Heather Ellis is an Australian writer, journalist and motorcyclist with more than 30 years of riding experience who rode her Yamaha TT600 enduro motorcycle through Africa, Europe, Central Asia and into China and Vietnam from 1993 to 1997.
My love of motorcycling has led me into motorcycle road safety advocacy in the state of Victoria, Australia.
I am a member of the Victorian Government VicRoads-lead Motorcycle Advisory Group and a member of the IRG - an independent motorcycle riders group that advocates for motorcycle road safety. Recreationally, I am a member of the 59 Club of Australia and the Moto Guzzi Club of Victoria.
As an experienced motorcyclist, I see drastic change is needed to improve motorcycle road safety.
Why we need a limited user motorcycle registration scheme in Australia
As motorcyclists, we all know something is desperately needed to improve learner rider safety. The present system was developed when there were fewer cars on our roads; when these cars travelled at much slower speeds; when there weren’t the distractions of mobile phones and other technology; and when car design afforded fewer blind spots. But today a novice rider is given a learner’s permit after doing a few stops and turns in a car park and then it’s a sink or swim scenario amongst car drivers where SMIDSY (sorry mate I didn't see you) mentality seems to be the norm. Yes, the answer would be to improve training for car drivers to be more aware of motorcyclists, but personally I ride like I’m invisible and this requires constant awareness. It worked for me while riding as a motorcycle courier in London where I rode about 700kms every day, five days a week for nearly 12 months.
VicRoads is all too aware of the limitations on the present rider training system and as a result has proposed a Motorcycle Graduated Licensing System (GLS). In brief summary, VicRoads recommendations for the GLS are to extend and improve the Learner phase which would also include learners only riding on-road under supervision with a licensed motorcyclist; wearing hi-vis clothing (flouro vest/jacket); extending the restricted licence phase from 12 months to three years; and introducing an exit test after three years to ride a non-learner approved motorcycle. However the VicRoads-lead Motorcycle Advisory Group (VMAG), of which I am a member, is putting forward its own recommendations now being developed.
As an alternative to on-road supervised riding under the GLS, which would be costly to the learner rider, I have proposed through VMAG and through the recent Parliamentary Inquiry into Motorcycle Safety that the club permit scheme or limited user registration be extended to all road riding recreational motorcyclists. Presently only vehicles/motorcycles older than 25 years are eligible. As the Victorian Government has already acknowledged that there are motor vehicle users in the community who only use their vehicles recreationally, the age of a vehicle used under these conditions really is irrelevant. But the main issue is that a limited user registration would be one option in helping to improve safety by channelling motorcyclists, and especially new riders who mostly ride recreationally (ie. weekends in good weather) into organised club rides. Once on a ride, these novice riders follow a leader instead of stressing about what road to take. When a bunch of motorcyclists get together we mostly talk about all things motorcycling and this often includes how to stay up right.
According to the TAC, in its 2011 report, nearly two thirds of the 160,000 road registered motorcycles in Victoria are ridden recreationally. In fact, some motorcyclists are paying several full vehicle registrations per year including one or more motorcycles. In all likelihood, these motorcycles are only being ridden on the road less than 40 days per year.
VMAG meets four times a year with the next meeting is on 31 May. If you have any ideas or concerns relating to motorcycle road safety that you'd like me to bring to the attention to the group please email me at email@example.com. Visit www.heather-ellis.com to read my full submission to the Victorian Government’s Parliamentary Inquiry into Motorcycle Safety. For more details of the Motorcycle Advisory Group visit www.vicroads.gov.au
17 December 2011
As a member of the VicRoads Motorcycle Advisory Group (MAG), a few of my fellow motorcyclists have asked me about the issues being discussed. The second MAG meeting was held on 24 November.
While most of what is discussed in MAG meetings is confidential as per the MAG Terms of Reference, I believe I can list the agenda items as this was agreed at the inaugral meeting on 5 August 2011. Unfortunately, the minutes only reflected that members all agreed to maintain confidentiality. I can understand VicRoads concern from a road safety perspective as the public may confuse proposed policy with actual policy if issues discussed at MAG are publicised inappropriately.
I have asked VicRoads what I can and can not communicate to my fellow motorcycles about MAG. Their response was for me to wait until I received the minutes of the 24 November meeting. I am still waiting!
We are not discussing state security. This is motorcycle safety and I believe the more people contributing ideas the safer our roads will be for all concerned.
As I understand it, I can list the agenda items and make my own personal comments on these items.
So here goes!
