Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Independent Riders' Group launched by Damien Codognotto OAM

This Blog will help you stay informed about the issues affecting motorcycle and scooter riders’ rights and road safety in Australia, particularly in the state of Victoria. And we'll cover items of interest to riders and some history.

The Independent Riders' Group (IRG) was set up by Damien Codognotto OAM in 2007. It has been an informal think tank on motorcycling issues prompted by the decline Motorcycle Riders' Association. The MRA was obviously being wound down leaving road riders in this state without a voice.

Over the summer of 2011/2012 the IRG will formalise its' operation and seek riders opinions on issues to develop a policy document that will be available to all. 
Damien Codognotto OAM is recognised as motorcycle & scooter road safety advocate by the Road Safety Committee of the Parliament of Victoria  rsc@parliament.vic.gov.au . He provides submissions in response to  government enquiries into motorcycle road safety issues.

For information on the Victorian Road Safety Committee go to http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/ then click on committees. Currently the RSC is conducting an enquiry into motorcycle & scooter safety.

For the community service work of the MRA Damien was awarded an MRA Honourary Life Membership and, in 1997, an Order of Australia Medal. He is quick to point out that many MRA volunteers earned that OAM.

For information on the Order of Australia go to http://www.itsanhonour.com.au .

Heather Ellis (no relation to Tony) set this blog up. Heather is keen to see recreational registration available to more riders.

Rights and road safety issues affecting motorcycle & scooter riders in Australia and in the state of Victoria in 2011:

Wire Rope Barriers (Australia wide):
Wire rope barriers (WRB) are often called ‘cheese cutters’ due to the affect the wire ropes have on riders' bodies on impact. While the cables can cause terrible injuries the steel posts inflict the most damage. This is true of other barrier systems but WRB has more exposeed posts than any other system.

In May 2011 a rider had a leg cut off above the knee after crashing into WRB near Taree in NSW. Miraculously he survived. Luke Hartsuyker MP raised the danger WRB posed to motorcyclists in the Federal Parliament. The Ulysses Club magazine, Riding On, has an article by Ian Parks  which documents and details this crash.


WRB does not stop trucks. Manufacturers say their product was never designed to stop trucks so there is no justification for installing WRBs on roads where speeds are relatively high and traffic is heavy. A truck driver died on Melbourne's Eastern Freeway when WRB failed to stop his truck hitting a pylon in 2010.  And he is not the only casualty where WRB failed to stop a larger vehicle.

In 2006, at Yatala in Queensland, a ute driver died, eight people were injured and six cars were destroyed when WRB failed to stop a truck crossing the median and  ploughing into oncoming traffic. RACQ engineer, John Wikman, went on the TV news calling for the WRB to be replaced with a barrier system that would stop trucks. The road authority clearly had a vested interest in not being seen to spend vast sums of taxpayers' money on a system that does not perform as promoted. The Transport Minister said that no barrier would have stopped that truck. The RACQ went quiet. There is NO EVIDENCE TO SUGGEST that a stronger barrier type would not have kept that truck on its' own side of the road.
Big cars aren't stopped by WRB either. In June 2011, at Burrumbeet in Victoria, WRB failed to stop a car hitting trees in a crash that left three of the five occupants dead. Apparently a 4WD towing a trailer ran off the highway, over a WRB, into trees that probably should not have been there. I'm told that 7 or 8 years ago the road authority planted fast growing trees too close to the road ignoring their own safety guidelines for roadside plantings. I'm also told that when the regional manager was askede about this deadly breach of the guidelines he said there was no such document. The IRG's Michael Czajka had a copy on file and Dale Maggs supplied the manager, the local MPs and the Ballarat Courier with copies of VicRoads' (RTA) safety guidelines on roadside plantings. The manager reportedly went on to say no barrier would have stopped that 4WD. He offered no evidence to support his theory. The IRG hopes to have an observer in the Ballarat Coroner's Court for the hearings on these deaths are heard in 2012. We'll keep you posted. 

Reportedly the Norwegian and Dutch governments have banned WRB due to safety concerns.

WRB has a short working life and costs much more in repairs than other barrier types that are safer for motorcyclists. So WRB is expensive and does not do what road authorities would have us believe. I believe it is becoming the greatest road environment threat to motorcycle and scooter riders in Australia.

