BMF review: What is being done to reduce motorcycle rider deaths in London?

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Published on 17 February 2016 by Tom Wadlow

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Filed under categories: BMF News, Campaigning

The BMF is working tirelessly with London Authorities and Transport for London (TfL) to help improve motorcycling safety in the capital. As will be covered in the Spring 2016 issue of our Rider magazine, we have tested and helped improve many traffic safety products now being trialed across the city. Here, Government Relations Executive Graeme Hay, reporting at the end of 2015, outlines below the concerns of riders and what is being (and what should be) done to reverse this worrying trend:

Why does the London Assembly matter to the rest of the country?

assembly building 1

London Assembly building

Almost all of us has heard of the Mayor of London, who is presently the flamboyant Mr Boris Johnson: many of us have heard of the organisation that runs the capital’s main roads, buses and underground railways – Transport for London. If, like most of us, you don’t live in or near London you may well wonder just why it is that this organisation matters to you?

It matters because the work that is done by Transport for London, in managing and maintaining the main roads, influences what happens in many other cities and large towns across the UK.

Transport for London has produced a streets design manual for cycling, walking and is now working on a document for motorcycling. Much has been said and written about the endless promotion of cycling in cities and some riders feel, with some justification that those who get around on motorcycles are being overlooked – I know that Anna Zee - our Political and technical Director - does too and with nine people having died while cycling and 23 while riding motorcycles the popular media is really missing the point. Motorcyclists are more than twice as much at risk as those riding bicycles.

It turns out that we are not alone in seeing things this way. There is another political organisation, which represents all of the Boroughs as well as the City of London in the London Assembly. The London Assembly has a Transport committee and this committee has seen the figures and they are concerned about the way things are going.

In company with MAG and the MCIA, the BMF was invited to submit views to the Transport committee on the issue. I prepared a short paper, which expressed in layman’s terms the problems, opportunities and blockers.

In response to this submission we were invited to participate in a meeting of the committee with senior officers from TfL to discuss the problems and explore possible ways forward.

After a brief introduction to the BMF, its history and its role in representing members and clubs I put forward the following:

Motorcycle Road Safety in London

Turning to the matter of motorcycle road safety in London - the background of this includes the deaths of 23 people while riding motorcycles in London so far this year at time of writing. If this continues, this figure will exceed the number for each of the past four years by a substantial number. This is very disappointing as the figures for the past few years clearly show that London had exceeded the 40% reduction target based on average value of less than a decade ago. Our understanding from our members is that riders are becoming increasingly concerned, and we receive a number of emails and calls from members who cite several particular concerns. These include:

1. The continued loss of road space to dedicated areas, such as cycle lanes, widened footways and traffic islands.

2. In many boroughs there is no access to any areas, which may offer safety benefits to riders, such as bus Lanes and in London in general, the Advanced Stop-line zones. Inconsistency.

3. There doesn’t seem to be enough done to understand what is happening in these collisions and ‘nothing is done’ to prevent reoccurrence.

4. The media reports the death of people riding bicycles and walking as always being innocent victims of the actions of ‘bad people’, like lorry drivers. Most motorcyclists think that the lorry drivers are being blamed unfairly. When people die riding a motorcycle there is no such representation in the media and almost always a suggestion - well before any investigation has taken place - that speed, carelessness or similar rider behaviour was involved. There were 13 lives lost cycling in London in 2014 and 27 lost motorcycling: everyone makes such a fuss about cyclists’ deaths, but no one cares about a person on a scooter or motorcycle. A dead person on the road is a tragedy, no matter how they got there.

These are the ‘top four’ comments or observations that we hear. They are, of course, anecdotal; nonetheless I report these views to you.

The BMF understanding of what is being done

The future of motorcycling in London is very important. Motorcycles are a part of the transport solution for the capital and the benefits of personal mobility, supporting working at any time of day or night, including at multiple locations throughout each day using a very small parking space at each place.

Motorcycles also address the needs of those whose journeys exceed practical walking or even cycling distances. The forthcoming increased availability of electrically propelled motor scooters and motorcycles will, we believe, play a key role in enabling work, education and cultural accessibility for many in an ultra-low emission city.

