Are Australian roads dangerous for motorcyclists?

The majority of Aussie motorcycle riders believe the country’s roads are dangerous for them – yet one in four admit regularly taking risks, a Canstar Blue survey found. So it begs the questions: Why do they do it?

There’s no doubt that getting from A to B is a lot more exhilarating on two wheels than it is on four. In fact, in many ways it makes sense to travel by bike to work, especially if you don’t have much stuff to carry.

What are the benefits of commuting by motorcycle?

There are a few standout benefits to riding a motorcycle to work:

  • Saves time: Lane splitting is legal and this is especially useful in gridlock.
  • More economical than a car.
  • Parking a bike is easier and there are often more spots empty for motorcycles.

Though the benefits are great, and you may be tempted to go out and buy a motorcycle today, there are inherent dangers that come with motorcycle riding.

Are motorcyclists doing enough to keep themselves and other road-users out of harm’s way while they get their thrills, or should they be doing more? Many car-commuters say that motorcycles are to blame in a crash, but the fact is, cars can be equally at fault, and the road needs to be shared by everyone.

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What are the dangers of commuting to work by motorcycle?

Mark Hinchliffe is a former motoring editor of Brisbane’s Courier Mail and founder of motorbikewriter.com. Having been riding for more than 40 years, few are better qualified than he is, and he said that the dangers with motorcycle riders often lie in other drivers not paying attention.

“Foremost in a rider’s mind when they ride on a public road is not being seen by other road-users because we are so small and can easily fall into vehicles’ blind spots,” he said. “Riders can’t just complain that they aren’t seen and they should never assume they have been seen. They need to take responsibility and ensure they are seen and heard by any safe means they can.”

Hinchcliffe also said that Australian roads themselves can have dangerous elements for motorcyclists.

“Riders not only need to watch out for other road-users but also the road surface. Public roads are dangerous places for motorcyclists with slippery painted lines, metal sewage covers, potholes, pavement grooves, spilt diesel and oil, gravel and more obstacles.”

Because motorbikes are much smaller than cars, they are more susceptible to the conditions of the road and riders in general need to be a lot more alert and ride defensively, rather than passively.

Three-quarters of respondents to Canstar Blue’s survey said they ride in fear of other road-users not seeing them. But to avoid accidents, Mark believes riders also need to take their fair share of responsibility.

“Safety is at the forefront of every rider’s mind as soon as they switch on the ignition,” he said. “We realise we are vulnerable road-users and that even in a minor accident, we have little protection and could be seriously injured. However, we ride because we believe the risk is worth it for the thrills, feelings of freedom and the absolute joy of riding.”

He said that risk is always an element of riding, but every rider tries to reduce that risk as much as possible.

“The riskiest thing riders can do is use the road as a personal racetrack. Motorcycles have enormous speed potential which cannot be experienced on public roads. Many riders wishing to explore that potential now take their bike to one of the many track days where they can get their thrills while also learning valuable lessons in bike control.”

Almost one in four motorcyclists surveyed said they have been involved in a collision with another vehicle and 32% have considered selling their bike because of the dangers of riding. In addition, more than half have been encouraged to do so by friends or family.

In his case, Mark said the risks are outweighed by the rewards of riding.

“I’ve had a few accidents in my four decades of riding, but I have never thought about hanging up my helmet,” he said. “It’s risky business, but it’s a calculated risk against the enormous rewards of riding. And every accident I have had, I’ve accepted a portion of the blame and learnt from my experience to make sure I am a better and safer rider.”

Every motorcyclist out there carries with them an accepted risk that riding can bring. It’s a personal decision but it is worthwhile doing the best you can to minimize this risk as much as possible.

Tips to Ride Safely

After a while of riding the same road to work every day, it’s all too easy to become complacent and ride in a passive manner. However, it’s a fact that you can’t control what stupid things commuters can do on the roads. It pays to ride defensively. Follow these tips for safer riding:

  • Ensure proper maintenance of your bike so it performs well. This includes grippy tyres.
  • Wear proper protective gear; ensure your helmet is good quality and your leathers have padding and reinforcements in all the right places.
  • Use assertiveness but not dominance: A bike cannot possibly win in a fight versus a car or truck.
  • Overtake only on the right; other drivers often don’t check blindspots when changing to the left lane; it’s all about making yourself most visible to other drivers.
  • Pick the most open parts of the road with the fewest cars hunched together. This will give you vital seconds if sudden braking is needed. Also be constantly aware of any possible ‘escape’ routes; this could be a road shoulder if there is gridlock or sudden braking.
  • Be wary of merging drivers on the highway; often they are grossly under the limit, which makes merging dangerous. Slip into the next lane to avoid this.

Commuting by motorcycle may seem like a perilous way to spend your morning and afternoon, but by taking preventative measures, you can ride as safely as possible and mitigate risks as much as possible on your end; but remember, you can never control what other vehicles are going to do!

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