Sunday, August 26, 2012

doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results

To: The Hon. Gordon Rich-Phillips, Minister for the TAC, and
Ms Janet Dore, CEO of the Transport Accident Commission

Dear Minister Rich-Phillips and Ms Dore,

I was both excited and anxious to learn that the TAC had launched a new online training tool aimed at educating new and returning riders, and helping them improve their hazard detection skills.  The media release (available on the TAC website) states the following: "To develop Ride Smart, the TAC consulted with motorcycle riders, riding experts and road safety agencies."

I was hopeful that this consultation would have resulted in the best possible quality for this tool.  Over the last five years, the TAC's track record with motorcycling initiatives has been mixed at best.  Based on TAC's own data, one has to look back 10 years to the 2002 Vice Versa campaign to find evidence of motorcyclist support and positive recognition of a TAC initiative.  I have gone to great lengths to try and address this failure with the TAC, both instigating a petition calling on the TAC to change its approach to motorcycle safety, and when all attempts at dialogue with the TAC failed to receive so much as a response, launching an independent magazine to draw attention to the issues of motorcycling policy and safety and to highlight the concerning discrepancies between published research and recommendations and TAC practice and behaviour.  In short, I hoped that this new tool would be a turning point in the TAC's model of engagement with riders and riding experts, and would be the beginning of a constructive collaboration between the TAC and riding representatives that would see a steady improvement in motorcyclist safety over the coming years.
The very first exercise depicts a motorcyclist approaching a 4 way intersection (crossroads) with the rider facing a stop sign.  As the rider approaches the stop line, the video pauses and the user is asked to identify any hazards they can identify.  Having identified a couple of common hazards (oncoming traffic, road surface conditions) the voiceover goes on to make this statement:
"But the biggest risk is the motorcycle speed.  Braking at this speed while leaning into a turn will cause loss of control and a crash."
Not to put to fine a point on it, this is blatantly and demonstrably untrue.  Before the motorcycle commences turning, it must come to a complete halt at the stop sign.  The motorcycle, approaching the stop sign on a straight stretch of road, will have no lean angle whatsoever.  You can see this exercise for yourself to verify what I have said here:
This factual error providing erroneous and potentially dangerous misinformation is both disappointing and disturbing.  Not only does it call into question the usefulness of the tool that has been created, but more troublingly it reveals that the problems of consultation with appropriate experts has not been addressed in any way at the TAC.  I would challenge the TAC to produce a single motorcycle rider or riding expert who can defend the assertion stated above but there is no point in doing so.  It is evident that no experienced rider - let alone a riding expert - had any input into or review of that content prior to it being launched to unsuspecting would-be or new motorcyclists.

Ms Dore: you are on record as stating that this tool was developed in consultation with motorcycle riders and riding experts.  I would like you please to justify that claim.  Who were the riding experts and motorcycle riders with whom the TAC consulted?  What was the nature of the consultation?  Were these people asked to provide input into the content of the training?  Or was this consultation the marketing oriented focus-group "consultation" that I experienced when I participated in a focus group for the TAC in July?  In short, can you please explain how, with the consultative support of riders and riding experts, this new program has been launched with such gratuitous misinformation as to defy both common sense and the laws of physics?
Clearly such a task is not befitting the CEO of an organisation.  However it appears to me that you are being given information to include in press releases that is clearly untrue, and I think it is incumbent upon you to take responsibility both for the integrity of your organisations approach to these issues, and for your own statements in the media release accompanying the launch of this embarrassment.

Minister Rich-Phillips, you are responsible for the TAC.  You don't need me to tell you that you ought to take that responsibility seriously yet the TAC appears to suffer from a systemic problem when it comes to consulting with motorcycling representatives (and also with basic physics, given their track record of the last 12 months).  What are you doing to hold this organisation to account?  Why have you not put anything in place to prevent the recurrence of this charade of consultation whereby the TAC tests it's favourite shock-value statistics on their target audience rather than seeking their input on the root causes and underlying challenges facing motorcycle safety?  If you have put such safeguards in place, why have they failed?

Mr Rich-Phillips, I assure you that I am as tired of writing to you about the TAC's conduct as you are of reading my concerns.  I would love nothing more than for these issues to be resolved, which is as simple as having appropriate expertise and representation present during the entire lifecycle of motorcycling related projects.  Please, do us both a favour: get off the bench and get this fixed.  It's not just time, money, and your political credibility that the TAC is squandering; it is Victorian lives.  And as cynical as I am that the TAC appears to be rushing through 3 motorcycle campaigns and projects in 2012 without waiting for the findings of the parliamentary inquiry (bearing in mind that according to the Spokes website, the TAC only created 3 motorcycling campaigns between 2003 - 2011), I would rather that they just got on with the job but did it properly.  These ongoing debacles of the TAC producing poorly executed and technically flawed motorcycle material and then defending them to the hilt is an embarrassment.  If I were you, I would put a moratorium on the TAC creating new campaigns until the RSC has reported back.  There are plenty of successful campaigns produced in other states that have proven both to have a positive impact on accident rates and have received strong support from motorcyclists (the Queensland "Out Here" springs to mind, as does the NSW safe cornering campaign).  So how about instead of persisting with the modus operandi you put your foot down and instruct the TAC to source some proven safety campaigns from interstate while the parliamentary inquiry runs its course.  Given that it may save lives as well as money, is that such an unreasonable thing to ask?

