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Road safety, an ongoing challenge

Dolf Willigers, FEMA’s general secretary, writes about his work in Brussels, representing European motorcyclists.

FEMA’s general secretary Dolf Willigers (photograph by Wim Taal).

The nicest part of my job is that it is all about motorcycling. And when I have to go somewhere, to a meeting in Brussels or elsewhere, naturally I use the motorcycle. Not only because it´s more fun than travelling by car (and I won´t even mention public transport), but also because for me it is the most convenient way of transport: no waiting, no transfers, I can filter through the traffic jams and last but not least: nearly always a parking space near or in front of my destination.’

I take for granted that the weather isn’t always nice, but with a good outfit it shouldn’t be a problem anyway. The less nice part of my job is that… yes, it is all about motorcycling, but mostly about the annoying sides of it: legislation, accidents and safety, pollution, quality of infrastructure and training, tests. And I should not forget to mention the risks of getting hit by so-called self-driving cars. It is a different world from making nice tours with your friends, track days, customizing your bike or just getting a weekend away with your club to the camping site. So, when I talk about motorcycling, in other words my work, it is always about these annoying things. It cannot be helped. This time I am going to write about motorcycle road safety, just because that is what I have been working on these months.

Let’s start with rider training. For me that’s the foundation of road safety and riding safely: a good initial training, both practice and theory and inevitable one or more tests. The European Union has the same ideas about that and in the road safety policy good rider training is the first action point. That’s why the third driving licence directive extensively is written what demands a rider has to fulfil to pass the test successfully. The staged driving licence system for motorcyclists (A1, A2, A) is also seen as a safety issue and is developed with the idea in mind that a rider should get some experience on a light motorcycle before he is allowed to ride a bigger one. An idea that FEMA does not support at all though; even people who advocate this system have to admit that it lacks any scientific proof.

The directive focusses on technical skills that are all precisely listed. Again, we are of a different opinion; of course technical skills are important and should be trained and tested, but we would like to see more attention to risk awareness and risk avoidance skills. How to anticipate and avoid the situations where you would be too dependent on those technical skills. There has been much communication about this with the European Commission. The third driving license directive has been implemented four years now, which in EU terms means that it is time for a review. We would like to have some things changed and are working on that. While we are in the process, we also think it is finally time to do something about riding with a trailer behind your bike and include this in the driving licence directory after all those years. Now you have to inquire first if you can cross the border with your trailer, because in some countries it is still not allowed.

Maybe you remember, or you were there, how in September 2012 we went to Brussels with thousands of riders to protest against a European mandatory periodical technical inspection (PTI) for motorcycles. After a lot of hassle the European institutions came to a compromise and the mandatory PTI was extended until 2022. Countries that could prove by May 2017 that they had taken other measures to increase motorcycle road safety could even abstain from this obligation. Well, this was last month which means that this are exciting times for us. Some countries already have made known that they will have a mandatory PTI, others still think like us and believe that here are better ways to do that.

Dolf Willigers at the European Commission (photograph by Wim Taal).

The road safety related item that engages me most at the moment, is infrastructure. Early April we visited the European Commission to discuss safer infrastructure for motorcycles. Infrastructure is directly or indirectly an important factor in causing accidents. Think about bad or damaged pavement, potholes, debris, traffic calming devices et cetera. An important and much overlooked factor however are obstacles that block the view. Trees, bushes in corners, parked cars near exits, traffic signs, advertisement billboards, buildings that block the view near crossings, exits right after bends. Also obstacles that are not part of the cause of an accident but that are a factor in the outcome and the degree of injuries: traffic signs again, poles, light poles, trees, roadside and median barriers, switchboard enclosures, etcetera.

Much of this is what you could call low hanging fruit: at low costs and with simple measures you can do much to enhance road safety. Examples are transferring light poles from the outer bend to the inner bend, removing bushes in bends to have a better sight, removing parking spaces where cars block the view at crossings and exits, removing or relocating obstacles to create forgiving roadsides. We also talked about barriers and motorcyclist protection systems that can be attached to them end of course we discussed cable barriers (or wire rope fences. These are still in use on large scale in Sweden and on smaller scale in the United Kingdom. The European Commission has no official say in most of these matters, but is able to promote and advise the member states and does so frequently. The European Commission was very interested in our recommendations and we have reason to expect that they will be used and something will happen with them.

These are some of the matters we dealt with these months. Next to for example (semi-) self-driving cars and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) that should recognise motorcyclists and react to them in a proper way, the entrance of motorcycles to low emission zones, road closures, the emission of greenhouse and polluting gasses, sound emission regulations, promoting the motorcycle in current and future urban traffic. Not always the nicest things to be involved with, certainly not to write or read about. But these things must happen to keep you a happy rider.

Have fun, ride free, ride safe. And don’t forget: join your national motorcyclists’ organization!