For those who aren’t aware, I am a frequent rider and proud owner of a Kymco motor scooter. I use it as the most convenient, fastest and least expensive mode of transport available to me. I also own a car which I use very occasionally due to its high running and parking costs, I live near a tram and bus stop which I use to get in and out of the city and I own a 12-year old bike which I use mainly for recreation and short local trips, so I like to think that I have a broad range of experiences and perspectives on our roads.
Riding a scooter, bicycle or motorbike does carry risks that most other road users do not have to deal with. More precisely, you are not protected by a large metal box like a motorist and travel at higher speeds than pedestrians. It unfortunately logically follows that we are much more vulnerable to death or serious injury as a result.
This point was underlined this morning when I was travelling down Burke Road in Camberwell. Heading south, I was riding past relatively stationary traffic to the right of me, while I rode in the left lane where there were very few cars parked at that time of day. Those who ride a bicycle, motorbike or scooter down Burke Road would be very familiar with the huge time savings from being able to avoid the jam of cars on the tram tracks in the right lane.
About 20 metres before the intersection of Prospect Hill Road and Burke Road, a car moved from the right lane into the left lane right next to me without looking or indicating in advance. I swerved out of the way with the car just missing me by centimetres, causing me to swerve again suddenly and fall off my scooter into the path of traffic in the right lane. Fortunately, the cars behind me managed to come to a stop just in time, saving me from being crushed by a tonne of steel on wheels.
To his credit, the motorist stopped immediately and rushed to help. A number of other motorists and bystanders also helped me up, checked if I was ok and righted my scooter. He apologised profusely and offered his details without even being asked, which makes a nice change from the more common situation where getting any sort of apology or information is like pulling teeth.
After exchanging details and checking the scooter (and myself) for damage, we were on our merry way. My scooter only sustained a few scratches, which just added to the existing ones from previous arguments with the road surface, and my only injury was hurt pride and a scratch on my hand.
My first reaction was to think ‘I was very lucky that the motorist didn’t actually hit me and that the cars behind me stopped in time’, but thinking about it a bit more I realised that it had a lot more to do with road design, speed and other factors than with luck.
There is a 40 km/h speed limit along Burke Road along the length of the shopping strip between 8am and midnight from Monday to Saturday, and for good reason. As demonstrated by mountains of research, cutting traffic speeds is key to improving safety for all road users. Even cutting the speed limit from 50 km/h to 40 km/h reduces the likelihood of a pedestrian collision being fatal by half.
In my situation, the low speed limit meant that everyone involved had a precious few extra seconds to react. I had enough time to swerve out of the way, the motorist had enough time to slow down and avoid a collision, and the cars behind us had enough time to stop and avoid running over me once I had fallen off. Perhaps most notably, the car was not travelling fast enough to kill me had it struck my scooter in the first place.
To me, this was a lesson in the vital importance of reducing speed. The 40 km/h speed zones implemented across Victoria have undoubtedly saved lives in school zones, shopping strips and other areas, as was vividly demonstrated to me this morning. Reducing speeds means that people have more time to react to dangerous situations, and if a collision is unavoidable, the chances of somebody being killed or seriously injured are drastically reduced.
40 km/h is a good step, but we should be aiming to do even better. There are moves around the world (such as Europe, the UK and Melbourne) to reduce speed limits to 30 km/h in areas that are especially dangerous for vulnerable road users. We should be doing as much as possible to make sure that we protect our most vulnerable road users, including cyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists, because reducing speed limits does save lives.