Tuesday, April 23, 2024
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Teaching road craft beside the birds and bees

With Northamptonshire County Council on board, more local authorities are expressing interest in the MCIA’s Motorcycle Safety and Transport Policy Framework and asking how they can introduce school pupils and students to motorcycling in a safe and structured way. In her latest article explaining the framework, the MCIA’s Jenny Luckman highlights its emphasis on improving road-user awareness


If you read last month’s column (Swapping Bad Boys for benefits) you will know I am a big fan of informal polls. My latest was conducted at MCIA HQ about what people remember from sex education lessons at school. There is a point to this, so bear with me. The answers varied depending on the age of the respondent.  “I seem to remember some diagrams and a mention of organs,” was what Sandra Cole told me. This pretty much summed up the experience of all those who had their “birds and bees” talk delivered by their biology teacher over two or three lessons at the age of 12.   

A particularly useful comment came from Heather Brown who runs the stats department: “They told us the mechanics of sex but they didn’t help us appreciate the ‘context’ or the required personal and social responsibility.” I know, having a young daughter of my own, that this has changed and is now taught earlier and more consistently, which is probably why we have a lower teenage pregnancy rate. A similar approach to teaching road craft skills could make a huge difference to road safety.   

“Improving road-user awareness” is the aim of theme one in the Framework. It calls for road safety education to be embedded in the school curriculum and for pupils to take a theory test qualification before they leave. Imagine if all teenagers left school with a working knowledge of how roads are organised and how to anticipate what can go wrong? Young drivers and riders would be safer from the beginning.

I heard recently about an instructor in London who sent a CBT customer home because he had absolutely no theory knowledge. The instructor said the customer would be welcome back to resume training once they had resolved this, but obviously the ATB lost money that day by making such a call. It is a dilemma faced by many training businesses when confronted by a young rider who has clearly not prepared well enough for what is likely to be their first time on the road.

It must be similar for driving instructors. I know this to be true. A friend told me she was shocked to find her 17-year-old son had decided not to bother looking at any theory until he was ready to do his actual theory test, in spite of having started his driving lessons. He said his friends were all doing the same. This situation would never arise again if several of the framework’s proposals were introduced.

Pupils seem to be in favour of more opportunities to improve road skills – 93% of teenagers agreed it would be useful to learn more about road safety in school, when surveyed after a recent road safety awareness event run by the MCIA and Northamptonshire Highways. At the moment it is not compulsory and is delivered inconsistently across counties, often as a short specific subject or a one-off experience rather than being embedded into normal lessons.  

For younger children, road signs could easily be incorporated into lessons about shapes. Budgeting for various modes of transport could be calculated in maths. Citizenship Studies could investigate the ethics of using a mobile phone while walking along the pavement or driving. Motorcycle cornering provides an example of “forces” in Physics, which can be extended when considering what effect grabbing the front brake has on the direction of the bike!  

There will doubtless be teachers who already use such examples, but the framework partners would like to see this formally built into the curriculum to equip each new generation with skills that will keep them and other road users safe.  
Theme one also proposes changes to the theory test itself. Instead of different tests for cars and motorcycles, the framework recommends they are melded into one multi-mode test.  This would focus on rules which apply to all road users and raise awareness of their different needs, particularly vulnerable road users.  

This theme also proposes the hazard perception test should be amended to make sure the person being tested is able to anticipate hazards from the perspective of other road users. Now that these scenarios are created through computer-generated imagery, this could easily be achieved.  

Analysis of road traffic accidents shows that drivers “look” but don’t “see”, particularly where vulnerable road users are concerned, which would indicate many drivers have a lack of empathy for users of vehicles of which they have no personal experience. If a driver only ever intends to drive a car it is important he or she understands the way motorcyclists filter, or that an HGV may swing to the right before taking a left turn. Equally, if someone only ever intends to cycle, they need to understand where the blind spot of a left-turning lorry is and how to alter course to accommodate this.

Changes to the theory test and curriculum requirements are a long-term aim and need to be carefully considered in consultation with education and safety experts, so we will not have news about progress on this in the near future. We are pushing ahead on another action within theme one, though, which calls for local and national government to support greater road-user awareness.

This year we will conduct a survey of local authorities to find out what their attitude to motorcycling is and what provision they make for riders. Motorcycles are often absent from the travel websites of some local authorities, which is indefensible. People should have easy access to information about the mode of transport they choose, especially when that form of transport will help reduce congestion and ease pressure on parking.

Many local authorities are opening up to the motorcycle and scooter “solution” as an antidote to congestion and parking problems. The best example of this is Northamptonshire County Council, which includes motorcycles as a sustainable form of transport under its Motorcycle Northants banner. We have heard how support for motorcycling in the county has galvanised local dealers and trainers to join forces. We are receiving a lot of enquiries and interest from other local authorities too, who are asking for copies of the framework for their own road safety and planning teams.  

Local road safety officers are also asking for suggestions as to how they can introduce young people to motorcycling in a safe and structured way, particularly in schools and colleges. They often ask us who might be able to provide this locally. If you are a dealer or a trainer who would like to work with your local authority, then I’d be happy to support this and make the relevant introductions.  

We need to acknowledge that there is no such thing as a road traffic “accident”. Each incident arises from a series of bad decisions made by both or one party, largely due to an inability to anticipate what other road users might do. If all the recommendations discussed here were put into practice, schools would develop pupils with superior road-user awareness.

In the long term this would result in a new, safer kind of rider walking into your showrooms and training schools; one with a far greater understanding of the road. It would also mean that cyclists and pedestrians, who aren’t required to take any kind of theory test, would also be better prepared.  



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