Monday, May 28, 2012

TAC Campaign Effectiveness Survey - Part One

I've received all the responses I can analyse without paying for a membership at Survey Monkey, so I'm starting to look at the results I have for the TAC Campaign Effectiveness Survey.

First up, let's look at the respondents' answers regarding this latest campaign, the 'Motorcycle Reconstruction' ad.  There are 58 responses making up these results.

The respondents were asked to watch the Motorcycle Reconstruction ad, and answer as a rider, to what extent did watching this ad make you:

The most interesting aspect of these results to me are the fact that for all questions bar 2, the largest answer group was "not at all."  All the questions were phrased in terms of an active response from the viewer - does the ad make you think about, change, or use - in response to the ad.  Overwhelmingly it appears that these viewers were not influenced by this campaign at all, at least so far as these questions go.  The two questions that defied this trend related to whether the ad focused upon the consequences of an accident, and whether the respondent considered themselves to be the target audience of the ad.

Some of the optional comments entered shed further light on this.  For example one respondent commented that they already wear all the protective gear all the time, and do not speed.  Since none of the questions asked whether a riders current practices and habits were reinforced or supported by the ad, this riders' choices are likely aligned with the goals of the campaign, but the campaign cannot be said to have contributed towards changing their attitude on those subjects.  Whether the ad reinforced that behaviour however was not assessed.

That 67% of respondents indicated that the ad made them think about how they ride their PTW "not at all" should be an alarming outcome for the TAC.  I stress that this is not a professional survey, and these are not "findings" and are not put forward as a scientific statistical analysis.  All I am presenting this as is a informal survey of viewers' responses to the ad.  But that 67% of responses indicated that they didn't think about their riding behaviour at all in response to the ad surprises even me.  I am not a fan of this ad and consider it a lamentable waste of an opportunity to make a real impact, but despite that it did prompt me to think again about road-craft skills that would help save a rider in this predicament.  For two thirds of respondents to walk away from this ad without asking those questions is a pretty damning indictment of this campaign in my opinion.

Two more themes jump out at me from this question.  Firstly, it paints a picture of mistrust of the TAC, with 89% considering that the ad was "not at all" trustworthy and accurate, 84% saying that the ad did not provide any information to make riding safer, and 60% believing that they were not at all, or only a little, the target audience of the ad.  Secondly, 63% of people responded that they didn't think the ad addressed the causes of accidents at all.  

If I were the TAC I would be taking a three-pronged approach to addressing motorcycle safety in response to this campaign.
  1. I would commission a new ad focusing on driver behaviour.  While the accident statistics indicate that other vehicles are involved in only 50% of motorcycle fatalities, that 50% is certainly fair game for trying to lower motorcycle accidents.  Furthermore, such a campaign would demonstrate that the TAC is listening to the concerns of riders and is prepared to do something about it.  The idea in my head is something along the lines of "Is that gap big enough?  If you don't know, don't go."  The other idea is to picture a driver checking left and right before pulling out, counting the seconds they spend looking "1 motorcycle, 2 motorcycle" in the same way that American kids are portrayed as counting "1 mississippi, 2 mississippi ..."
  2. I would look at the causes of motorcycle accidents with only passing reference to consequences.  This seems to go against the grain of TAC's track record of emotive advertising, but in my opinion the TAC is allowing their messages to get muddied by their overpowering focus upon consequences.  Of course that is to an extent understandable since the TAC literally pays for those consequences; however preventing accidents is preferable to minimising the consequences of accidents, and visuals such as a rider wearing all the right gear dying from a broken neck do nothing to aid the clear communication of how to prevent a crash.  Causes and road-craft should be the major focus of this three-pronged approach.
  3. Consequences also need to be addressed, as riders have the ability to influence how significantly they are injured in a number of accidents.  Again, this topic would be handled separately from causes, and would focus on unpreventable or "no fault" accidents where a cause has to be included at all.  Ideas such as a child running into the path of an oncoming car that then swerves into the path of a rider, or a rider passing a truck as the truck tyre blows out and flings rubber at the bike spring to mind.  The aim here is to get away from the whole "well I just wouldn't have ridden like that guy rode, therefore I can turn off from the rest of the ad" syndrome, and allow the viewer to engage with the examination of consequence mitigation, mostly dwelling on protective gear.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Queensland's Out Here Campaign

Somewhere in the year 2010 Queenslanders were first introduced to the 'Out Here' campaign for motorcycle safety.  It featured a tv ad component:

There are lots of factors that influence motorcycle safety and fatality and serious injury trends.  But the trends for Queensland in the years leading up to, and following the release of this campaign are as follows:

2005-06:  Fatalities - 64; Hospitalisation - 896 (Vic fatalities: 48)
2006-07:  Fatalities - 69; Hospitalisation - 931 (Vic fatalities: 47)
2007-08:  Fatalities - 69; Hospitalisation - 973 (Vic fatalities: 45)
2008-09:  Fatalities - 79; Hospitalisation - 971 (Vic fatalities: 43)
2009-10:  Fatalities - 40; Hospitalisation - 838 (Vic fatalities: 38)
2010-11:  Fatalities - 49; Hospitalisation - 770 (Vic fatalities: 49)

(The figures are recorded by financial year, July - June.  The campaign began somewhere in the last two reporting periods, exactly when I am not sure of.)

Like Victoria, Queensland has seen a large jump in motorcycle registrations during this same period:
2005: 109,258
2006: 124,511
2007: 138,661
2008: 152,289
2009: 157,597
2010: 161,276

I am not qualified to draw the causality bow in response to these high level figures.  But the data clearly tells us that in 2009 - 2010 there was a turn around in the trends of motorcycle accidents and fatalities in Queensland.  If I were involved with this campaign, trying to drive down the number of motorcycle fatalities in that state, I would look upon those numbers with a sense of satisfaction and pride.  Clearly dropping from 79 fatalities in 2008-2009 to 40 in 2009-2010 is a great outcome, and to whatever extent this campaign is responsible for that, those involved with it should be extremely proud.

