ALL too often it can seem that motorcycles and the people that ride them get little or no airtime in the place where it really matters most. Motorcyclists do have some advocates within the Houses of Parliament though, and they were debating some of the biggest issues this week.
The discussion in Westminster Hall didn’t happen by chance though, the UK’s biggest motorcycle lobbying groups have been doing their best to get motorcycles firmly on the agenda. The MCIA and the National Motorcyclists Council (NMC) have been working hard behind the scenes to get motorcycle safety, security, and support improved for all who use PTWs.
At the heart of the debate is Conservative MP Bill Wiggin who is the first to raise bikes in the hall. But it is Trudy Harrison, MP for Copeland, who we should really be following here. Her new role as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the DfT, and the fact she has lived around bikes all her life, might just be what we all need to help ensure our voices are heard.
The debate, that took place a few days ago, quickly highlighted the fact that half of all motorcycles are used for commuting, education, or practical uses, much more than the 19 percent of trips from other modes combined.
Mr Wiggin was quick to note that based on the volume of journeys taken on a daily basis, motorcycling receives proportionately a much smaller amount of investment than walking, riding a bicycle, or even taking a government-approved e-scooter – the final point being one that beggars’ belief in many rider’s eyes.
Currently, motorcycles receive a minimal amount of funding, specifically in the areas of road safety and accident prevention. Proportionately, cycling and walking received £300 million spent on a dedicated fund in 2017, alongside a further £2 billion over the next five years.
Mr Wiggin notes that if even a fraction of that amount was spent on increasing safety and awareness of motorcycling, the benefits to the two-wheeled community and the wider world would ‘far outweigh any negatives.’
DUP MP Jim Shannon (bother of the late Isle of Man TT racer Keith) pointed out the lack of subsidised security for motorcycles, calling for more to be done to increase motorcycle security while out and about.
“Motorcycle theft is a major issue in the UK… rails to secure motorcycles to are few and far between, but if we can provide them for bicycles, we should do so for motorcycles… If motorbike thefts are high, the means of securing them must be in place.”
Safety and calls for wire rope barrier removal
One subject that any biker in the UK will be acutely aware of is the use of wire rope barriers on the network of motorways and dual carriageways. They present a very real danger to motorcyclists and one that Visordown has reported on at length in the last couple of years.
East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson was the first to raise the point in the debate, calling for the removal of existing wire rope barriers and the installation of a safer alternative.
“Does the hon. Gentleman accept that wire barriers in the middle of roads are extremely dangerous for motorcyclists and that, although there is now a policy that no new wire barriers will be put in place, the existing ones need to be replaced?”
Wire rope barriers became commonplace in the UK thanks to their cost-effective construction, and quick installation time – when compared to conventional Armco and concrete barriers. It doesn’t take much imagination to see that hardened steel cable poses a very real and very present danger to those that travel on two wheels.
Call for transparency on road repairs
Potholes may present a slightly less life-threatening danger to motorcyclists in the UK, but their danger to the rider, other road users and their motorcycle cannot be ignored. Last year the government allocated nearly £6 billion to combat them, although MPs are concerned this fund may not be being used appropriately.
This point was raised during the debate, with MPs calling for local authorities to be transparent with regards to where their funding is being spent. Not openly doing so opens the door for misspending, posing the risk that funds allocated to road repair could be spent on flashier, more PR-friendly projects.
Motorcycles and bus lane sharing
Access to bus lanes was also on the agenda, with Steve Baker MP calling for bus lanes to ‘be open to motorcyclists’ in all regions. While it’s true that many major cities in the UK allow motorcycles to share bus lanes with bicycles, taxis, and buses, the lack of consistency from one region to another only causes confusion and the risk of fines for riders.
“On bus lanes, I really think that they should be open to motorcyclists everywhere. We do not take up much space and, were a motorcycle to need to stop in a bus lane, it could easily be out of the way of any emergency vehicle anywhere. It really is time to open bus lanes anywhere. I also think we should be realistic about filtering. Clearly, motorcyclists have a responsibility to filter safely and considerately, but there is a case for having sufficient lane width to make it possible for motorcyclists to filter at a sensible speed.” He said.
Speaking for the first time during the debate, Ms Harrison was quick to get across that those present had her full support on the matter of motorcycles. She also goes on to speak of motorcycle road safety and mentions how she herself has lost a friend in a motorcycle accident.
“Motorcyclists save our lives every day, and we must ensure the safety of theirs. Reducing the numbers of those needlessly killed and injured on our roads, especially vulnerable road users, is a key priority for the Department. That was evident in our road safety statement published in July 2019, which focused on the Department’s four priority road user groups: young road users, rural road users, motorcyclists and older vulnerable road users.”
“In conclusion, I am once again very grateful for the opportunity to speak positively about motorbikes, motorcyclists and the history and heritage of the industry.”
While a voice in the Houses of Parliament is one thing, a lobbying voice in the motorcycle community is just as vital. If it wasn’t for the pressure from groups like the MCIA and NMC to discuss the pressing issues that we face on a daily basis, conversations like this might not be happening.
To check out the full transcript of the Westminster Hall talks, click here.