Footpath Parking (Victoria):
Victoria is the only state in Australia where motorcyclists can park free on footpaths. This right was won with an MRA park-in in Melbourne in 1985.

Every few years attempts are made to ban footpath motorcycle and scooter parking. These moves are usually made by business interests through the Melbourne City Council. “A survey is being conducted about motorcycles footpath parking, including seeking world-wide benchmarking." This statement was included in the MRA's May 2011 board meeting minutes. VicRoads is doing a footpath parking survey? After days of enquiries in June, I discovered that VicRoads has undertaken "a review of national and international best practice. … a small scale stakeholder survey was undertaken."  I was told VicRoads was receiving advice from Tony Ellis (no relation to our Heather) and Detlef Lamp. 

As the legislation allowing motorcycles to legally park on footpaths is state law, any ban or restriction would apply state wide. Experience has taught me that small scale surveys can be used by authorities to justify changes that are worst practice for riders. Like the TAC tax.  I will strongly oppose any attempts to restrict footpath parking time or space or to charge fees. We pay enough.  

Far from restricting or banning free motorcycle & scooter footpath parking in Victoria, I believe footpath parking should go national. I don't understand why every bike lobby group in this country is not pushing for the Victorian law to go national. It has worked here for 25 years.

In August 1985,  eight to ten thousand motorcyclists protested in Melbourne. There were many issues. Among them motorcycle & scooter parking. Riders had to pay for a car bay to park, but the way the rules were writing way back when, only one vehicle was allowed to occupy a bay. Three bikes in a bay meant two could be booked. It happened. This was about as fair as the TAC tax so a park-in was organised. In those days there was little off-street parking and the major retailers had from nine to noon on a Saturday to trade. We took up most of the on-street parking near the big stores quite to rule, paying fees, one bike per bay. When the time was up, the bikes moved on to the next bay. Like the mad hatter's tea party. It was all very civilised with riders handing apology notes to frustrated drivers. "Sorry. This would not be happening if we had fair bike laws." The major retailers expressed their dismay at the situation to the City Council and State Parliament. The rest is history. Of course you could not do that today without 20,000 bikes. Too much off-street parking and retailers are open all hours. Never mind. You've got Ellis (no relation to our Heather) and Lamp looking out for your interests.
Motorcycles and Bus/Taxi lanes in Melbourne (Victoria):

VicRoads could soon allow motorcycles and scooters to use bus lanes. No ruling has yet been made but a trial is being conducted in Melbourne. Elsewhere in Australia motorcycles & scooters use bus lanes without problems. Here in Victoria where the trasffic congestion is chronic, VicRoads does not allow motorcycles & scooters, which can keep up with traffic, to use bus lanes. Sound silly? Have a look at the photo.
VicRoads allows bicycles that can't keep up with traffic in many situations, which have no insurance or ID, to use bus lanes in peak hour traffic. There is no evidence to suggest this is silly and dangerous.

Traffic filtering / lane splitting:

Laws on the way motorcycles & scooters move through traffic need review. Moving safely to the front at intersections is encouraged for bicycles. Bicycles have their own stop line in Victoria to help them move safely away from cars when the lights go green. It is not logical that motorcycles & scooters aren't treated the same as bicycles in these situations.

Statistically traffic filtering is safer for motorcycles & scooters than staying in a lane taking up nearly as much space as a car.

TAC Motorcycle Safety Levy (Victoria):

The Herald Sun.  Page 37. August 26, 2011.


"WHO said the Americans had no idea? Thomas Jefferson said: 'To complel a man to subsidise with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.' He could have foreseen today's Australian Government.

Thorpy, Neerim South" 

Seems apt in a piece on the discriminatory Transport Accident Commission (TAC) antibike tax in Victoria, probably soon to go national.

The TAC is a semi-government corporation acting as an insurance company. It has a Board of nine directors qualified in business administration and finance in one way or another. The TAC Board has little or no expertise in road safety or transport let alone road motorcycles & scooters.

TAC is a monopoly. Its' product is compulsory. The taxpayer would like to think TAC is an organisation dedicated to helping victims of road trauma survive the rest of their lives as well as may be. They should be concerned about the vast amounts of their money spent on costly media campaigns, sponsorships and self-promotion instead of rehab and more programs to assist the victims and their families.