My thesis, which I am not really qualified to make and am completely unable to verify, is this:

Motorcycle safety campaigns that positively or sympathetically engage the motorcycling community are more successful than those that are do not.  I hope that we can see a positive, sympathetically engaging campaign run in Victoria so that we can test this thesis ourselves.

My sincere thanks to Data Analysis team of Queensland's Department of Transport and Main Roads for providing the figures cited herein.  In case there is any doubt, they have provided me with raw figures only; any conclusions drawn or hypotheses presented are purely my own.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Food for thought

Take a read of this article about the benefits to everyone from the uptake in motorcycle commuting.

As I read it, a large part of the benefit appears to be derived from bikes filtering through the traffic... something to think about ...

Practice Emergency Braking

I don't really want to make light of safety but this is some spectacular footage!

Monday, May 21, 2012

It's not just me

The results are probably not statistically significant, nor can I make any representations as to the make up of the respondents since it is an anonymous survey, and one that is only presently advertised online in places where I post, which may not hit a broad spectrum of riders.  Bearing that in mind however, a pattern is forming...

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Stay Upright - Quick Stops

This is what I came to the course for - practicing emergency stops. I had a big improvement in my confidence in the brakes, which is what it's all about - getting to know and trust the bike, and getting confident to push and get the most out of it.

If you haven't done any training since you got your license, go do it.

Stay Upright - Advanced 1

I did Stay Upright Advanced 1 training course yesterday, held down at the Broadford Motorcycle Complex.  This is the second time I've done this course, and it was more fun the second time :)

I ran a camera for some of the exercises that we did.  Below is a taste of the swerve practice that we did.  It was a pretty full class so you didn't always get to travel at the speed you might like, but it was excellent fun - and excellent practice - nevertheless.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Last night at about 9:15 a motorcyclist collided with a car that did a u-turn in front of him.  He died as a result of this collision, and my deepest sympathies go out to this man's friends and family.

The accident occurred on a straight stretch of road with relatively unobstructed visibility of oncoming traffic.

 It took place after dark, when the headlight of the bike should have been clearly visible.  Based on the image below it appears that the bike struck the front passenger door of the vehicle.  I would guess that he struck roughly 2 metres from the front of the car.

How long does it take for a car to move forwards 2 metres into the path of an oncoming motorcycle?  That is about how much time this rider had to react.

In light of all this, I would have thought that the message from this accident would be clear: cars, look out for bikes.  Regardless of what speed the motorcycle was travelling, provided his headlight was on there is no reason why this car would not have seen him.

I honestly would have thought this is a clear wake up call for drivers to look twice for bikes.  I would have thought this would be the moment to remind all road users of their responsibility to take care.

Here is what Inspector Martin Tynan said:

"We are in the vicinity of Turner St and Napean Highway in Moorabbin, and the situation tonight is that at about a quarter past nine we've had a motorcycle hit the side of a motor vehicle, and the force of the impact has caused that motor vehicle to flip onto its side.  Unfortunate byproduct of it is that is that the motorcyclist has passed away, and we have two people - elderly people - from the car have been taken to hospital.

"I wonder sometimes what more we can do.  We are out there, we have police on the road everywhere, we are an enormously visible police presence.  The message is going out through every form of media that speed kills, to slow down.  The current TAC ads relate specifically to motorcyclists, yet here we are, again, going through this process.  It's a very frustrating process for myself and my members, and it's got an enormous impact on everyone: not just the relatives of the deceased, but the whole community suffer from this.

"Look, anyone that rides a motorbike, anyone at all, I implore them to just be aware of where they are, and just slow down."

I am disgusted beyond words that in the same breath as announcing this fatality, that Inspector Tynan has condemned the rider in an accident where the car clearly failed to give way with absolutely tragic consequences.

This commentary justifies the concerns of riders that the "safety message" portrayed in the latest TAC campaign reinforces the anti-rider mentality of blaming the motorcyclist, whatever the circumstances may be.

In the wake of this latest preventable tragedy, I would like for 3 things to take place:
  1. The immediate suspension or resignation of Inspector Tynan for his grossly inappropriate conduct in blaming and vilifying the victim of last night's accident.
  2. The immediate retraction of the TAC's "Motorcycle Reconstruction" campaign, and replacing all further airtime and billboard usage either with the Vice Versa campaign from TACs own collection or with Queensland's Out There campaign.
  3. The immediate appointment of an Ambassador for Motorcycle Safety to the board of the TAC, with discretionary powers to oversee the execution of safety campaigns and initiatives relating to motorcycle safety.
We cannot continue to exonerate this type of driving.  We cannot continue to reinforce the message that it is the rider's fault for choosing to ride.  We cannot continue to dishonour the deaths of Victorian motorcyclists in this way.

EDIT: I have had it pointed out to me that the amount of force required to tip that Honda CRV is not consistent with the bike travelling at the speed limit.  Extrapolating that, it appears I am overly harsh in my assessment of Inspector Tynan's comments. We know that it is difficult to estimate the speed of an oncoming motorcycle, especially at night.  We riders don't help ourselves if our speed is above the marked speed.  While drivers need to know a gap is safe before pulling out, not assume it is safe, riders too need to take responsibility for themselves.  I'll reserve any further comments until the coroner's report reveals the estimated speed of the incident.

Monday, May 14, 2012

State of the union

Sent to John Thompson today:

Good afternoon John,

as discussed I have spent the weekend developing my thoughts on how the TAC is failing in its current approach to motorcycle safety and its engagement of the motorcycling community.  You raised two concerns that you would welcome input on: protective clothing and speeding.  I have some suggestions to make on those two issues, however before I can do that I need to lay a little ground work addressing the core issues that I believe underpin the disconnect between motorcyclists and the TAC.  For this purpose, I am going to talk about "motorcyclists"; obviously I cannot speak the mind of all motorcyclists however I am going to relate my opinion and impression of the motorcycling community's thoughts and opinions, which has been confirmed to me by the response to the petition I launched (over 800 signatures now) and comments fed back to me via the facebook page and comments & emails in response to my personal blog on motorcycling.