RE: Status report on the Trial of Motorcycles in Bus Lanes (Hoddle Street, Melbourne)
I raised a few concerns including why the Eastern Freeway bus lane was not included in the trial as motorcyclists mostly ride in the transit lane and it would be dangerous then to cross traffic to get into the bus lane. I was also concerned that once in the bus lane, a motorcyclist could get stuck behind a bus if there was not enough space to filter between traffic in the adjoining lane so therefore motorcyclists may question why use this bus lane in the first place?
However, I held judgement until I’d had the opportunity to ride in the Hoddle Street bus lane on my Moto Guzzi V50 as I headed into the CBD at rush hour one morning recently. Riding in on the Eastern Freeway, I rode in the transit lane as far as I could and then dived into the traffic to filter up to Hoddle Street. I know some motorcyclist ride up Alexandra Parade and then go up Brunswick or Nicholson streets or one of the other streets to get into the CBD but I find these streets can make the journey longer due to the number of traffic lights including pedestrian lights. Then there are also other potential obstructions/hazards such as pedestrians, trams and cars attempting to park.
I’d read on the VicRoads website that you can't make a right-hand turn into Victoria Parade from the Hoddle Street Bus lane. Therefore, I rode up the bus lane to Gipps St where I then gunned the bike to cross over to the far right-hand lane to make my turn into Victoria Parade. I went on a B light so was well ahead of the traffic. I could have also crossed over to these right lanes at Langridge Street, which is the street before Victoria Parade.
Generally, I found using the Hoddle Street bus lane is a bit of an obstacle course. But, I suppose we will have to let the six-month trial run its course before final judgement can be passed. However, it does leave me wondering why not have the trial extend to more or even all bus lanes in Melbourne. In fact, I’ve seen motorcyclists using bus lanes all over the city for the past 10 years and this seems to work for all concerned! When I first arrived in Melbourne from Queensland, I actually thought you could ride in buslanes as so many motorcyclists were doing just that. I'd always ridden in buslanes in London where I'd worked as a motorcycle courier for 12 months in the mid 1990s. In fact, riding in buslanes in London is legal!
RE: Guidelines on steel plate trench covers
The group were advised that a non-slip rubberised covering could make steel plate trench covers safer.
RE: Crash Data
Several reports were presented relating to crash statistics in Victoria. My concern is how the statistics are gathered particularly as the metro boundary includes Warburton and roads such as the Black Spur. I expect this would seriously skew crash/fatality data for metro collection. This therefore would support the ‘ongoing push’ to make motorcycling look dangerous and not a safe option for city commuters. In fact, there has never been a safer time to ride motorcycles in Victoria as now.
RE: Review of Strategic Guide for Levy Expenditure
I can only say that MAG will have input into the audit/review. This is our chance as motorcyclists to have some say over how this money is spent which is about $60 per motorcycle registration of which there are about 160,000 in Victoria in 2011.
There is one vacant seat on MAG. If you’re interested, please email your nomination to James Holgate, Director, Road User Safety VicRoads at James.Holgate@roads.vic.gov.au. The group has decided to wait 12 months for the present group to settle into its positions before making any new appointments.
RE: General Business
I raised that the motorcycle Graduated Licensing System (GLS) proposed by VicRoads was not on the Agenda given that we’d previously been advised that the GLS would be an ongoing discussion at MAG meetings.
I had also requested at the inaugural meeting that, as part of the GLS, MAG consider extending the club permit scheme to all road riding recreational motorcyclists. The aim is to channel novice/learner riders into a recreational motorcycle club where they can go on organised rides and be informally mentored by experienced motorcyclists. This request has now been minuted.
To read my submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Motorcycle Safety presented at that the Public Hearings held in Victoria during October, November and December 2011. To read all 73 submissions.
Next meeting held Thursday, 2/2/2012 (9am to 11:30am)
Please contact me if you would like any points raised to MAG concerning motorcycle safety.
September 30, 2011
After nearly 15 years, it's a case of if this book doesn't get written now, it never will! You are probably wandering 'why bother, it's been so long anyway'.
Well, I feel my story needs to be told. If nothing else, my story is my legacy - it is part of my family's heritage long after I am gone. And it is also part of the heritage of great motorcycle travel journeys that both men and women motorcycle travellers have undertaken since the very first motorcycles were engineered.
As I'm only 165cm and weigh 62kgs, most people are amazed I was able to ride my fully loaded Yamaha TT600 weighing 200kgs half way around the world. After riding the TT600 nearly every day from February 1993 to September 1997, we became one. Yes, my motorcycle really did become its own entity but more about bonding with your bike in my next blog.
one woman’s motorcycle journey of discovery available in the next year or two.