Tuesday, 2 November 2010

A brief motorcycle accidents diversion: safety initiatives in the media

As I see it, there are three components to motorcycle safety:
  1. Motorcyclists looking out for themselves, paying attention and not making stupid decisions
  2. Car drivers looking out for other road users, paying attention and not making stupid decisions
  3. Not building roads and road furniture which will compromise, slice, dice, pulverise or flatten motorcyclists who do happen to come off because of consequences of 1.), 2.) or even 3.), because the roads are slippery, unstable or can't get rid of diesel oil.
Number 1 above seems to be the entire focus of Queensland road safety advertising, which is one reason I have so little respect for the authorities up here.

Number 2 seems to have only been covered recently by the "Don't ride us off" campaign, which was years ago now.

Number 3 is, well, a bit of a worry. If the bodgy road patch-repairs and non-repairs around here aren't of concern, the road edging, lighting and "safety" rails are. Sharp-edged end caps, wire-rope barriers referred to by riders as "cheese-graters", unnecessarily narrow lanes on fast corners, etc.

There really is a "it was your decision to ride, f--- you" mentality evident in road policy in this state at the moment.

And the "well, don't crash, then" response is a "f--- you" response. If you fail to plan for the worst eventuality, it just means you won't be prepared when it happens. I never intend to crash - I can't afford the pain or financial loss - and there are road conditions that make me paranoid, but I still wear helmet, gloves, jacket and boots every time I ride. Unexpected circumstances aren't expected. You maximise your alertness and attentiveness, monitor your road position and everyone else's, keep an eye out for suspicious behaviour or loose loads, and then one day there'll be a patch of oil that blended in with the road, or mechanical failure, or...

So I was extremely interested to see this crop up:

'Bendy signs' could prevent motorcycle injuries (ABC News Online, October 21).

You know those poles they have in competitive skiing, that all the skiers run over and which whip back upright when they've gone? Something like that, but a lot less bendy, I imagine. You can see smaller versions as road edging markers, knee high white poles with a red rubber hinge at the bottom.

I invite anyone to jump out of a moving car at 80, straight towards a road sign's metal pole, and then tell me this is not a good idea.

This is a neat little article, pointing out the fatality figure, saying that these signs have been effective (or at least 'some success') at reducing the fatality rate in Britain, and giving some details of the trial.

Wonderful idea.

Just one, little, teensy-weensy problem with the article:

The Queensland Government is hoping to reduce the number of motorbike accidents with the use of flexible road signs.

Now wait just one goddam minute, there.

"Accidents" and "fatalities" are not synonymous, no matter how much more vulnerable we are on bikes. The fact that the media and the public relations campaigns of roads and traffic authorities get all hung up on deaths does not mean that the deaths are not vastly outnumbered by the non-fatal injuries which merely, oh, I don't know, result in life-long serious physical, cognitive or behavioural disabilities and financial ruin.

And bendy road signs could not, except under the most stupid of circumstances, prevent accidents. They can, as the Main Roads Minister pointed out at the end of the article, prevent injury once you've parted company with Mr In Control and are headed, in the company of Mr Momentum, towards the otherwise fatal road furniture.

Journalism students are taught that the headline and opening paragraph are absolutely vital. They are, in fact, either the reason people read the article or the only part they read. The opening paragraph needs to say as much as is possible, without massacring Ms English Language, of the core journalism questions Who, What, Where, When, (Why), How - W5H.

I put Why in brackets because straight news reports may not investigate that. The rest, however, are pretty much mandatory. It's called the 'lead', and it both leads the story and, hopefully, leads readers into it.

For the sake of one little word, credibility can be lost.

In the vernacular: facepalm, and head-desk.

Stay upright, and I'll see you on the road.

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