1.  Motorcyclists do not trust the TAC

In his book 'The 7 habits of Highly Effective People', author Steven Covey introduces the concept of a trust bank.  This trust bank or emotional bank holds the balance of trust that an individual holds towards you.  Each time you do something that earns trust, that balance goes up.  Each time you do something that breaks trust, the balance goes down.  In essence he states that it is possible to break trust with people and still maintain a healthy relationship with them providing you have previously established a positive trust balance with them.  In other words, I can break a promise to my daughters (Sorry love, I won't be home in time to read you a bedtime story) and not damage the relationship providing I have proven myself trustworthy in the past and I haven't exhausted that balance of trust.  However if I promise to be home in time for stories every morning, and then every night I run late and miss it, I will do considerable damage to that relationship and my daughters will not trust me about story time or anything else.  That constitutes a relationship in peril.

In my view, the TAC has exhausted its trust balance with many in the motorcycling community.  The TAC simply is not trusted by the riding community at the moment, and this has been the case at least since "reduce the risks" in 2009, which was when I started to pay attention to people's views on this subject.

This has two implications for the TAC:

  1. Riders who do not trust them will not be receptive to any message from the TAC that is directed at them; and
  2. Anything the TAC says or does that can be interpreted in a negative way is most likely going to be interpreted in a negative way.
I have taken the following slide from your GRSP Asia Seminar slide deck to illustrate the point:

Engagement is the piece of this puzzle that is lacking.  The TAC burned a lot of trust capital with the "reduce the risks" campaign, and that lost trust has not been rebuilt in the years that followed.

(I trust that this doesn't really need to be said, but I am going to qualify this point anyway just for the sake of absolute clarity.  I am describing the emotions, attitudes and opinions of motorcyclists.  These are human reactions and responses, not necessarily reasoned, rational objections.  You may well dispute some of the conclusions that motorcyclists draw, and you may even have facts on your side to do so, but please hear me that the TAC getting defensive and justifying itself does nothing to improve motorcyclist engagement or trust in the TAC.  If you genuinely want to overcome communication issues with the motorcycling community, you will need to set aside the impulse to defend the TAC and past actions, and listen to these concerns because whether or not the concerns are justified, they are real, and they form a real impediment to motorcyclists trust in and engagement with the TAC.)

Motorcyclists are a minority group.  We feel like a persecuted minority group.  Drivers fail to see us, or fail to look.  Our families nag us, harass us, disown us.  Victoria Police run special operations targeting us.  This all contributes to a heightened sense of alienation, which the TAC needs to overcome if they are going to effectively communicate with motorcyclists.  This is not happening.

Here are some examples of TAC actions or behaviour that undermines or erodes trust:
  • "Motorcycle riders targeted in new TAC campaign" - headline, press release 26 April 2012.  The TAC targets dangerous, illegal, and socially unacceptable practices and behaviour such as speeding, drink driving, texting while driving, and so on.  In that same list, and in that same language, the TAC announces that it is targeting motorcycle riders.  This inclusion of motorcyclists alongside a list of other vices is a very effective way of communicating that the TAC is against motorcyclists, not for them.  The first sentence of that press release reads "The Victorian Coalition Government's attack on the road toll was boosted this morning with the launch of a new, hard-hitting TAC campaign targeting motorcycles and speed."  Targeting motorcycles and speed.  Two evils of our roads.
  • Further in that same press release: "Despite accounting for only 3.8 per cent of all registered vehicles, injuries to motorcyclists account for 20 per cent of the TAC's no-fault costs..."  Starting press releases focusing on how much money TAC has to spend to compensate and rehabilitate riders is not a particularly wise place to start.  Riders would prefer to think of themselves as a vulnerable and valuable road user group rather than a financial liability.  The facts are immaterial compared to the message being sent: riders are too expensive, we are going to do something about it.  Not "riders are being injured in too great numbers."  Think about what is being communicated, and the impact that has upon the receptiveness of your target audience.
  • 2009 Reduce the Risks campaign: the tv commercial for this campaign compiled every negative behaviour and stereotype of motorcyclists into one action-packed segment.  The TAC has been quoted (it may even have been you John?) as saying that their goal is to make speeding as socially unacceptable as drink driving has become.  This ad seems to indicate that TAC is aiming to do the same with motorcycles; make them socially unacceptable.  The ad was overwhelmingly negative in its depiction of riders, and its reception amongst riders was correspondingly negative.
  • 2009 Reduce the Risks - post campaign response: it is believed that the TAC considers the Reduce the Risks campaign to have been successful, as it generated a lot of discussion among motorcyclists.  (I hope that isn't true.)  That rumour or belief poured fuel on the fire of motorcyclists' distrust; in response to that ad, motorcyclists were up in arms, indignant that that TAC ad was so overwhelmingly negative, focusing on the worst behaviour and delivering a negative image of riders where everything bad that happens to them is their own fault.  For this outcry to be interpreted as meaning the campaign is successful is out and out offensive, and further estranges riders from the TAC.
  • 2009 Reduce the risks - response to criticism: the response to individuals providing feedback in that campaign was extremely poorly managed.  I know of one person who read the Flinders University report upon which some of the statistics were based (the 38 times stat), and discovered that the authors of the study identified that particular statistic was based upon crude approximations of kilometres traveled and therefore they stated it was a dubious figure that should not be relied upon.  This individual delivered this feedback to the TAC via email.  When a response was received, it stated that the 38 times figure was drawn from a recent study undertaken by Flinders University, etc.  This response left the clear impression that the feedback had not so much as been read, and that the responses to it were form letters or paragraphs copied from the Spokes website.
  • 2012 Motorcycle Reconstruction - post campaign response: again the release of the tv ad provoked an angry response from motorcyclists.  The response to this anger and criticism of the ad has been a stubborn repetition of statistics rather than an acknowledgement of or engagement with the criticisms leveled or questions raised.  This is true of the defense published in the Herald Sun in response to the Maurice Blackburn opinion piece, and is equally true of the response I received from Jessica Truong on Friday night, my reply to which I cc'd you on.  In that instance, I asked one question: "if you repeat that exact scenario but set it in a 70 zone, what has the ad achieved?"  The fact that nobody has spoken to that question in any way does not engender trust in the feedback and accountability processes at work within the TAC.
  • Speed fixation.  For example, in the TAC defense of this latest campaign, it was stated that "[a]nalysis of crash data from 2008-2010 shows that speed was a contributing factor to 50% of motorcyclist fatalities in 60km/h zones and in 70km/h zones."  As was brought out in the parliamentary enquiry into motorcycle safety earlier this year, this "crash data" captures speed as a binary field: yes, or no.  It does not elaborate or state that speed was excessive or illegal, it just states that in the view of the investigating officer, speed was a factor.  Indeed in my question previously raised - what happens if you set it in a 70 zone - one speculates as to whether speed would be identified as one of the causes; the answer is that it ought to be, since regardless of the speed limit of the road, the rider was traveling too fast for him to be able to respond to the hazard, given his level of riding skill.  I make this observation merely to highlight the difference between (inappropriate) speed and speeding, a distinction that I will come back to.
(Again let me state that I do not want you to defend the TAC with respect to the above list.  I am not trying to accuse the TAC here, nor am I looking to enter a reasoned debate about the facts above.  I am trying to explain to the TAC that they are not trusted by the motorcycling community, and are not recognised either as experts in the area of motorcycle safety or as advocates promoting safer motorcycling.  You may not like that opinion being held of the TAC, and you may disagree with it on every level.  But it is I believe the reality that the TAC is facing, and is the biggest hurdle to the TAC making a positive impact communicating directly to motorcyclists.)

