The Frustrating State of Australian Motorcycle Laws

Over the last year or so, Australian riders residing on the eastern coast of the country have had cause to celebrate with the legalisation of lane splitting finally happening in the three most populous states of New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria – something that the overwhelming majority of riders in the US don’t enjoy. But with these updated laws has come a hodgepodge of differing rules that have caused confusion and frustration for motorcyclists.

The main area of frustration has been in regards to helmet laws where it is now the case that a rider taking a trip from Queensland, through New South Wales and into Victoria could theoretically require a change of helmet three times in order not to run foul of the law in the respective state. Imagine if state laws weren’t unified on the type of vehicle you could have in each jurisdiction – and yet that is the current situation in Australia.

When Queensland introduced its filtering laws, they also updated helmet laws to allow residents to ride with helmets that met ECE helmet standards and not necessarily Australian Standards. That was fantastic news and something locals were wanting for years – but it left Queensland on its own and meant that should a rider venture from the Gold Coast through to Tweed Heads wearing an ECE and not AE compliant helmet, they could be fined for effectively not wearing a helmet at all – and the $319 fine that goes with it.

Thankfully, on 6 August, the Victorian Government adopted the policy of Queensland and allowed riders to wear ECE compliant helmets as well. As of the writing of this article, New South Wales still has not done so and riders from Victoria and Queensland going to New South with ECE complaint helmets are breaking the law. This is despite even the Australian Federal Government now relaxing import laws which previously prohibited the importation of ECE helmets for sale in Australia.

So while Victoria and Queensland have started applying logic to the types of helmet that can be worn, the same can’t be said for the wearing of action cameras on helmets in the garden state.

Police Radar Gun

For many years now – even if sporadically – riders have been fined for wearing GoPro’s or similar devices on their helmets by police in New South Wales and Victoria. In March 2014, Victorian man Max Lichtenbaum was fined $289 and lost three demerit points for failing to wear an approved helmet after being pulled over by police in Frankston, in Melbourne’s south-east. His helmet was not deemed approved because in the police’s eyes, it had been modified from the Australian Standard because he had fixed a camera to it.

If that sounds ridiculous, it gets worse. Malcolm Cumming of Maurice Blackburn took the case on pro bono due to the issue becoming a major issue of frustration for motorcyclists. His argument in court was that the Australian Standard only applies to helmets at manufacture – once purchased by an individual they no longer apply. Unfortunately, Mr Lichtenbaum lost the case and with the help of Maurice Blackburn is appealing the decision which will be heard in February of 2016.

That means as it stands, if you wear a GoPro, a Bluetooth intercom device or even replace your visor with a tinted one, you are deemed to be in effect not wearing a helmet in Victoria and can be fined accordingly. The absolutely bizarre interpretation of the law makes even less sense when you travel to Queensland or Western Australia, where not only will you not be fined for wearing any such device on your helmet – the police there actively wear such devices themselves.

In those states, the respective governments have effectively adopted the view that Maurice Blackburn was arguing in Victoria – that Australian Standards only apply at the point of sale – not after. It’s altogether more frustrating when the use of cameras by motorcyclists is a key weapon in the proving of innocence in accidents.

“The repeated feedback from motorcyclists to us is there’s a marked change and improvement in driver behaviour when drivers become aware that they are, or are potentially, being recorded,” said Malcom Cumming. “In our work supporting riders injured in road accidents, we know that video from helmet cameras is some of the best evidence you can have if you are in a collision.”

Maurice Blackburn should be applauded for their work in this matter, but it’s ridiculous that they had to get involved at all. Prior to Mr Lichtenbaum losing his case, there seemed to be a sporadic enforcement of the interpretation of the law in Victoria – what happens now though is anyone’s guess.

Helmets aren’t the only issue either. For example in Queensland, riders can ride on the shoulder of roads that have a maximum speed limit of 90km/h or more as long as the rider goes no faster than 30km/h – this is a wonderful way to travel on congested highways. Yet again however, Queensland is alone in this rule and a rider could be riding along the Pacific Highway in Queensland on the shoulder and upon crossing the border now be riding illegally.

