How a 40 km/h speed limit saved my life

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.

My bike
Might need to put the wheel on it first…

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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.

Right here - the Burke Road/Prospect Hill Road intersection. From Google Maps ©2014 Google
The Burke Road/Prospect Hill Road intersection. Google Maps ©2014 Google

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.

Scooter damage 2 Scooter damage

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.

7 thoughts on “How a 40 km/h speed limit saved my life

  1. I was most interested in reading your experience after being knocked off your motor scooter. Recently I had a similar encounter with a car whilst riding my push bike north along Chapel Street, South Yarra when the car struck my bike on its left side after it had failed to give way at a Stop sign. Without the lower speed limit of 40kph, I am certain I would have sustained much worse injuries. Instead I had minor bruising and a few additional scratches on my bike!

    It’s really good to see speed limits being reduced to 40kph in potentially dangerous areas around Melbourne such as busy shopping strips, near schools and other high-traffic areas. The lowering of the speed limit definitely should be encouraged. I heartily endorse the introduction of 30kph limits in heavily trafficked areas.

  2. Glad to hear that your “near miss” was just that. I completely agree re 40 km/h and 30 km/h speed limits. Having cycled on Melbourne roads for over 40 years I now think that bikes and cars really don’t mix well. I crashed into a car this year that turned right in front of me in Burwood Road. The driver was stopped and was very apologetic (they didn’t see me) but I still broke my leg.

    30 km/h around schools should happen now – at least in side streets. The vast numbers of people dropping 1 or 2 kids of in giant SUVs creates danger for all of us who chose to walk or cycle (I take my daughter on a tandem).

    Phillip, keep up your good work on Council

  3. As a both car driver and a cyclist, I would support reducing traffic speeds to 30 kph in areas used heavily by both types of traffic. I always feel very vulnerable on my bike in heavily trafficked areas.

  4. The 40kph speed limits have been gaining traction since the early noughties when 40kph speed limits were introduced around schools. Limits in shopping centres followed in the late noughties. I have come off my bike twice on similar roads, once in Glenferrie Road about 25 years ago when my wheels got caught in the tram lines while riding to a bike shop and once when turning too fast from High Street in Kew into Fenton Ave about 20 years ago whilst being tailgated by an aggressive car driver while riding to work. In each case the speed limit was 60kph and I lost some skin but the damage to my bike was minimal. These roads are dangerous for vulnerable road users but unfortunately they are roads that Boroondara utility cyclists find very hard to avoid using. Our problem is the principal bicycle routes should not be following the main roads.

    I have used the stretch of Burke Road where Philip’s accident occurred frequently whilst periodically riding an exercise circuit over the past 15 years that involves changing east west routes from Railway Walk and Cookson Street to Harold Street and Burwood Avenue. With further restrictions and cost of car parking in the Camberwell CAD and increasing population density there will probably be more use of Burke Road by cyclists. I suspect that Burke Road through the shopping centre and particularly near Prospect Hill Road may be a road where VicRoads should be thinking of introducing the Glenferrie Road style bicycle lane if the crash rates so indicate but such a project would probably only reduce the incidence of dooring type accidents. The concept of a dedicated friendly off road east west route along the railway corridor or the back streets is a dream that many cyclists share. It will require a revolutionary change of mind set and big dollars to implement. I would like to see our decision makers not running away from this dream whenever the opportunities arise as they have done so often in the recent past.

    A 30kph speed limit is worth striving for on the right road but I am afraid I don’t believe Burke Road is the right road. With present patterns of vehicle use and car dependence and with cycling rates still shy of 3% of all users and a very deficient arterial road network I can’t see a move to 30kph on the Boroondara main roads getting acceptance. They will need to get accepted first in the inner city areas where cycling rates of 15% are occurring and should not be introduced on major arterial roads that are important to the economic well being of the community.