To summarise: the TAC is not trusted by motorcyclists, and is perceived as being adversarial towards motorcyclists and anti motorcycling.  Whether this view is justified is not the point; it is a reality that the TAC needs to accept and address if it is going to be successful in its attempts to communicate with riders.  This should come as no surprise to the TAC; during the Parliamentary enquiry into motorcycle safety, the Hon Mr Languiller asked the TAC representative whether discouraging riding was one of the goals of the TAC campaigns, and on receiving a negative answer, indicated that the ads certainly had that affect upon him.

Coming back to your diagram then, the situation is that the necessary engagement is not present with the target audience.  Furthermore because of the lack of trust, the emotions that are generated by the campaign are not the ones that were intended.  No motorcyclist I know or have heard from responded to that ad with a sense of fear of that possible outcome, or shock at the difference those 8km/h could make.  They all responded with outrage that the focus of this ad was upon the speed of the rider not the (perceived) negligent driving of the car, an outrage that was amplified by the supporting materials on Spokes which exonerated the driver of responsibility for the crash.

So we have a lack of engagement and a negative reaction.  The educational component of the ad has for all intents and purposes been lost.  Not only do the riders not want to hear it because of anger and mistrust, but the technical execution of the ad elicits scorn from a number of riders due to perceived errors and inaccuracies with the physics of the braking distances etc.  That the TAC appeared to try to enter into debate about the question of braking distances in one radio piece (I think it was 3AW) was a particularly poor choice, further alienating the audience who now feel that the TAC has no idea about the realities of riding a bike and doesn't even understand how motorcycle brakes work.

Before the TAC can have any broader success trying to deliver a safety message targeting riders, trust will have to be re-established.  This is no small task, and it is made harder every time the TAC responds to criticism with a justification of its actions to date.  Self-justification and rebuttal are not the same as listening, and one of the criticisms of the TAC that has eroded trust is the perception that they do not listen.  The TAC has a big job to do simply to convince riders that they care about rider safety, and starting press releases focusing on how much money TAC has to spend to compensate and rehabilitate riders is not a particularly wise place to start.  Riders would prefer to think of themselves as a vulnerable and valuable road user group rather than a financial liability.  I don't think that's too unreasonable.

2.  The TAC is choosing the wrong messages

There are two things that keep motorcyclists alive on our roads: riding skill, and road craft.  I don't know if you have ever ridden a motorcycle, but the safe operation of a motorcycle is very different and more demanding than operating a car.  The reality is much more complicated than this, but for the simplest of introductions to the topic, consider gravity.  Leave a car at the mercy of gravity, and it does just what it is supposed to do - it stays in position, all 4 wheels in contact with the road, and all is well.  Leave a motorcycle at the mercy of gravity, it falls over.  Everything a motorcyclist does while riding the bike is focused upon balancing gravity against other forces while getting the bike where they want it to go.  This makes it much more difficult to construct a nice sound-bite safety message that targets motorcycle operation, since it isn't helpful or useful to present motorcycle safety as the byproduct of "slowing down won't kill you" at work. 

Working with the current ad as an example of the message being wrong, slowing down to the speed limit of 60 (as the ad was scripted) wouldn't kill the rider.  Set the incident in a 70 zone, and slowing down to the speed limit of 70 wouldn't save him either.  Safe operation of a motorcycle is dictated by what speed is appropriate for the conditions.  I am not trying to justify it being "safe" to go above the limit if the conditions are good, though I have heard that argument from riders.  The point is that for a rider to be safe in the kind of scenario the ad depicts, the rider needs to be able to judge what is a safe speed in those conditions, and that speed is determined by, among other things, their level of skill in operating the motorcycle - in this instance, emergency braking and counter-steering.