Generally speaking, most road rules reach uniformity among states over many years, so there’s hope they will eventually equalise for motorcyclists in the near future. But given the outright hostility the Victorian and sometimes New South Wales police forces have shown for riders recently, don’t hold your breath.

Victorian Police


Cars Out, Motorcyles In For Melbourne CBD

In a bold move to prove that the phrase ‘intelligent and progressive politician’ isn’t an oxymoron, the Melbourne City Council will give motorcycles and scooters preferential treatment over cars and trucks in the Melbourne CBD as part of a new plan to reduce traffic and parking congestion in Australia’s second largest city.

Not only will the plan assist riders to more easily find parking when working or shopping in the city, but the council hopes that such perks will encourage more people to ride into work rather than drive. Perks include removing paid street parking spaces for cars and replacing with free motorcycle parking and continuing to allow motorcycles to park on footpaths.

The Melbourne City Council also intends on using its planning powers to force developers of new offices towers and residential apartments to create more motorcycle parking and supply lockers to riders to place their protective gear in. The legislation, titled the 2015-2018 Motorcycle Plan will by voted on by councilors next week and is expected to pass.

The council said that a “shift from cars to motorcycles” would free up parking space, as up to up to six motorcycles or 10 scooters can be parked in the space required for a single car. The plan has the strong support of the Victorian Motorcycle Council (VMC) and the Independent Riders’ Group whose spokesman Steve Bardsley said while he believed there was a place for all types of transport, “it has to be acknowledged that cars are the main cause of congestion”.

As this site has stated before, we believe policies such as this will begin to become the norm rather than the rule due to the economic climate most western nations are faced with. Governments no longer have the budgets to continually expand road and public transportation networks. Legalising lane splitting and implementing other policies that encourage people to ride rather than drive is a virtually free way to reduce congestion.

This is backed up a study from Belgium which showed that if only 10 per cent of private cars were replaced by motorcycles, commute times in peak hour could decrease by up to 40 per cent. The economic and social benefits are enormous.

Source: The Age

Cars Out, Bikes In For Melbourne CBD


Is Motorcycle Lane Splitting Safe? An Analysis

You’ve probably heard figures bandied about that lane filtering is four, six or 10 times safer than sitting in stationary traffic in your lane. But how true is that? Is it safer to filter while on a motorcycle or is it just a good way to get through traffic faster? We’ve taken a look at research and studies going back as far as 1981 and as early as last year to see whether or not filtering will make your riding experience safer or more dangerous.

A landmark document in motorcycle safety which we will first look at is the Hurt Report which was begun 1976 and published in 1981. It was and still is regarded as one of the most comprehensive and important motorcycle safety studies of last century. It’s a broad ranging document that came to various conclusions, such that two-thirds of motorcycle-car crashes occurred when the car driver failed to see and give way to the approaching motorcycle at an intersection and that helmets significantly reduce the risk of brain injury and death but with no increased risk of crash involvement or neck injury.

It did not however look at the effects of lane splitting and any claims that it did are people’s interpretation of the data provided. In fact, a co-author of the Hurt report, Dave Thom was quoted as saying that “Lane splitting is theoretically advantageous but there’s no way to statistically disprove it’s safer because there’s been no study from which to pull the information from”.

Is Motorcycle Lane Splitting Dangerous?

Where people have used the Hurt report to claim lane splitting is safe is this:

“Moderate or heavy traffic was the situation at 59.2% of the accidents.”

However, that does not describe what occurred in enough detail to draw any inferences from. Did the motorcycle run into the car? Was it from behind or at the side? Was the rider actually lane splitting at the time of the accident? The report does not say. In fact, the Hurt report does not even mention the term lane splitting once.

