Thomas Mitchell: Motorcyclist safety – time to change the dialogue

Thomas Mitchell: Motorcyclist safety – time to change the dialogue

Thomas Mitchell

The death toll for motorcyclists will keep on rising unless the message is changed, writes Thomas Mitchell.

Motorcyclists are classed as ‘vulnerable road users’ in the Highway Code and their disproportionate representation of those killed and seriously injured in road traffic collisions reflects that vulnerability.

Accounting for 17 per cent of all deaths in a group representing just one per cent of road users begs the question: what is going wrong?

The recent announcement from the Scottish Sentencing Council is greatly welcomed whereby drivers who kill vulnerable road users will face longer prison sentences. However, by then, it is too late.

In 2022, Transport Scotland reported 25 motorcycling deaths. Already, this year over five months from April until now, I’m aware of 19 motorcyclists who have lost their lives on Scotland’s roads. From Press reporting, only three of these were single vehicle incidents. It is simply unacceptable that we are turning a blind eye to motorcyclist deaths. The messaging around motorcycle safety is, in my opinion, wrong and unless we change this, the death toll will continue to rise

The emphasis in the current safety campaigns is on risk. The risk of the very activity of motorcycling, leading to the necessity to educate the motorcyclist alone.

A clear example of this is the millions invested by Transport Scotland over three years developing new road markings, PRIMEs (Perceptual Rider Information for Maximising Expertise and Enjoyment). In a nutshell, these are lines painted on the road designed to help riders make better decisions on bends. They are heralded as a success by the government in reducing speed, improving road positioning and improve braking behaviour on the part the motorcyclist.

Police Scotland are also falling into the same trap. How many local campaigns have we seen where time and time again, the focus is purely on reducing the speed of motorcyclists? It’s tired, it’s old hat and it’s not working.

The consistent safety campaign messaging that focuses on educating the rider is frankly irresponsible. It creates a public perception that motorcycling is dangerous and demonises motorcyclists. At the same time, it promotes an attitude amongst road users that the responsibility for a rider’s safety rests entirely in the hands of the rider. It completely ignores the role the driver plays or, for that matter, the destructive disparity between a car versus a bike. Motorcyclists are not protected by crash bars and air bags. Of the 19 motorcyclists who have lost their lives since April 23, I am aware of only three that did not involve another driver.

I am a motorcyclist and at Motorcycle Law Scotland we represent many of our fellow motorcyclists who have been injured in road traffic collisions in Scotland. More than half of our cases involve drivers pulling into the path of a motorcyclist at junctions. Motorcyclists are not killing themselves by poor choices and road positioning; they are so often innocent victims of driver behaviour and indifference.

Now is the time to change the dialogue. Where are the hard-hitting safety campaigns, as there were to address drink driving, warning drivers to look out for bikers at junctions. Where is the fostering of mutual respect on our roads for one another? Motorcyclists are being failed by those entrusted with ensuring higher standards of safety on Scotland’s roads.

Granted, education has a role to play but unless we change the message and help educate drivers too, the death toll will keep on rising.

Thomas Mitchell is an associate at Motorcycle Law Scotland. This article first appeared in The Scotsman.

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