In safety terms, the Motorcycle Industries Association has worked to produce a document: Releasing the Motorcycling Opportunity jointly with ACPO. This describes - with supporting evidence from other cities outside of the UK - how an increase in motorcycle use produces a reduction in casualties. This may seem unusual, but similar trends exist already for cycling in London, where fatal collisions have not risen in any way proportionate to the dramatic increase in cycling.

TfL hosts the Road Safety Steering Group

Here, the City of London as well as the Boroughs are well represented as are user groups, road safety groups and the Metropolitan and City Police services, Ambulance and Fire & Rescue services. I attend each of these meetings on behalf of the BMF and we are offered every opportunity to understand many things that are going on. I particularly value the provision and explanation of the data that each of these teams produce. It is this data that enables the group to determine where efforts are needed and this sets our collective objectives.Transport for London1

The other key point of involvement for the BMF is the specific Motorcycle Safety Working Group - chaired by Mr Peter Sadler of TfL. Here we work with representatives of the City of London, boroughs and the Metropolitan Police to understand in greater detail the issues facing safety of riders in London. The group has recently produced the Motorcycle Safety Action Plan for the next few years. This group works together to deliver the plan. This is detailed work but I will offer a key example of this work.

The three Es

It has long been agreed that road safety comprises three Es. These are placed in order as:

  •         Education
  •         Engineering
  •         Enforcement

For the purposes of clarity I will adopt this approach the core of my response; I hope that this approach is helpful.

Education

The greater and more durable safety outcomes are achieved by Education - the least durable by Enforcement. It is no coincidence that this is clearly in the minds of the Metropolitan Police Roads Policing team in their contribution to improving motorcycle safety.

In the spring and autumn of 2015 police riders have launched and operation of open engagement with riders in London. The scale of this operation is unfamiliar to us at the BMF. To outline, police officers will stop and engage with riders of motorcycles and scooters and present them with very friendly advice on an aspect of their riding, a ‘goody bag’ of motorcycle related items as well as an invitation to attend a Bike Safe training day.

Bike Safe is worth looking into, but it is a very successful national scheme where riders spend a day in the company of police riders looking at rider attitudes and skills. Members of the London Assembly may quite reasonably be unaware of the esteem in which UK police motorcyclist’s knowledge and skills are held by UK motorcyclists. These days are great fun and much is learned.

The Metropolitan Police have now gone further in that the goody bag includes a letter to the rider’s employer, inviting them to support all of their staff, who ride in coming along to Bike Safe days. The number who have already passed through this initiative this spring are not immediately to hand, but the Police will share them.

In addition to this, the Metropolitan Police and Bike Safe are asking participants to join in a three-year project to give the TfL Motorcycle Safety Working Group a real insight into who is riding, what they ride, when and where they ride it, and what their attitudes are before and after the Bike Safe course. This will report as it moves along but the full data set will report in 2017.

The BMF is not aware of anywhere else in the UK where this is this being addressed on this scale, with this passion and commitment.

Engineering

The engineering aspects of the road-space are important to all road users, but two-wheelers are particularly at risk. TfL is in the late stages of producing a streets design manual for motorcycling, for use by TfL engineers in designing schemes of the future. This document will be used, we are told as the basis for a number of half-day training courses for highways engineers, which TfL will commence once the document is complete and approved for use.

It is a little difficult to be too specific about the document because it is in preparation as I write this but it should be with us by autumn 2015.

The BMF has, along with others, participated in the preparation of this document and I will soon be attending a meeting to review the latest draft. This commitment to considering motorcyclists needs will, I am sure be appreciated by riders and this will address a number of the concerns previously expressed to us.

During the past five of six months as this document has been in progress, I have noticed a significant spirit of openness towards the BMF by TfL officers. The boroughs are more varied with Greenwich being very easy to approach and Camden significantly less so. I don’t know why this should be, but I work alone and I have business in Scotland, Northern Ireland and all over England and Wales and so simply do not have the time to find out.