The largest report to follow the Hurt report was a European study titled Motorcycle Accidents In Depth Study, or MAIDS. First published in 2009, the report looked at 921 accidents from France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy. It is in the MAIDS report that you will often hear the quote that lane-splitting is six (or some other similar number) times more safer than not splitting.

Again however, there is no specific analysis of lane splitting or filtering. In fact, the word filtering only occurs a handful of times in two data tables. That data shows the following frequency and percentage of crashes involving a car hitting a rider from behind when the rider is stopped, and lane filtering:

Frequency Percent
Stopped in traffic, speed is zero 26 2.8
Filtering 4 0.4

Therefore as a mathematical result, one could say that as 26 divided by four equals 6.5, filtering must be six and a half times safer than not doing so. From a statistical point of view however, it’s a very long bow to draw. The other issue is that out of the five countries included in the MAIDS report, one doesn’t allow filtering and yet there was no mention of whether that had any impact on the results. For all we know, those 26 “Stopped in traffic, speed is zero” accidents could have occurred in the four countries where splitting was legal and the four filtering accidents could have occurred in the one where it isn’t. The details just aren’t there.

Is Motorcycle Lane Splitting Dangerous?

So has there actually ever been a study that specifically looks at lane filtering?

Thankfully, yes. A preliminary report conducted by the University of California, Berkeley and the California Highway Patrol looked at 8,000 motorcycle accidents occurring between June 2012 and August 2013 and what the effect of lane splitting was on riders. The report found the following (note, LSM stands for Lane Splitting Motorcyclist):

  • LSM were less likely to be rear-ended by another vehicle (2.7%) than were other motorcyclists (4.6%).
  • Patterns of injury were significantly different comparing LSM and other motorcyclists. LSM were notably less likely to suffer head injury (9.1% vs 16.5%), torso injury (18.6% vs 27.3%), or fatal injury (1.4% vs 3.1%) than other motorcyclists.
  • The occurrence of neck injury and arm/leg injury did not differ meaningfully by lane-splitting status.

The other interesting data is that motorcyclists who lane-split seem to be more safety conscious as indicated by the following findings:

  • LSM were more likely to be wearing a full-face helmet than other motorcyclists (79% and 64%, respectively) and less likely to be wearing a novelty helmet (1.9% and 4.1%, respectively).
  • Motorcyclists who were not lane-splitting were more likely to wearing a 1/2- or 3/4-helmet (23%) than LSM (13%).
  • The prevalence of alcohol use was lower among LSM (1.3%) than it was among other motorcyclists (3.3%).
  • The proportion of motorcyclists that were unlicensed was moderately lower among LSM (18%) than among other motorcyclists (22%).

Is Motorcycle Lane Splitting Dangerous?

There is one other statistic that stands out, however:

  • LSM, on the other hand, were much more likely to have rear-ended another vehicle (36.4%) than were other motorcyclists (14.9%) due to lane splitting.

Which unfortunately almost puts us back to square one. You’re less likely to be hit by a car from behind if you don’t lane split, but more likely to run into a car from behind yourself if you do lane split.

But for a moment, let’s forget about the reports and apply the common sense test. What is likely to be worse? Being hit from behind by a two ton car while you’re sitting stationary, or running into the back of a car on a motorcycle at low filtering speeds? The answer should be pretty clear that the latter is the preferable type of accident.

And that’s supported by the UC Berkeley report, which showed that head and torso injuries were far worse for riders that didn’t split and that those riders who didn’t split were nearly three times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident.

As it stands, the research tells the following story:

  • Splitting is not less safe than not splitting.
  • It is highly likely, given research conducted that it is safer to lane split as opposed to not lane split.

Of course, it’s up to the individual rider to be comfortable with the idea of lane splitting. But here, we’re strong advocates of filtering from a safety perspective. Doing it correctly and at sensible speeds should mean there’s no reason to run into another car, and doing so prevents the possibility of being cleaned up from behind.

Is Motorcycle Lane Splitting Dangerous?