  5. The 40kph speed limits have been gaining traction since the early noughties when 40kph speed limits were introduced around schools. Limits in shopping centres followed in the late noughties. I have come off my bike twice on similar roads, once in Glenferrie Road about 25 years ago when my wheels got caught in the tram lines while riding to a bike shop and once when turning too fast from High Street in Kew into Fenton Ave about 20 years ago whilst being tailgated by an aggressive car driver while riding to work. In each case the speed limit was 60kph and I got some grazed knees but the damage to my bike was minimal. These roads are dangerous for vulnerable road users but unfortunately they are roads that Boroondara utility cyclists find very hard to avoid using. Our problem is the principal bicycle routes should not be following the main roads.

    I have used the stretch of Burke Road where Philip’s accident occurred frequently whilst periodically riding an exercise circuit over the past 15 years that involves changing east west routes from Railway Walk and Cookson Street to Harold Street and Burwood Avenue. With the scarcity and cost of car parking in the Camberwell CAD and increasing population density there will probably be more use of Burke Road by cyclists. I suspect that Burke Road through the shopping centre and particularly near Prospect Hill Road may be a road where VicRoads should be thinking of introducing the Glenferrie Road style bicycle lane if the crash rates so indicate but such a project would probably only reduce the incidence of dooring type accidents. The concept of a dedicated friendly off road east west route along the railway corridor or the back streets is a dream that many of us share. It will require a revolutionary change of mind set amongst decision makers and big dollars to implement. I would like to see our decision makers not running away from this dream or ignoring opportunities whenever they arise as they have done so in several instances over the past few years.

    A 30kph speed limit is worth striving for on the right road but probably not Burke Road. With present patterns of vehicle use and car dependence and with cycling rates still shy of 3% of all users and a very deficient arterial road network I can’t see a move to 30kph on the Boroondara main roads getting acceptance. They will need to get accepted first in the inner city areas where cycling rates of 15% are occurring and should not be introduced on major arterial roads that are important to the economic performance of the road network.

  6. The 40kph speed limits have been gaining traction since the early noughties when 40kph speed limits were introduced around schools. Limits in shopping centres followed in the late noughties. I have come off my bike twice on similar roads, once in Glenferrie Road about 25 years ago when my wheels got caught in the tram lines while riding to a bike shop and once when turning too fast from High Street in Kew into Fenton Ave about 20 years ago whilst being tailgated by an aggressive car driver while riding to work. In each case the speed limit was 60kph and I got some grazed knees but the damage to my bike was minimal. These roads are dangerous for vulnerable road users but unfortunately they are roads that Boroondara utility cyclists find very hard to avoid using. Our problem is the principal bicycle routes should not be following the main roads
    .
    I have used the stretch of Burke Road where Philip’s accident occurred frequently whilst periodically riding an exercise circuit over the past 15 years that involves changing east west routes from Railway Walk and Cookson Street to Harold Street and Burwood Avenue. With the scarcity and cost of car parking in the Camberwell CAD and increasing population density there will probably be more use of Burke Road by cyclists. I suspect that Burke Road through the shopping centre and particularly near Prospect Hill Road may be a road where VicRoads should be thinking of introducing the Glenferrie Road style bicycle lane if the crash rates so indicate but such a project would probably only reduce the incidence of dooring type accidents. The concept of a dedicated friendly off road east west route along the railway corridor or the back streets is a dream that many of us share. It will require a revolutionary change of mind set amongst decision makers and big dollars to implement. I would like to see our decision makers not running away from this dream or ignoring opportunities whenever they arise as they have done so in several instances over the past few years.

    A 30kph speed limit is worth striving for on the right road but probably not Burke Road. With present patterns of vehicle use and car dependence and with cycling rates still shy of 3% of all users and a very deficient arterial road network I can’t see a move to 30kph on the Boroondara main roads getting acceptance. They will need to get accepted first in the inner city areas where cycling rates of 15% are occurring and should not be introduced on major arterial roads that are important to the economic performance of the road network.

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