim.

Alongside professional training, the other two pieces of advice Dave gives riders is to wear the right protective gear and reduce the chances of a crash with safety technology.

“Evidence tells us that motorcyclists who wear personal protective gear reduce their injuries by 30% and that motorcyclists
who ride a bike with ABS are 30% less likely to crash,” Dave says.  

The Motorcycle Safety Advisory Council (MSAC) is a group of riders who advise on how the Motorcycle Safety Levy should be spent to improve safety for riders. MSAC funded a study looking at crashes involving motorcyclists, which found the most common factors are speed, loss of control on rural roads and visibility at intersections in urban environments.

“The majority of motorcycle crashes on rural roads are single vehicle (meaning no one else is involved) and on corners,” MSAC’s Janice Millman says. “So there is a real opportunity here for motorcycle training to make a positive difference.

“In the urban context, motorcyclists are most vulnerable at intersections when car drivers do not see them. Again, training can help motorcyclists understand how to improve their visibility using positioning and gear to help drivers see them.”

Janice’s top tips for riders to stay safe are to ride to the conditions, to not speed, to avoid alcohol and drugs and never assume other road users have seen you.

She believes a lot of good work is underway, which will help improve safety for motorcyclists, but believes that it needs to be accompanied by a change in culture.

“We need a collective shift in attitude across road users and road safety agencies to understand what we all must do to achieve safer roads.”

Dave Keilty agrees, saying the macro work of lifting the safety standards of roads and targeting speed and impairment needs to be backed up by individual behaviour. “On a micro scale it’s helping every rider accept that they are at risk on the road on a motorbike, but that they can take responsibility for reducing this risk – knowing that many injuries are preventable.”

If you are riding a motorcycle, the uncomfortable truth is that your odds of being hurt in a crash are higher than any other road user, regardless of whether it was your fault or not. But that doesn’t mean you can’t turn those odds in your favour.

“Even those that have done a professional course in the past can come back for another refresher as there are always more skills to learn and practice,” the AA’s Mark Revill-Johnson says. 

Reported by Dylan Thomsen for our AA Directions Autumn 2019 issue

More information

Check out AA Driving School for programme options to suit riders of every type and experience level. The Ride Forever programme has coaching available from just $20.

Ride Forever and The Motorcycle Safety Advisory Council have great information for motorcyclists about reducing their risks on the road.

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