Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Apparently, other people's criminal negligence is now your fault

This is going to be a closely related double-header on motorbike safety, starting with the fact that I not happy.

It started yesterday morning with this article on the Courier Mail website: Bike death toll tipped to be worst in thirty years.

What annoyed me wasn't the bald fact behind the title, or the many arguments over the reason, it was this quote from police spokesman, Inspector Peter Flanders:

"If you're riding a bike you need to keep in mind that other people can't see you. It's your responsibility to make sure you can be seen,"

What an absolute crock. We're harder to see, yes. People frequently don't, yes. However, it's the responsibility of every road user to ensure that they make themselves visible to other people, monitor the road and try and detect the incompetent (well, the more than usually incompetent, anyway). But other people can't see you? How about "Other people wilfully don't see you"? Or "Other people don't look where they're going"? Or "Other people don't display the basic competence needed to use the road safely"?

No matter how much I detest analysing language for microscopic nuances, there is a deeply disturbing suggestion in there that when a car merges into a bike because the driver wasn't looking where they were going we are supposed to understand. Apparently, the rider is at fault because it's okay for drivers to not take the simplest precautions. If someone pulls out in front of you they'll be forgiven, but you really should have done more than wear a techni-coloured helmet and a jacket with reflective bits on it while riding a bike in full racing livery!

Similar arguments include "It's your fault if you get raped while wearing a short skirt". I could go on, but I'll stop before someone calls Godwin's Law on me. 

Coming directly after the paragraph which says "Traffic coordinator for the North Coast region Inspector Peter Flanders said in most crashes it was the bike rider who was at fault." That makes me actively angry.

Part two of this rant is as follows: 

The background to this is that when traffic is at a standstill, or nearly so, on a highway, riders tend to use the verge. This has several advantages for everyone else, including getting the rider out of traffic (less congestion), getting them off the road sooner (less congestion and fewer emissions from an engine being run for less time and more efficiently) and the important psychological benefit of not looking at a broad bit of road containing just one bike, instead of a broad car containing just one driver. (In fact, when Sydney held a "ride to rule" day to protest against moves to make lane-splitting explicitly illegal, other road users were so frustrated that there were several cases of vehicular assault).

The police, however, tend to view this as "Failing to stay within a designated lane" (Or "Unfortunately there isn't a lane there, if there was I'd be in it"), and have a tendency to hand out $60 fines when they catch you at it.

Which happened to me yesterday morning, the very hour after I had read that idiotic article. 

Which was annoying, aggravating, frustrating and made me grumpy but I really couldn't complain about it because the officer was highly professional (even if he was a traitorous bastard for a biker), until he finished up with writing the ticket and just had to try and preach.  He said, and I quote from memory:
"It may be faster, but it's a hell of a lot less safe. Us bikers are being mowen down like nobody's business, and a lot of the time it's not our fault. You just can't trust someone not to pull over and answer their phone, and they won't be thinking to look for you." 

At this point my facial expression probably got a bit glassy and I did what I could to put my helmet on and get out of there. 

Ignoring that he has just contradicted the official line on where fault lies in the majority of cases (which is the bit I agree with)... You what?
Riding on the verge has risks associated with it, but you are grossly under-estimating the risks of riding in actual traffic if you think that this is the only argument. I thought about it on the way home:
  • Number of times I have been placed in a threatening position while riding on the verge: 0
  • Number of times I have seen it happen to someone else: 1, and in that case the scooter rider put herself in an unnecessarily dangerous position.
  • Number of times I have had to dodge and/or honk people moving into me while I was sitting entirely legally in my own lane: I've lost count.
This morning I kept off the verge (still grumpy) and counted: 5. Five times someone started moving sideways into me or dangerously close in front of me in the space of 40km, including a truck that was a metre in front of me when it merged without indicating. Admittedly, two of those events were the same car and I wasn't really surprised the second time. My all time favourite was a few months back when a black Falcon who was trying to push through traffic that was doing the speed limit dived across in front of me as soon as he thought he had a gap. He didn't, and the only reason he didn't collect my front wheel with his rear bumper was that I was already moving sideways away from him (because I didn't trust him) and braked instantly and hard (because I was keeping an eye on him). I wonder what the police would have put down for "cause of accident" in that one if I hadn't been paying attention?

The thing is, the chances of someone moving onto the verge without indicating or checking are a bit higher than the chance of them merging into another lane without indicating or checking properly, but the chance of them doing it at all are vastly less than the chance of them merging, which I claim makes the risk of them doing it dangerously, vanishingly small. 

I'll take the verge on a grid-locked highway any time.

Tips for drivers:
  • Don't ever move into section of road (including the one in front of you) without looking at it, and I mean properly, using your neck to check the blind spot.
  • Don't merge without letting the indicator click three times. This gives even dopey other road users notice of what you're doing.
  • If you don't let people in when they indicate, or if you go so far as to cut them off, you're part of the problem and are contributing to dangerous behaviours, you selfish prick.
  • Understand that bikes can accelerate faster than you, and probably will. If a bike is behind you on the roundabout, it'll probably be next to you coming out of the roundabout. Checking the road five seconds ago isn't good enough.
Link to Courier Mail article

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