Seeing their corporate logo on a sportsman's jumper must be very satisfying to the TAC Board.

The TAC collects a tax, which they call a safety levy, on most road motorcycles and scooters in Victoria. It was introduced by stealth, at $50 a year, in 2002. No other transport form is targeted this way. The tax is unfair. It penalises users of a legitimate form of transport who are already paying more than their fair share of road costs. The tax goes up each year and is now over $60.

Photo courtesy Kellie Buckley, AMCN.

On December 31, 2010, there were 165,751 road registered bikes in Victoria. The government took $5,600,000 from the motorcycle community in 2010.

In road safety terms $5.6 million is a drop in the research bucket but this $5.6 million rip off is the excuse VicRoads/TAC/Police need to explain why proper funding for motorcycle & scooter safety, research and facilities is never in the state budget. 

There is an unwritten policy, a culture, in our road authorities to do as little as possible to encourage motorcycle & scooter riding. The TAC tax fits in with that agenda. While it exists there won't be any significant funding for road bikes let alone anything like the funding bicycling gets each year.

The Age. Page 11. July 15, 2011.


By Ian Munro.

"... As a state parliamentary inquiry uncovered almost 20 years ago, the state roads, licencing and registration authority, VicRoads, had a policy of 'not implementing any programs that could be construed as encouraging motorcycling.'  Having decided motorcycling was inherently risky, VicRoads thought it best to do nothing to make it safer in case this encouraged more people to take it up. VicRoads has formally abandoned the policy, but in the licencing system (DC - and elsewhere) its' legacy seemingly lingers."


Riders in Victoria do not see a lot for their road taxes and charges, some negative ads and signage and some repairs to public roads that should come out of general revenue. Some bureaucrats think the way to reduce motorbike trauma is to reduce exposure to bikes. One method of doing this is to make riding cost more – a lot more! That policy is dangerous. 

The TAC tax encourages riders to cut back on maintenance, protective gear and/or insurance. Others go back to cars increasing traffic congestion and pollution. Melbourne's traffic congestion is 70 per cent single-occupant cars. Most vulnerable road user casualties are caused by car driver error. This Victorian tax on motorcycling is bad for road safety, bad for the environment and bad for commuters trying to save time and money.

Pollution, fuel costs and traffic congestion are serious problems in our cities. The number of commuters on powered two-wheelers has doubled so responsible authorities must encourage the safe use of environmentally-friendly vehicles that do little damage to infrastructure. Motorcycles and scooters are such vehicles.

Some rider representatives support the TAC tax saying it is a way to get important things done for motorcycling but the tax has been in for nearly a decade. TAC tax collected to June 30, 2011, $40.9 million, a drop in the road safety bucket. Returns to road riders are hardly tangible. The repsis logic is wrong. These reps should strongly oppose the TAC tax because it hurts motorcycling.

All levels of government throw money at cyclists who do not contribute financially to the transport system at all. The City of Manningham, in Melbourne's east, budgets over $12 per resident per year for bicycle facilities. Even residents who don't ride pushbikes are forced to subsidise bicycles. The motorcycle community has every right to expect similar treatment.

The TAC tax must be abolished.

Motorcycle licence cost increase (Victoria):

A VicRoads' Graduated Licence System (GLS) discussion paper got limited circulation in 2010. It suggests the government makes it more difficult and more expensive to get a motorcycle licence. A GLS may mean a novice rider will need a licenced rider with them until they log enough hours to do a licence test, similar to requirements in Queensland. However, many learners won't have a licenced motorcyclist to ride with all the time. Therefore, they would have to pay for an instructor which would make getting a bike licence prohibitively expensive.

The estimate in the Melbourne Herald Sun on September 30, 2010, was $13,763.

This is the kind of road bike stupidity that gushed out of VicRoads under the previous government. We've only had Learner Approved Motorcycles (LAMS) for a few years and they have not assessed that yet. A GLS will encourage would-be riders to ride unlicenced and others to go back to their cars. The GLS paper ignores traffic congestion and pollution and victimises low-income earners.

