Federation of European Motorcyclists’ Associations (FEMA) and European Union Road Federation (ERF) have noted the disproportionate accident numbers among powered two-wheelers (PTW), and created a joint-position paper where they try to encourage specific measures to improve infrastructural safety for motorcyclists.
Overall road accident fatalities in the European Union have dropped 50% since 2001. Although the fatalities with PTW’s have dropped as well, the percentage of motorcycle fatalities has risen to more than 15% of the total fatalities, while they represent just 1.8% of the total traffic flow.
The single most important type of accident is run-off, where the vehicle leaves the road and enters the roadside. According to the paper, these represent a whopping 45% of fatal accidents.
To prevent these accidents, forgiving roadsides have been developed, with the leading philosophy being “the roadside environment should not contain dangerous elements that will seriously injure or kill vehicle occupants” should the vehicle exit the road. A fundamental component of this philosophy is an obstacle-free zone beside the roadway.
As it’s not always possible to remove obstacles, guardrails are often placed on the sides of the roads. They are, however, mainly designed to protect cars and motorcyclists are overlooked – in fact a guardrail may be an obstacle for riders instead of protecting them.
Therefore FEMA and ERF plead that infrastructure management takes PTW’s better into account and that national guidelines for guardrails are adapted for motorcycle protection systems. The paper also points out that most of the accidents occur on smaller roads, so emphasis for guardrail updates should be placed there.
Second problem area is insufficient skid resistance of road surface, i.e. the frictional resistance between a vehicle tyre and road surface. Due to lack of maintenance, road surfaces and pavement markings gradually lose their skid resistance. This represents a particular hazard for motorcycles, especially during wet conditions. Slippery road markings are a specific problem area.
Markings initially installed on roads have demonstrated adequate skid resistance levels in line with the requirements. According to FEMA and ERF, the problem is failure to renew markings at appropriate intervals. This, in turn represents a safety hazard both in terms of the lack of visual guidance on the road and lack of proper grip levels, a particular hazard for riders.
Due to cutbacks in maintenance especially at regional and local level, potholes and other road surface damage are becoming a more frequent phenomenon for road users. Although more of a nuisance for car drivers, a pothole can represent a serious threat for a rider in form of a risk of loss of control. Similarly, cracks on the road surface can cause unevenness, which may cause riders to lose control.
Debris on road surfaces forms a greater risk for powered two-wheelers than for other vehicles. Motorcycles may easily lose grip and fall. Many countries already have regulations that demand both the polluters and the road authorities to keep the road surfaces clean and safe for users. FEMA and ERF demand that authorities should enforce these regulations more diligently.
Another threat, combining low grip levels and road surface problems, are manhole covers. Iron covers are often slippery, especially when wet. Also, although manhole covers should lie on road surface level, they often are lower, which can cause loss of control. for these reasons, riders generally try to avoid manhole covers. In order to improve safety, FEMA and ERF ask manhole covers not to be placed on the regular riding line of motorcycles and to ensure they are level with the road surface. Ideally, the material of the manhole covers should have the same grip level as the road surface, or they could be covered with a grip-enhancing coating.
A very typical motorcycle accident happens in crossroads, where a driver fails to see or recognize the PTW, underestimates its speed or overestimates its distance.
FEMA and ERF ask the road authorities to improve the situation by removing all objects that block the view. In case of parked cars a solution could consist in redesigning the road, removing parking spaces, introducing parking prohibition, or removing or replacing fixed objects like trees, advertisement poles, traffic signs and light poles or even completely redesigning the intersection area to, for instance a roundabout.
Editor’s note: Although I agree that such a road infrastructure should be created, which doesn’t represent a danger to any road users by itself, the most important safety factor is sitting on the motorcycle. Riding a motorcycle is a special skill, and to master it to any degree takes a lot of practice. The better the rider knows his/her own limitations as a rider and the bike’s limitations, the easier it is to evaluate situations and environments while riding.
Hence, the most important safety improvement is training yourself. Improving external issues cures the symptom, not the disease.
The European Union Road Federation (ERF) is non-profit association, which defends the role of roads as a sine que non for Europe’s socio-economic prosperity. With more than 60 members, it acts as a true platform for dialogue and research on issues related to safe mobility.
The Federation of European Motorcyclists ́ Associations (FEMA) represents European motorcyclists and aims to promote, protect and preserve motorcycling. Its mission is to promote riders’ interests and defend riders’ rights throughout Europe and globally.