So the choice of messages is wrong; of course it is valid to say that the rider suffers less injuries if they travel at 60 rather than 68, but then we enter the spiral to the lowest common denominator whereby the rider suffers less injuries if they travel at 50, or at 40, or at 30.  The kinds of messages that may be more effective are those that focus upon rider skills and road craft; in essence, the difference between a legal speed and a safe and legal speed; and how to ride to avoid and prevent situations like this from happening in the first place.  The RTA of NSW has a long running campaign devoted to choosing your corners which I trust you are familiar with.  It is an excellent campaign in my opinion, as it highlights the need for appropriate riding skills, it identifies both the positive and negative consequences for getting it right or wrong, and it is applicable to any rider on any corner without being tied to a certain speed limit, road type, environment etc.  Another ad I highly recommend is SA's "no place to race" campaign.  It is much more targeted at a specific demographic within the riding community but it is well scripted, and very visually striking.  But they haven't gone for the angle that would have my wife up sleepless at night; in other words while being an arresting ad, it has an intellectual hook rather than an emotional one.  The thing that makes this ad, however, is having Mick Doohan deliver the punchline in a way that is very natural.  He is a voice that motorcyclists know and respect, and he is saying something that is easy to believe.  Far too often this kind of "celebrity endorsement" seems cheap and false, like if one was to get Mark Weber to say "no kids, you shouldn't drive fast or spin your wheels" reading it dead pan from an autocue - it just wouldn't work.  Mick Doohan pulled it off, and if you insist on going for graphic, negative consequence ads, I suggest you have your team study that one and see how they've pulled it off.

So what are the right messages?  Ones that focus on riding skills and road craft are in my opinion best.  Ones that focus on consequences certainly have their place, but your challenge there is how to overcome the "it won't happen to me" factor.  This is where the technical details of the ad can let you down, like a rider skidding the back wheel of a sports bike for 21 metres... it leaves lots of wriggle room for your intended audience to dismiss the ad because it lacks credibility in the mind of the audience (no matter what the stats may or may not say).

Again, motorcyclists are a stubborn mob who don't trust the TAC and are very used to being told that "motorbikes are dangerous" by people who have never ridden one in their life.  If you want to overcome those obstacles and start effectively communicating with the riding audience, you are going to need to:
  • (re)establish trust with riders
  • choose messages that make sense to riders, and
  • deliver them in a trustworthy way
I won't elaborate any more on this theme.  On the whole there's nothing that I've said here that wasn't said in the presentation made to the TAC by the MRA Vic back in 2010, so none of this should come as any great shock to you.  Which, by the way, makes the current campaign that much more disappointing, but I'll come back to that a little later.

3.  Choosing the right message

Of all the statistics surrounding motorcycle fatalities from 2011, the one that I find the most disturbing is that 17 fatalities were recorded as "running off straight road."  That's more than 30% who in the eyes of the investigating police officer(s) just ran off the road.  Now there's nothing in this world that a motorcycle likes to do better than travel in a straight line.  If you watch videos on stunting crashes on YouTube you'll notice the regularity with which once the rider has fallen off his bike, the bike just continues on straight ahead until it hits something.  So why did 1 in 3 of the fatal accidents occur on straight stretches of road without the involvement of another vehicle?  I can think of a number of possibilities, some are more or less likely than others, such as there was an oncoming vehicle that precipitated the accident by driving onto the wrong side of the road, but it failed to stop.  If you watched the videos that I sent you in my previous email you will have seen a couple of examples of this sort of driving which could easily have resulted in a motorcycle fatality of this nature.  If you add in the number of crashes marked as "run off road on curve" we account for 25 fatalities in 2011 - half, in other words.

Half of the fatalities in 2011 are attributable to a lack of rider skill and road craft on straights and bends, that don't appear to involve other vehicles.  How do we address that?  We need to focus on rider skills and road craft:
  • Planning corners
  • Understanding target fixation
  • Correct determining of safe speed
  • Counter-steering
  • Emergency braking and emergency stops
  • Evasive maneuvers
  • Anticipation of hazards ahead
  • Lane positioning (to keep away from gravel on the shoulder of the road)
And so on.  These topics may not lend themselves to nice sound bites, but I reckon they will be more effective in saving lives.  And they are consistent with the TAC's statements that regardless of who's at fault, the rider always loses, and that it is up to the rider to reduce the risks.  Riders must take personal responsibility for their safety, and the TAC should be encouraging that with positive reinforcement and education, rather than trying to outdo itself with negative and emotive shock advertising.

4.  Outcome Evaluation
The presentation to the GRSP Asia Seminar talks about Outcome Evaluation of a campaign.  Clearly this isn't something that is published for general consumption, but I think it would be worth your while re-evaluating the evaluation of the Reduce the Risks campaign.  Certainly by the primary metrics I have available to me - annual motorcycle fatalities, and % of TAC spend - the campaign would be considered a failure.  Furthermore it should have ticked boxes in your "negative media coverage" column, not to mention the outrage is triggered in the motorcycling community, leading to a protest ride around Melbourne CBD with state news coverage.
From a motorcyclist's perspective, that campaign was an offensive debacle from start to finish, compounded by the TACs refusal to acknowledge that they'd screwed it up.  I would encourage you to compare my assessment with the TACs own post campaign review, because I suspect the internal review will tell a very different story and, if it does, I think you should be very concerned.
I am a pretty reasonable and forgiving individual, but I fully expected that in the aftermath of the reduce the risks campaign, the TAC would have learned some lessons and improved its approach.  Now that the Motorcycle Reconstruction campaign has been released it is evident that there hasn't been any learning or change of approach in the TAC towards motorcycle safety.  As the head of that area John, I think you ought to be asking the question why.  If I were a shareholder of TAC I would be attending the AGM to demand answers, with the expectation that whoever was responsible for this campaign would either resign or be shown the door.  As it is I am limited in my powers, I have to content myself with trying to raise the problem within the TAC by speaking with yourself and Tracey Slatter, and from without by going through the minister for road safety and my local MP.  With more than 800 names now on the petition I am able to speak representing more people than just myself; I hope that is something that the TAC is mindful of and takes seriously.