In contrast to the variable picture across the boroughs recent example of the TfL unique approach occurred only three weeks ago, when my Director Anna Zee and I joined a small design team in the Palestra building to look at a section of Gunnersbury Avenue. This particular half-mile of road had recorded 19 motorcycle injury collisions and one double-fatal event in the past three years. We were shown outline proposals for a scheme to address this but we were then given free rein to contribute to the details of the proposed solution. In one hour of highly technical exchange we agreed a practical and affordable way forward, which addressed each and every one of the 19 injury collisions and gave a clear pointer in the case of the double-fatal event, now being pursued by TfL engineers. Neither my Director Anna nor I has ever been afforded such early consultation but I feel confident that this will be our future role in matters where engineering solutions are required to address a collision site.

Enforcement

The enforcement of road traffic law is a cornerstone of safe roads. The BMF does not and never has offered support to its members in any area of transgression of these laws. Having said that as clearly as I can, we believe with equal passion that education is more successful and more durable in almost every case as a means of altering errant behaviour.

While attending the Road Safety Steering Groups and Motorcycle Safety Working Group I have openly and actively supported the view that road users of all types can be relied upon to identify their own lack of knowledge or poor attitude to road safety. Having identified themselves to a police officer, in the absence of harm or injury having been caused, education should be the preferred route to remedy the problem. In addition to the voluntary and very well humoured Bike Safe course, there is another less voluntary scheme used by the Metropolitan Police called Ride. Attendees are offered education as opposed to fines and points on their driving licences. The option to prosecute remains and is exercised but I admire the balance the Metropolitan Police seem to have achieved.

Media approach

One of the riders’ concerns that I made mention of was the feeling of misrepresentation of motorcycle collisions in the popular media. This probably falls well outside of the remit of the London Assembly but it is truly a concern – and not only to riders. In March 2014 I was invited to the Ministry of Justice to contribute views and concerns on criminal sentencing in the areas of Road Traffic and Road Killings.

I was surprised to find sufficient awareness of this misreporting that the matter was not raised by me but by those from the Ministry. It appears that there is a concern that this misreporting may be influencing courts. I do not have the knowledge to comment further.

The motorcyclists’ philosophy

It is for reasons that I do not know or understand, that, unlike other vulnerable road user groups, it is not in the culture of traditions of motorcycling safety to do what other vulnerable road users seem to do so successfully and simply seek to ‘blame everyone else’ for these collisions: traditionally riders of scooters and motorcycles seem more willing to accept much of the blame.

I support this view by stating that motorcycle riders spend more money on personal protective clothing and other safety equipment than any other road user group: motorcyclists are disproportionately over represented in areas of voluntary post-driving test training with BMF Blue Riband, RoSPA, the IAM and other training bodies. (I witness this last statement by pointing out that there is no car, truck, cycling or walking equivalent on the scale of Bike Safe days.) I would suggest that this all points to a higher commitment to personal responsibility than is commonly demonstrated by other road users.

I am told that in 71% of motorcycle injury collision in London in 2014 there were two or more vehicles involved. While I am pretty sure that some will have been down to the motorcycle rider, I cannot accept that all of them were as the popular media clearly seeks to infer.

Conclusion

This is a lengthy response but I hope that it conveys the recognition of the concerns and the scale of the problem, but also that it demonstrates the commitment of those involved from all sides to improve this situation, without simply seeking to pass the blame to lorry operators, the weather, taxi drivers or acts of God. I am clearly very positive about much of what is going on in London to understand, correct and address motorcycle injuries and deaths, but this feeling is drawn from my being made to feel very much a part of the team in TfL, the Metropolitan Police and some of the boroughs.

The meeting went very well indeed and the members of the transport committee had each prepared questions for the senior TfL officers to respond to.

On each topic the motorcycle representatives were asked the same or closely related questions and the subjects were explored in some detail.

There is to be an advertising campaign to address two specific areas of road safety for riders.

The first is to remind riders to watch their speed and, most significantly, a campaign to ask everyone to look out for motorcyclists at junctions and other high-risk areas. There is going to be much, much more on this and I will keep you updated with links to reports on our Facebook page. I am determined to get the most that I can for riders out of our work with TfL. I am working more and more closely with officers to achieve this, and urge you to keep an eye on the BMF website and Facebook for further updates.

Email Graeme your comments and questions on this item at graeme.hay@bmf.co.uk

(Main picture credit - Tottenham Independent)