Western Australia is on track to have the worst road safety record when it comes to bike riders in recent history. So far seven people have tragically lost their lives on the roads of Western Australia in 2017. This is not acceptable to me and it’s certainly not acceptable to the family and friends of those that have tragically lost their lives.
Across Australia, there is a vision of “Towards Zero”. This is not only relevant to drivers, passengers, pedestrians and motorcyclists but it is also equally relevant to people that ride a bicycle. Western Australia has the worst road toll of any state in Australia (all forms of transport).
Last week, Perth was host to the 2017 Australasian Road Safety Conference – the largest road safety conference in the southern hemisphere. The conference brought together the leading minds in road safety from across the region and courtesy of the Road Safety Commission, I had the opportunity to attend the three-day conference.
In 2016, Australia had 1,292 road fatalities or 5.0 per 100,000 of population. The United States had 37,461 fatalities in the same time period representing a rate of 11.6 per 100,000. That is over 100 people per day or the equivalent of one A380 crashing, killing all on board every week of the year. If an A380 crashed every week, the airspace would be closed, plane travel banned and executives jailed for life. Why do we accept it for roads?
There is a school of thought in cycling circles that we shouldn’t talk about the safety of bike riders because riding is NOT an inherently dangerous activity, and it’s not, you are far more likely to die of heart disease than riding a bike. I no longer buy into that though, we need to talk about it. We need to take action and the best way to get action is to remove the monopoly on ideas and crowd source solutions when it comes to road safety.
Children are the agents of road safety change. We need to influence their minds at a young age – anything more than zero is not acceptable. There is no better way of doing this than through bike education. Getting kids on bikes addresses many of our societal issues such as congestion, environmental pollution and road safety. Teaching children the basic principles of road safety at five years of age may not have immediate impacts but it will set them on a path of understanding. It’s time that a state-wide bike education program was introduced and we will be strongly pushing for this discussion to take place amongst key stakeholders and decision makers.
The abolishment of mandatory helmet legislation is something that pops up for debate on a regular basis. At a basic level there are two arguments, I appreciate that a lot of the argument is about personal responsibility, however, at the core two points that come up commonly are:
- Pro abolishment: Wearing a helmet reduces the number of people cycling, which leads to other health issues such as obesity.
- Anti abolishment: Helmets prevent brain injuries and death
Helmets don’t stop crashes from happening! Infrastructure, technology and behaviours do – 94% of all crashes are due to human behaviour. If we focus on discussions about helmets, we fail to address the core issue and that’s crashes. If we spent time on getting increases in funding for infrastructure, improving relationships between all road users and utilising technology, I would like to think that helmets will one day become redundant. But until that time we are far better focusing on removing the instances of crashes than discussing the last line of defence. Interestingly, there are 271 jurisdictional laws around the world with a form of helmet legalisation (eight of which exist in Australia). Only four have ever been repealed. Of the seven research papers that have been written on the impact of mandatory helmet laws, six concluded that legislating for helmets back in the early 90’s did not result in a reduction to cycling participation. This includes one paper based on Western Australia data between 1989 and 1993.
The other topical matter about safety is minimum passing legislation to give riders a buffer of 1 or 1.5m when being overtaken by a vehicle. WestCycle’s position on Minimum Passing laws have been clear and unwavering since Lynn MacLaren first put forward a bill amendment to State Parliament exactly 2 years ago. Not only does a specific distance give a buffer to riders, it sends a clear message that cyclists are legitimate road users and the Government supports them. The State Government has now committed to introducing of minimum passing laws this year and we look forward to bringing more news on this in coming weeks.
On a final note, I would like to thank Chris Turner for contacting WestCycle in recent weeks. Chris is running for a position on the RAC Council and is a candidate in the election that is currently open to members of the RAC. Chris is a big cycling advocate and over the last couple of weeks I have had the chance to discuss with him many of the safety concerns of cyclists, being a rider himself, many of the concerns raised were not new to him. Should Chris be successful in securing a seat at the RAC Board table, I’m confident that the cycling community will have a strong representative voice within the RAC. I’d like to wish Chris all the best in his election endeavours and should he be successful I look forward to collaborating to make the safety of riders a priority.
The ‘war on the roads’ is not between bike riders and motorists. The war is on our roads full stop. It’s time we stop accepting that a road toll was a way of life and worked ‘towards zero’.