5.  Next Steps

Once I hear from you that you've had a chance to read and digest what I've written in this and my previous emails, I will make an appointment with you to come down and discuss these issues face to face.  We are in agreement that the reality of motorcycle accidents in Victoria is appalling and over the last 2 years has gotten worse instead of better, so I trust that we are also in agreement that the TAC needs to change its approach and methods on the subject.

As a next step I would be grateful if you could provide me with:
  • your responses to the issues I have raised both about the current campaign and those issues contained in this email
  • a summary of the post campaign review of the reduce the risks campaign, with a particular emphasis on what the TAC has already done to attempt to repair trust with motorcyclists
  • any plans that are currently under way to address the fallout of the current campaign
With that information I will be able to put together an agenda of ideas that we can discuss in person without going over old ground that has already been covered.  This should enable us to start taking some positive steps towards stemming the human tide of motorcycling casualties by focusing on the causal issues that are precipitating so many injuries and tragedies, and on rebuilding the relationship between motorcyclists and the TAC so that we can more effectively work together to improve motorcycle safety in this state.

Yours Sincerely,

Ross Daws

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Motorcycle Safety Messages (part 1)

John Thompson from the TAC has invited me to make any suggestions I have on how the TAC can get riders to a) stop speeding and b) wear protective gear.  I'm not sure he's going to like what I have to say, and I'm less sure he'll listen, but here is my thinking on the subject thus far.

1.  The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Safety Messages

In his book 'The 7 habits of Highly Effective People', author Steven Covey introduces the concept of a trust bank.  This trust bank or emotional bank holds the balance of trust that an individual holds towards you.  Each time you do something that earns trust, that balance goes up.  Each time you do something that breaks trust, the balance goes down.  In essence he states that it is possible to break trust with people and still maintain a healthy relationship with them providing you have previously established a positive trust balance with them.  In other words, I can break a promise to my daughters (Sorry love, I won't be home in time to read you a bedtime story) and not damage the relationship providing I have proven myself trustworthy in the past and I haven't exhausted that balance of trust.  However if I promise to be home in time for stories every morning, and then every night I run late and miss it, I will do considerable damage to that relationship and my daughters will not trust me about story time or anything else.  That constitutes a relationship in peril.

In my view, based on my observations of the opinions of other riders both in online forums and in face to face discussions, the TAC has exhausted its trust balance with many in the motorcycling community.  The TAC simply is not trusted by the riding community at the moment, and this has been the case at least since "reduce the risks" in 2009, which was when I started to pay attention to people's views on this subject.

This has two implications for the TAC:

  1. Riders who do not trust them will not be receptive to any message from the TAC that is directed at them; and
  2. anything the TAC says or does that can be interpreted in a negative way is most likely going to be interpreted in a negative way.
Before the TAC can have any broader success trying to deliver a safety message targeting riders, trust will have to be re-established.  This is no small task, and it is made harder every time the TAC responds to criticism with a justification of its actions to date.  Self-justification and rebuttal are not the same as listening, and one of the criticisms of the TAC that has eroded trust is the perception that they do not listen.  The TAC has a big job to do simply to convince riders that they care about rider safety, and starting press releases focusing on how much money TAC has to spend to compensate and rehabilitate riders is not a particularly wise place to start.  Riders would prefer to think of themselves as a vulnerable and valuable road user group rather than a financial liability.  I don't think that's too unreasonable.

2.  Choose the right message

Successive governments have told Victorians that speeding fines are about safety, not revenue.  Then, when the Baillieu government needs help to balance the budget, the headline news proclaims that speeding fines are being increased.  You can't blame people for being cynical about speeding fines and speed cameras; though I'm sure most are myth rather than fact it still seems like every other week that somebody complains that a 70 zone has been re-designated a 60 zone and had a speed camera installed.

The topic of speeding is therefore already a sensitive area for many people.  When you factor in a lack of trust in the institutions who are banging on about speeding (TAC, Victoria Police) it becomes very difficult to make a message that will be taken on face value.  If that message is then scripted in such a way as to appear disingenuous in some way, such as speeding by 8km/h being fatal but sticking to the speed limit is magically perfectly safe, and a lot of people are going to switch off in disgust.

A safety message that nobody will listen to is not an effective safety message at all, regardless of how technically accurate or representative it may be.  A bad or confused safety message is very close to doomed from the very start, in terms of its efficacy.  

There are 2 sides to the road safety coin: causality, and consequences.  Causality relates to the causing or precipitating factors or events that lead to an incident or accident; consequences obviously relate to factors that affect the outcome of an incident or accident.  In simple terms, there are two things to work on: preventing the accident from taking place, and mitigating or minimising the consequences if it does happen.

This latest ad is an example where the message has become so jumbled that it loses impact and plausibility.  I break it down like this:
  • Impact velocity caused a broken neck injury (consequence)
  • Approach velocity was too fast for the rider to react to the hazard (causality)
  • If the rider was doing the speed limit, it wouldn't have happened (attempt to address causality, poorly executed)
  • Implication: do the speed limit, you live; speed, you die (untrue and unhelpful; I know the details of a few of the motorcycle fatalities in 2012 from eye witnesses, and in those instances the motorcyclist's speed relative to the speed limit was not a factor)
The majority of the emphasis on motorcycle safety needs to be directed at causality.  It's far better not to have the accident in the first place.  That said, consequence mitigation shouldn't be neglected as it is one aspect of safety that is completely in the control of the rider, something that can't be said of causal factors.