Melbourne CBD congestion tax (Victoria):

In June 2011, there was a proposal for a traffic congestion tax in Melbourne’s CBD. The Victorian Government came out against the idea.

The proposed tax seemed similar to the congestion tax in London, where motorcycles and scooters are exempt. There was no mention of an exemption on motorcycles and scooters in Melbourne.

The fact, that most riders found out about  the  proposed congestion tax from a Sunday newspaper says a lot about the people representing riders to road authorities. There had been no consultation. The proposal did not get up this time but it may resurface later. It must be made very clear to VicRoads that motorcycle and scooter riders help reduce traffic congestion and pollution so they must be exempt from all such taxes and charges.

Court bias favouring car drivers in collisions involving motorcyclists?:

Decrease Text SizeIn one of the most common types of collisions between cars and motorcycles or scooters, the car turns in front of the bike(s). Either the car is turning right or doing a U-turn.

Another type of crash involving both cars and bikes seems to be becoming more common. Bikes are hit from behind. Perhaps in-car distractions are increasing. Swann Insurance did a national survey of bike claims in 2006. In 40 per cent of claims, the bike was hit from behind by another vehicle. Driver inattention is definitely a road safety issue but in too many court cases, there is little to deter dangerous drivers.
"The cupcake killer" (Victoria):

The case of Senior Constable Peta Carbonneau, dubbed the cup cake killer on the internet, has many in the motorcycle community worried. Carbonneau was on her way to work at Sunbury Police Station on a dark, foggy April morning in 2009. She forgot her cup cakes. It was a four-lane carriageway, mostly divided by double white lines. She was heading South from Woodend. It was foggy and she was a bit down from a small crest.

She did a U-turn to go back for the cup cakes.

Carbonneau was an experienced officer with certificates for police driver training. The Bendigo Advertiser reported she saw the bike's headlight and thought she had time to make the turn. She saw the bike's light.

A rider came over a crest on an old Honda 250. There was no suggestion of anything wrong like machine failure, speed or drugs/alcohol. He was going to work too. Carbonneau put her black Lancer sideways across Luke's path. In the dark the black car would have been very hard to see. He died. 

Officer Carbonneau faced four charges including dangerous driving causing death. She appeared in the Ballarat Court in May 2011. The IRG had an observer in court for part of the trial. Three charges were withdrawn without explanation! She was found not guilty of dangerous driving causing the death of motorcyclist Luke Wilson. How was it not dangerous to put a car sideways across a rider's path in those conditions?!?  

Carbonneau walked.

IRG wrote to the Attorney General asking for an explanation of why the lesser charges were withdrawn and that the case be reviewed. I have had no reply to September 4,2011. We'll keep you informed. 

Great Ocean Road Ferrari driver (Victoria):

A driver lost control of his Ferrari and ended up on the wrong side of the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. He hit two oncoming motorcyclists.

Thr riders were doing nothing wrong. They survived ... just. The lead rider, Andrew Hosemans, suffered a fractured vertebrae, sternum, right femur, a collapsed lung and a ruptured bowel. The other rider was less seriously hurt.

A News Ltd report quoted Hosemans. "I'm a bit gutted. I thought he would've at least done his licence for a little, while I'm still going to rehab and getting operations. … He never said sorry. …"

In November 2010 the Ferrari driver, Carl Vaccari, was convicted of careless driving and ordered to par $3000 to road trauma funds. He walked from court with his driver’s licence intact!

BMW driver. 2 down, 1 dead. (Victoria):

In February, 2011, a BMW driver turned in front of two motorcyclists in the Melbourne suburb of Ashburton. Visibilty and conditions were good. The driver just turned in front of the riders without indicating. One rider died and the other has horrific injuries.

The TV news was stacked against the riders with police saying to camera that speed was apparently a contributing facture. The TV showed file footage of a danaged bike speedo stuck on near 200 kph.

 As yet, this case is awaiting a court hearing.

In Victoria, there are also a number of other cases involving the death of motorcyclists after car drivers turned unexpectedly in front of them. These cases await court hearings. If you know of any collisions involving car drivers and motorcyclists both in Victoria and nationally, please advise us of the details and especially of any court rulings. We need to pay close attention to what looks like a growing trend of court bias against motorcyclists.

Damien Codognotto OAM
Independent Riders' Group