JEFF CORBETT: We need to put the brakes on motorbikes


​SOMETIMES I have to remind myself that I have been a motorcyclist, that I still hold a motorbike licence. Mostly I feel that need when, as a driver, I come across a motorcyclist fanging around a corner towards me or weaving through peak-hour traffic.

Fleetingly I wonder why it is that motorbikes have the same status as cars and buses and trucks, when clearly their two wheels hardly qualify them to mix with vehicles with at least four. It's fleeting because I know that when I've been on two wheels, cars and buses and trucks are a damn nuisance, and I try to avoid hypocrisy. Not always successfully, I'll admit.

But things have changed, and that happened when I was driving through and around Victoria's alps a few weeks ago. Every day I saw signs warning that it was for motorcyclists a high risk road, and the signs showed what appeared to be a motorbike and rider sliding on the road.

The risk could have been because the roads were often wet, icy or that there were lots of curves. Many motorbike riders like to get their thrills on winding roads, and in the Hunter two of the deadliest are Putty Road between Singleton and Windsor and Thunderbolts Way heading north from Gloucester. It occurred to me that it is not just the motorcyclist at high risk on these roads, that other road users are at high risk from motorbikes. We have a higher risk of having a motorbike and rider slam into our car, and death or injury to the driver and passengers is not the only unfortunate result of that. There is severe trauma to those involved in the accident and accumulating trauma for the police and ambulance officers who must dread the call to yet another gory accident involving a motorcyclist.

It does seem that for many the thrill of motorbike riding is beating the odds.

Is accident the right word for those many cases in which the motorcyclist was riding the high risk road for thrills? An accident is something that happens by chance, and when you're testing yourself and your machine on a high risk road, or any road, a crash cannot be entirely unexpected. It does seem that for many the thrill of motorbike riding is beating the odds.

Why should your safety and mine be put at risk by a motorcyclist riding for thrills?

There's not much more to riding a motorbike than thrills, given that in comparison to many modern cars they're no longer so economical and that the disadvantages are just split-second grabs of the passing scenery and being too hot when it's hot and too cold when it's cold and too wet when it's wet. The only difference between motorcyclists is how far they'll push the limit for their thrills. The two big thrills are speed and corners. Motorbikes accelerate quickly to high speed but unfortunately for thousands of suddenly-departed Australians motorbikes are not so keen to stop, and corners can be exhilarating if they don't tighten unexpectedly, which too often is just as unfortunate. The great lumps of metal called cruisers and preferred by the ageing and deluded don't like going around any corner.

All motorbikes, all motorised two-wheel vehicles, are inherently unstable and more vulnerable than four-wheel vehicles to road imperfections and wrong camber and potholes and oil spills and wildlife and sand and gravel and heat-softened bitumen and rain and snow. And only someone who's ridden a motorbike in all weather will know just how much rain impedes the motorcyclist's vision from behind the visor. 

The NSW government's Centre for Road Safety reported a year or so ago that while motorcycles represented just four per cent of registered vehicles in NSW, motorcyclist fatalities in 2016 were 17 per cent of the road toll. Serious injuries among motorcyclists as a percentage of the total were higher.

Statisticians keep pumping out motorbike-horror stats but they seem only to excite the risk takers. One that may have spurred the increasing sales of motorbikes is the NSW government's finding less than 10 years ago that a motorcyclist is 20 times more likely to be killed per kilometre travelled than the occupant of any other motor vehicle. It's all part of the leather and the swagger, the ultimate expression of the it-won't-happen-to-me myth.

While drivers are required to wear a seatbelt even though they're in a cabin, motorcyclists are not confined by a belt or a cabin – they're free to be daredevils, their only concession to safety a helmet. This bravado is at our expense in so many ways and it's time we did something about it.

First, let's ban motorbikes on all high-risk motorbike roads, starting with Putty Road and Thunderbolts Way. Second, let's introduce special motorbike speed limits for winding roads or stretches of road, with a new provision for the sudden-death loss of motorbike licence for those who break those and the general speed limits. There are seldom any second chances on a motorbike and the penalty should reflect that.

For too long our road rules have ignored the threat to us all of a vehicle that is essentially dangerous, that would not be allowed on the roads if it were invented now.