3.  Choose the right messenger

Messages focused on causality need to be trustworthy - that is, to be effective, the intended audience needs to trust their accuracy.  The greater the balance in the trust bank, the more leniency the audience will be prepared to offer on this point.  Conversely,  the lower the trust balance, the less patience the audience will have with the message, and the sooner they will be willing to simply call "bullshit" and switch off.

This is the main point I have tried to impress upon the TAC with respect to the latest ad.  The connection of the approach velocity to the speed limit of the road is a glaring problem in the mind of the target audience.  It is disingenuous, a fact that has been written into the script to support the message, and the riding community has jacked up at it, doubly so since the follow up material on Spokes exonerates the driver of all responsibility (I'll come back to that).

South Australia released an ad 'No Place To Race' recently focusing on speed and rider behaviour as a causal factor in accidents.  It's pretty graphic, though not by TAC standards, and finishes with Mick Doohan saying "If I faced the same obstacles on the race track that you face on the road, I'd probably be dead."  It is an excellent ad, very effective visually, and the script for Mick is one that is natural for a person in his position to say (as a professional racing rider).  He doesn't come across as stilted or forced like so many adrenaline junkie professionals do when giving a "do as I say not as I do" message.  In short, the ad is credible and trustworthy.

The TAC has stated its intention to make speeding as socially unacceptable as drink driving has become.  As such they are appealing to peer pressure and social pressure to reinforce their message.  "If you drink, then drive, you're a bloody idiot" was pretty effective in this regard.  A nice simple slogan, easy to remember, easy for the population to digest.  Appropriate and effective, one might say.  The translation of this approach to speeding has encountered a few problems along the way.

Firstly, speed limits and speed enforcement are hot and controversial topics in the public at large.  People simply don't trust the authorities that the speed policies in Victoria are driven by safety concerns.  There are many roads that have had their limit reduced over the last 10 years, and people still clearly remember being able to travel at 100 on the Calder Freeway and the Monash Freeway, to name just two.  A lot of trust needs to be won back before the broader population will be receptive to messages focused upon the speed limit.

Secondly, motorcycle riders are a minority group to begin with.  We already face ridicule and scorn from friends and family when we take up riding to begin with.  We already endure labels such as "temporary Australians" and "organ donors" from our peers.  When I bought my first motorcycle, the guys at work put my name down on the "risks" column of the project management plan.  Appealing to peer pressure and social pressure is not going to be an effective strategy to combat rider behaviour; we riders are accustomed to not giving a stuff what other people say, even other riders.

It's also fair to say that Victoria Police are not necessarily the most popular group of people with the motorcycle riding community - there are issues of trust there, too.  In my experience most people are ok about getting caught doing something they know is wrong and taking it on the chin; not to say they wouldn't prefer not to be caught, but there's not a lot of victim mentality going on.  But there are a few very sore points that are lingering in Victoria at the moment.  Riders being sent notices in the mail to report to the EPA to have their exhaust noise level tested was deeply unpopular.  It was interpreted as an out-and-out tax on motorcyclists, since the rider had no alternative but to pay up for the test even if that test proved that the bike was legal in the first place.

The acquittal of a Police Officer charged with dangerous driving causing death after colliding with a motorcyclist in the Black Forest has also touched a nerve.  One would have thought that a driver performing an illegal u-turn across double lines in thick fog colliding with a motorcyclist would have been a fairly clear cut case of driver culpability; at least, many motorcyclists thought just that.  That the jury acquitted the driver was seen as sending the message to drivers that it is ok to kill motorcyclists.  That the driver was a police officer undermined trust in Victoria Police; whether that is just or unjust is not the point, the point is that it has happened and it is real.

So the choice of having an officer of Victoria Police walking us through a scenario where a car failed to give way to a motorcycle but the blame is placed on the rider, combined with the supporting material on spokes exonerating the driver by appealing to exactly the same case law that was used in the defense of the driver in the Black Forest accident in 2009 was ... shall we say "poor."  It demonstrates an appalling lack of understanding and appreciation of the target audience on behalf of the TAC.

The best choice of messenger would be someone who has learned the lesson that you are trying to communicate, and has learned it the hard way.  There is no shortage of riders in Victoria who have discovered that they were riding too fast for the conditions, and discovered it to their cost.  in 2010 the MRAVic offered to assist TAC by getting them in touch with riders who would be happy to help communicate safety messages to the riding community.  This is an offer that the TAC was unwise not to take up, in my opinion.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Letter to TAC (2)

Tonight I received a reply from TAC to the emails I sent them.  I will not reproduce it as it is marked confidential, however I believe it to be a form letter given that I am pretty sure I have read all the material included already from the Spokes website.

Suffice to say that the TAC conducted focus groups who confirmed that the message of the ad was clear, that the TAC is tackling other aspects of motorcycle safety such as ABS info on the Spokes site, etc.

I replied as follows:

Dear TAC representative,

thank you for replying to my emails, I appreciate the time you have taken to contact me.

In my initial email to TAC from last week, I asked that the ad be watched with the viewer substituting the scenario into a 70 zone.  Have you been able to find a moment to do this?

Can you please tell me in what way the content and message of this ad would help in that scenario?

The reason I ask you to do this is because if you do, you will realise that the messages in this ad have become confused.

On the one hand, there is the appeal to physics: if you approach at speed X, visibility is impacted by vehicle Y and so driver Z pulls out at this point, the consequences are as follows.  If we adjust the approach speed to be Q instead of X, the outcome is different.  All good and well.

However, the ad then goes on to say that speed X is above the speed limit, and speed Q is at the speed limit; therefore travelling at the speed limit will prevent this outcome.  But as the exercise of setting the scene in a 70 zone demonstrates, the causal factors of this crash are independent of the speed zone that the road is set in.  The physics demands that given the same inputs - bike speed, visibility, driver action and bike reaction - the outcome is the same.  The fact that 68 was speeding and 60 was not are immaterial to the physics; tying the cause of the accident back to the speed limit of the road is arbitrary and I believe unhelpful and disingenuous.

