Motorcycles are a popular but increasingly risky way to travel on our roads. Last year, 21 motorcyclists were killed on Western Australian roads. So what is being done to improve the awareness and safety of motorcyclists?

Motorcycle riders and/or their pillion passengers are up to 32 times more likely to die in a crash than those travelling in a car. They’ll overwhelmingly be male (92 per cent), and will often come to grief on a weekend trip away from the city. And while roads outside the State’s metropolitan limits allow for travel at up to 110km/h, a crash at nearly half that speed (60km/h) is considered “not survivable” on two wheels.

Motorcycle registrations are on the rise in Western Australia to now make up 5.9 per cent of the licensed vehicle fleet on the state’s roads, or just less than 130,000 motorcycles in total.

Over the past decade, the number of motor vehicle occupant fatalities has been trending downward, but the same result is not reflected in motorcyclist fatalities over the same period. “We are making the roads safer for motor vehicle drivers and passengers,” observes RAC’s Senior Manager Policy and Research, Anne Still, “but we are not succeeding in the same way for motorcyclists.”

Motorcyclists riding on the road

Speed is a stand-out factor in fatalities involving motorcyclists, Ms Still’s research shows, and long-term data reveals almost half (47 per cent) of crashes are single vehicle, run off the road incidents. But crash investigations also assert that 26 per cent are a result of another vehicle turning in front of the rider.

The frequency of crashes on weekend afternoons, often on scenic rural roads, suggests a propensity for some riders to indulge in the purchase of a motorcycle for recreational riding – perhaps driven by the nostalgia of their youth, or the niggle of a bucket list.

“We are used to seeing fatalities being overrepresented in young drivers, but that doesn’t hold true for motorcyclists,” Ms Still says. Motorcyclist fatalities tracked over a five-year data set show that 60 per cent were aged in their 30s, 40s or 50s.

There’s no doubting that special feeling of being “in the moment” on a motorcycle: the thrill of the wind rushing past you, of leaning into corners, and shifting gears onto an open road. Mobile phones cannot invade – it’s just you and your machine. For many, the primary purpose of a bike is not to get you from A to B, but to enjoy the journey.

Yet, whatever their age or motivation, the statistics seem clear: simply by virtue of being on a road on two wheels, motorcyclists are at risk.

Motorists can help keep everyone safe by being extra-vigilant and courteous to riders, recognising the instability and braking difficulty of two wheels compared with four.

Motorcycle safety infographic

But riders also should be taking measures to keep themselves as safe as possible on the road – beginning with the golden rule of being adequately protected before you set out. No matter whether your two wheels are under a leisurely scooter or a high-powered Harley, investing in good gear can be the difference between a nasty tumble and life-threatening injuries.

Riders should also be aware that car drivers often fail to see motorcyclists and that the speed of approaching motorcycles can be difficult for them to judge. Wearing high-visibility clothing, maintaining awareness at all times, and avoiding riding in a motorist’s blind spot can help.

New riders regardless of age have a higher risk of being involved in a crash, most likely due to their inexperience. Rider training courses such as our Rider Enhancement Program can help build skills and experience.

Our vast state, with its scenic roads and favourable climate, makes a road trip on either two or four wheels one of life’s great pleasures and both motorcyclists and motorists have an equal right to enjoy the ride and to arrive safely at their destination.

RAC DTEC’s Safer Rider Program

Riders can gain or refresh their motorcycle skills through RAC’s Rider Enhancement Program at its DTEC (Driving, Training, Education and Corporate) facility, a best-practice training organisation specialising in all forms of driver training.

Recent course participants Leanne and Murray are a married couple who share a passion for motorcycling. Murray has been riding his BMW RT1150 for about 3 years, and Leanne’s had a BMW GS650 LAMS for less than 2 months.

“We both want to improve our chances of staying alive on the roads, while enjoying motorcycle riding and touring together,” Leanne said.

“I didn’t hesitate to get us booked in ASAP…especially as it is subsidised. Both of us are already conscientious riders, and very aware of the dangers of being on the road under any condition.

“Participating in the Rider Enhancement course was brilliant from the perspective of learning new abilities, skills and safety awareness.”

Leanne and Murray liked the size of the group (10 participants and two trainers), the vast range of ages and skill levels of the participants and the combination of theory and practical training.

“Our trainers Don and Jason were both Scottish and had great experience between them, and a wonderful blend of humour and seriousness,” Leanne said.

“It was an amazing perspective seeing the slalom course from Jason’s helmet camera during the theory component of the course.”

Immediately after they left the driving centre, Leanne and Murray noticed a difference in the way they rode, and became more aware of things on the roads.

“On the following Sunday morning we attended a BMW Club breakfast, followed by country ride from Vic Park to Serpentine Dam. We used the skills we’d learned from the Rider Enhancement program to deal with varying road conditions and traffic,” Leanne added.

“I definitely ride my motorcycle better now as a result of having done this Rider Enhancement program. I very much appreciate it being made available.”

couple with helmets bike4

To make a Rider Enhancement booking, contact RAC DTEC on 1300 888 987 or visit dtec.com.au.