Yours sincerely,

Ross Daws

Saturday, August 25, 2012

They are at it again

"A new online rider training program will help reduce road trauma by improving the skills of new motorcyclists before they hit the road" according to TAC CEO Janet Dore.

Unfortunately, though the TAC claims that "the TAC consulted with motorcycle riders, riding experts and road safety agencies" it appears they failed to consult with those motorcycle riders, riding experts or road safety agencies who know anything about how to ride a motorcycle.  Or newtonian physics, come to think of it.

I get tired of taking aim at the TAC all the time, I really do.  But claiming that the biggest danger facing a motorcyclist approaching a stop sign is that at the speed they are travelling they brake while leaning into a turn they will lose control and crash is not just erroneous; it's dangerous.

If this is targeted at inexperienced riders, teaching them to worry about imagined and impossible threats is only distracting them from the very real threats that exist on the roads.  If the TAC had genuinely consulted with anyone who had ridden a motorcycle, they would have known that.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A broken record, but a good one...

Good Morning Minister.

I'd like to draw your attention to a news piece in The Age today that examines the TAC's most recent motorcycle campaign, and the stark contrast between the message of that campaign and the reality of motorcycle accident causation in Victoria:

Given that it is not only motorcycling advocates and lobby groups who are highlighting the discrepancy between the TAC's on-record claims and other findings but reputable, mainstream and impartial commentators and publications such as The Age, I am urging you to respond to the Victorian Motorcycle Council's call for a parliamentary inquiry into the role and function of the TAC.  Though unwavering support of those individuals and organisations that work for you is commendable, unquestioning support is not, particularly when that support is propping up a negligent motorcycle campaign agenda that targets and vilifies motorcyclists and has a detrimental impact upon motorcycle safety in the state.

Minister, it is less than one week since the last motorcyclist was killed on our roads.  Please, let his death be the one that prompts you to launch an independent review into the role and efficacy of the TAC in the area of motorcycle safety campaigns.  What ever you do, don't wait for the next motorcyclist to die before you realise that it is long past time to take action on this.

I am aware that being Minister for the TAC is only a small portion of your portfolio, but is there any other area you are responsible for where you can directly contribute towards saving lives?  The TAC quantifies motorcycle injuries as costing $100 million every year, and that is only the financial cost.  With so much evidence that the TAC's approach to motorcycle safety is ineffectual, if not outright deceitful in light of The Age's story and the expose from Motorcycling Review, isn't it your responsibility to get off the bench and do something?

In order to make this as easy as possible for you to get the ball rolling, I have prepared a few questions that you might like to seek an answer to from the TAC, to help you decide whether indeed there is reasonable grounds for closer scrutiny.
  • What are the qualifications of the Senior Manager for Road Safety?
  • What are the qualifications of the road safety experts who report to him?
  • How many members of the road safety area have specialist knowledge or qualifications in motorcycle safety?
  • Why has the TAC ignored the key outcome of the 2008 Motorcycle and Scooter Safety Summit that all motorcycle safety campaigns should target drivers as well as riders?
  • How can the TAC claim to be evidence based in its approach when it ignores and contradicts the findings of leading international studies into motorcycle accidents such as the Hurt and MAIDS reports?
  • What has the TAC done to address the significant gaps in their data as identified by the Victorian Auditor-General's Office report of 2011?
With the lives of so many Victorians being impacted by the lack of improvement in motorcycle safety in this state, I hope that gaining answers to the above questions will help you to make an informed decision as to the urgency and necessity of a parliamentary inquiry into the TAC's negligence on this issue.


Ross Daws

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Bike Grab

My beloved Ninja doesn't come with a centre stand option, and with the pre-exhaust chamber mounted beneath the bike my old strategy of jacking up the bike with a car jack for chain maintenance no longer works.

For the last year or so I've been doing the old "hold the bike upright with one foot on the brake to stop it rolling away while trying to hold the race stand in place to lift up the back wheel" routine.  This works, kinda, but I've been convinced for a little while now that one of these days I'm going to drop the ninja, probably onto my own foot.  This, not being my goal, I have decided to fix before it happens.

Friday, August 10, 2012

slip sliding away

As the rider himself put it: "bollocks!" 

The "fun" starts about the 4 minute mark