This is I believe the crux of my concern about the approach the TAC is taking, and why I firmly believe that the TAC is failing motorcyclists with this campaign and this approach to rider safety.  The goal of this ad is clearly to discourage the practice or riding in excess of the speed limit.  This is, I believe, the wrong goal.

The more appropriate and necessary goal should be to encourage and educate riders to ride at a safe speed.  Hence my appeal to set the ad in a 70 zone - at which point the rider's speed becomes legal, but is still not safe, and the rider still dies.  Therefore since I believe that the TAC really ought to be focusing on improving rider safety, I consider this ad to be a failure, since it only educates riders to judge what is a safe speed with reference to the speed limit, rather than educating riders how to judge a safe speed from the conditions.

Of course if riders were judging their speed from the conditions, I believe that would also achieve the goals of reducing speeding, since there is usually some correlation between the limit on a road and the speed at which one can safely travel upon it, for various reasons.  But on principle, I believe that you achieve better outcomes when you educate people how to decide, rather than telling them what to decide.

A brief examination of the crash statistics for 2011 informs us that nearly 40% of crashes happened on 100km/h or faster roads and (from memory) around that same percentage were identified as single vehicle accidents either running off the road on a straight, or failing to negotiate a bend.  An ad targeted at educating riders how to judge a safe speed for the conditions may well help prevent accidents in those categories as well.  The current ad singularly fails to address this issue other than to say "don't go over 100 in a 100 zone"; which is not *bad* advice per se, but it's desperately limited in that it doesn't assist a rider to judge a safe and legal speed.

In short, I consider this ad to be a lamentable failure.  It had the potential to be an excellent communication aid to educate riders, but was co-opted by TACs infatuation with slogans, sound bites, and speed limits.

I'm also quite concerned about the process by which feedback is gathered from your focus groups.  Based on what you've written below, I would speculate that participants were asked questions like "is the message clear?", "would the ad make you think about the speed you travel at?" and participants rated each question upon a scale.  This is useful insofar as it provides answers to the questions you are asking your participants.

This is not the same thing as feedback, and it is definitely not the same thing as consultation.  Feedback constitutes a participant informing you of their view, such as:
  • The message is wrong; you should focus on a safe and legal speed, not on exceeding the limit
  • showing a rider who is wearing all the protective gear being killed in a 30km/h collision undermines the efforts of both the TAC and the riding community to encourage riders to wear all the gear all the time
  • motorcyclists will react badly to an ad that depicts a driver failing to see a rider, and then failing to enter an intersection safely, only to then have the blame for the accident placed upon the rider.  They will react even worse if the further information about the ad on Spokes goes on to exonerate the driver on the basis of case law, particularly when that case law was recently used to acquit an off duty police officer who performed a u-turn across double lines in thick fog resulting in the death of a motorcyclist.
So if you had engaged me in one of these focus groups, and if the questions were asked as I speculated, I have no doubt that I would have told you yes, the message "don't speed" is clear, and yes I think that it will provoke riders to think and talk about the issue.

But if you had asked me for my feedback, or if you had consulted with me beforehand, I would have told you the following:

This ad comes across as a condescending over-simplification that ignores the real causal issues of motorcycle accidents.  It is a mistake insofar as it will inflame and enrage the motorcycle community, undermining their trust in the TAC and reinforcing their belief that the TAC is anti-riding.  Given the technical flaws in the ad, many riders will probably conclude that the ad isn't actually aimed at riders at all, but rather at the spouses and families of riders, in the hope that they will be so emotionally terrorised by the ad that they will manipulate the rider into quitting riding.  Furthermore this ad is a wasted opportunity; given the cost of producing an ad, there are so many very real safety issues that could have been addressed that have almost universal applicability across the motorcycling community, such as: this is where he stops without ABS, this is where he stops with ABS; 60 is a limit, not a target - sometimes the limit is too fast for the conditions; when did you last practice your emergency braking?; and so on.

Finally, forgive me for being blunt, but your response to my two emails reads very much like a form letter.  It has not engaged with the specific questions that I raised - namely the ads inability to address real safety issues - and while I appreciate that you are very busy, there are over 780 names on my petition calling on the TAC to take motorcycling safety more seriously and to engage with us more openly.

I am not asking you copy and paste paragraphs justifying what has already been done.  I am trying to tell you that the approach the TAC is taking is wrong, that you are making mistakes, alienating riders and aggravating us.  I am trying to tell you that you are wasting money and opportunities by failing to understand and address the complexities of motorcycle safety.  I am trying to open your eyes to the fact that the "reduce the risks" shock campaign did not have any impact on lowering the motorcycle toll, and that whoever decided to go with another "emotive ad" has seriously miscalculated and should probably brush up their resume.  And most of all I am trying to show you that this ad, like the reduce the risks campaign before it, has eroded the motorcycling community's trust in the TAC.  The TAC is not seen as being "on the side of riders" or of being sincere in working towards safer motorcycling, but rather the TAC is seen as trying to discourage riding and vilify riders.  And in case you haven't worked it out, let me spell it out to you:

You are not going to be successful in educating riders or changing rider behaviour if they don't trust you.  And we don't.

Now the TAC can continue to operate as it has been, using its same old approach to working with its same old focus groups, and trying to beat hollywood for graphic depictions of deaths and injuries.  And you will continue to wring your hands in frustration, wondering why these bloody bikers don't listen, and when will they learn.  Or you can try something different.  You can actually listen to us.  Not ring up the Motorcycle Advisory Council and say "we're working on something new" so that you can then tell AMCN magazine that you've "consulted" with them.  Actually stop and listen to us.

The fatality toll for 2010 and 2011 was terrible.  2012 isn't looking any better so far.  Isn't it about time to recognise what the evidence is telling you - that your current approach isn't working?  That if you want to drive down the number of motorcycle deaths, you are going to have to try something new?


Ross Daws