Imagine if your insurance company calculated the premium of you, Barry of Bury - a 55 year-old Triumph Tiger 800 rider - based on the risk you presented when you were a 20-year-old wannabee knee-down hooligan with zero talent, a 1980s view on drinking-and-riding and an invincibility complex? Oh, and just to make things worse, instead of actually asking you, or looking at your particular riding record as someone who is not dead, they consulted an out-of-date document about the causes of fatal accidents in other 20-year-old riders and then misread and misinterpreted much of the report before working out how much of a risk you posed. Would that seem fair to you?
And, if that wasn’t bad enough, imagine discovering that the above judgement was actually their revised, toned-down assessment where they had removed the phrases like ‘a danger to himself’. How would that make you feel?
Thankfully, your insurers have a lot more sense (and a lot more up-to-date-data). But it turns out that the people at Oxfordshire County Council, currently putting together their strategy for the future of transport in their county are not quite as clever. They recently launched an engagement survey where the public can read information about the different things that make up transport and offer their opinions.
The survey has 28 papers, including one on motorcycling, which, in its original form was possibly the most biased, misinformed, and amateurish summary of motorcycling I’ve ever read. The Oxfordshire report appears to have been written by people whose only exposure to powered two wheelers were the dodgy biker B-movies they rented from Blockbuster in 1986, hoping to see a semi-legitimate nipple.
Thankfully, the hard-working people from Motorcycle Action Group (MAG), so often our unsung heroes, got on the case of the councillors and a revised version of the paper arrived that removed the phrase describing motorcyclists as ‘a danger to themselves’, but retained their badly misinterpreted conclusions on motorcycle accident statistics from a paper written almost 20 years ago that used data on bike accidents from 1986-1995.
Think about that for a while. A proper paper, provided by a proper council representing affluent middle-England that used another paper written 20 years ago that only considered the sad-but-statistically-small number of motorcycle accidents that involved a fatality and happened 25-34 years ago. Oxfordshire Council then tried to apply their clumsily-misinterpreted findings to motorcycling in 2020. Imagine the outcry if they’d tried to use 34-year-old data for their papers on cars, bicycles or pedestrians?
Not only that, but all the data quoted was for accidents where no other vehicle or pedestrian was involved (which ignores around 70 per cent of the data). Apart from saying that when bikes had been banned from bus lanes the number of accidents involving bikes in bus lanes reduced. Which is a bit like saying that banning cars from driving through supermarkets would reduce the number of pedestrian fatalities in the freezer aisle.
Instead of using a 20 year-old report on ancient motorcycle fatalities, Oxfordshire could have looked at the same 2011 document that their next door neighbours Northamptonshire used that puts motorcycles firmly in their future transport policy by recognising the reduction in congestion and pollution that swapping cars for motorcycles can bring. Northants council, fed up of watching their roads getting slower and ever-more congested understood that the many businesses based in the county that rely on just-in-time warehousing and consistent traffic flow would suffer if they didn’t fix congestion.
So they included bikes in their strategy in a positive way, introduced initiatives to encourage more riders to get better trained and enjoy their bikes and, in the five years since they started have yet to see the gothic-level carnage predicted by their ill-informed and biased neighbours across the (M40) road.
It seems unthinkable that one council wouldn’t even look at their neighbours, let alone talk to them because transport policy doesn’t just stop at the county line – what happens in Northants directly affects Oxfordshire and vice versa.
So why should you, David of Stockport, living miles away from Oxford’s least scholarly representatives care? Because Oxford is not alone. Many other county councils are going through the same process, discussing future transport policy and yours is probably one of them. These councils rarely see motorcycles as a solution because, like most non-riders, they hear motorcycles from their gardens, but rarely see them - especially at junctions.
And while they understand that banning motorcycles outright isn’t possible, they are increasingly looking at doing it by stealth like London did with its ULEZ charge based on static emissions that don’t consider how effectively a bike moves through traffic. The beauty of emissions charging is that it can easily be applied in future to newer machines.
It’s only when you see papers like the Oxfordshire one that you realise just how ill-informed the debate can be and also, how easy it is for this stuff to become policy without us even knowing it. There are two things you can do to stop it happening. Firstly, go on the Oxfordshire engagement survey website and have your say. The survey is open until 17th May 2020. You don’t have to be an Oxfordshire resident to contribute (even though the first question asks you where you live, just ignore it and continue to section 28 to fill in your views). Please, remember to be grown-up, rational and do not swear. If you want to flash them a nostalgic 1980s Blockbuster biker-nipple, wait till it’s all finished.
Secondly, join MAG. They are the motorcyclists’ secret weapon in this and there’s never been a better time to join-up. MAG have been involved with this story since late 2019 and see the revision of Oxford’s initial paper as a small win in what will be a long tussle. MAG’s Director of Campaigns Colin Brown told BikeSocial “The worst excesses of open bias have been taken out of the document, but it is clear that the bias is deep rooted”. Thankfully for us, MAG has a very strong history of success. Even if you don’t intend to be an active member, MAG need funds to fight our cause. Membership costs a little over 50 pence per week.