Biker Bites – A dialogue with the Traffic Police

It’s been a busy time at our new startup but I took some time out today to attend my first dialogue session organized by the Traffic Police for the motorcycle community.

I usually hang out with my fellow Geeks on Motorbikes so it was interesting to see who else would turn up. There were representatives from the driving schools, the Singapore Kindness Movement, a cycling group, a Vespa group and the largest group of bikers were from the local Harley commmunity (well, the event was held at Harley-Davidson’s showroom after all). I was the only Ducati rider there.

Sidetrack: It’s funny but motoring communities are a little like martial arts clans from China. Like Wudang, Shaolin, E-Mei, Kun Lun, Gai-Bang…

TP dialogue 1
Spot the Duc among the Harleys.

Anyway, if you want to read the mainstream media’s take on the event, you can read this brief ST article that goes with the usual negative headline “Bikers still over-represented in road deaths, police to respond with multi-pronged approach”

[TP] Ride Safe Fact Sheet 2015 - Final
This is a good summary of the facts dished out today by the TP.

If there’s only one takeaway I can remember, it’s that one motorcyclist dies every five days in Singapore (74 died in 2014, half of all total fatalities).

Actually I thought the biker fatality rate would be higher (that’s the TNP journo in me speaking), and I asked the Traffic Police if they could reveal more details like age of rider, type of bikes, weather condition. The TP’s Commander Sam Tee would only say that they know the details but there was no “over-representation” of any demographic group. In other words, all types of bikers are equally at risk.

They have the facts, and I don’t, but I’d put my dollar down that if you include non-fatalities, a lot of young Class 2B riders are the ones getting into a majority of road accidents.

Just this evening (several hours after the TP dialogue), I was driving my family out for dinner and was aghast when this young P-plate female rider decided to turn left with me, but she was positioned on the go-straight lane beforehand. And of course, she didn’t use her signal light.

Talking about motorcycling and fatalities is always a sensitive issue in SG. On one hand, the authorities probably don’t want to reveal too many details because certain demographics might get deeply offended.

On the other hand, when you don’t provide the full data set (it’s 2015 folks, Age Of Big Data), non-riders will gleefully use this fact and wag their fingers at us : “See, it’s so dangerous to ride! You might just die within the next five days if you ride a motorcycle!”

I might, but I don’t intend to. That’s why you’re still reading regular articles on this blog.

During the dialogue, very ably hosted and moderated by motoring writer Leow Ju-Len, there were discussions on the recklessness of Johor bikers as well as local riders, on lane splitting, on the recent Ducati accident on PIE, on how to reinforce safety with existing drivers and bikers, and on driving and riding cultural norms here.

Generally it was a good discussion. Nearing the end of the dialogue, I had heard one too many folks talk about enacting new regulations (eg. one person even suggested banning motorbikes from expressways – he may not have realized the room full of big bike riders was deathly silent then). I chimed in to remind the audience that asking for more rules was a good example of “wanting to live in a nanny state.”

(You can guess why you’ll never see any mainstream media reporting my quotes)

This was the same point I made about lane-splitting when I did a recent taped interview with Channelnewsasia’s Talking Point (the clip should air later this month, if my interview survives the editing process).

There are people calling for more rules but I think there are enough traffic rules already (not enough for those crazy e-bicycle riders though) and it does get weary driving/riding and always looking up an overhead bridge to spot a hiding LTA officer and his speed camera.

The TP and other entities have done a lot over the years to educate people on safe driving and riding, so why do we still have such lousy drivers and riders on the roads? Even with all the new speed cameras, heavier fines, and so on?

My firm belief is that bad road-users become so because they learn from poor role models on the road. The only logical way to reverse this is to have more positive role models on the road, demonstrating proper road etiquette, not flaring up over small infringements, having keen road sense, wearing proper riding gear and so on.

The younger, less exposed riders really don’t know what they don’t know. What if they knew that wearing open-face helmets increases their chances of getting their faces totally smashed in, causing nose fractures, broken teeth, blinded eyes and so on? Would they wear full-faced helmets if they knew better, or if their friends told them so? Why don’t our road safety campaigns talk about such realities about wearing the right safety gear? 

But it’s not easy to educate motorists to change their mindsets. Honestly, the majority of drivers and bikers in SG are actually quite sane and nice, but it’s that 10-20% of them that really make life hell on the roads for everyone else.

Just a few days ago, I was riding on Lane 1 on PIE (pretty near where the Ducati rider died) when my left handlebar nearly got clipped by a speed Super 4 that was lane-splitting on my left.

Can I stop idiots from lane-splitting at high speeds and posing a risk to driver and rider alike?

No, but I can choose to continue riding at legal speeds and in a predictable manner to other road users, while wearing as much safety gear as is reasonable. If I overtake slower cars, I keep my distance and don’t alarm them unnecessarily (a little difficult for a Ducati to keep quiet though).

I’ve been told by a stranger on Facebook (on one of my public postings) that I’m naive to think that positive role-modelling will help change our rider culture here.

Now, do you really prefer to have more traffic rules and stiffer penalties? What does this say of the maturity of our road users or our society in general?

TP dialogue 3a
Group photo after the dialogue. Needs more Ducs in the photo…

3 Replies to “Biker Bites – A dialogue with the Traffic Police”

  1. It should be blindingly obvious that motorcyclists are over-represented in traffic fatalities due to lack of structural protection offered by motorcycles. That being the case, the focus on rider education is misplaced; Darwin’s law dictates that the average motorcyclist has better roadcraft and situational awareness than other road users (if you aren’t, you are probably dead) so any additional training will provide only marginal returns. It’s akin to providing a martial arts expert additional training in unarmed combat when you’re sending him into a gunfight – what’s the point?

    Legislating the wearing / donning of adequate rider protection may be more effective, but of course an argument will ensue over what is ‘adequate’? Being hot and bothered may in certain cases be more dangerous than riding with a singlet. Mandatory full face or modular helmets? Maybe.

    Perhaps what the authorities should REALLY be looking into is mandating that ALL MOTORCYCLES be fitted with video cameras, front and rear – a little like how commercial vehicles are fitted with a speed warning device. The fact that all rides are recorded should serve as a deterrent to both motorcyclist and other road users from reckless or dangerous behaviour. If you can fit an ERP unit on a motorcycle, video cameras should not be an insurmountable technological challenge.

    Until then, motorcyclists will have to put up with the negative aspersions cast by pointless headlines from the local media about how they are dying like flies. It is worth noting that idiots on motorcycles generally remove themselves from the road, whilst idiots in vehicles remove others from the road (and generally survive to contaminate the gene pool!).

    1. Hi KP, this reply is not related to the article, but could you share with me what camera would you recommend for front and and back of motorbike?

  2. Ian, you have advised people to wear full-face helmets many times. Rightly so. As you point out, the authorities themselves don’t really emphasise this in their road safety education.

    I’ll go one step further though: some years ago, I was actually told off for wearing a full-face helmet by both an instructor and a policeman. Can you believe it? After I’d finished my 2A test, I sat through the usual scary video session, in which they mention safety gear, among other precautions. I went up to the instructor after that and asked him why it was that other instructors didn’t mention full-face helmets and why a couple of folks actually chided a student for wearing a full-face helmet. He was surprised by that and told me that he only taught inside the classroom and had stopped riding bikes several years ago. Needless to say, I did my Class 2 at a different school…

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