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Uneasy riders on the nanny state

By David Leyonhjelm - posted Tuesday, 12 September 2017


It's the pain and cost of a crash that should dictate safety wear for motorcyclists, not opinionated policemen.

I was mightily pissed off the other day when I heard a senior Victorian policeman interviewed on radio, telling listeners that it is time to legislate to make the wearing of gloves and protective footwear compulsory for motorcyclists.

There were two aspects that annoyed me.

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First, wearing a uniform and badge, or even attending traffic accidents in which motorcyclists are involved, does not entitle anyone to tell riders what to wear. Indeed, it is not a qualification for anything except to enforce the law as it exists. The police do not legislate and are not responsible for determining public policy. As for giving safety advice, they have no greater right than our mothers.

Second, motorcyclists are seriously sick of being told they do not properly recognise the risks involved in riding a motorbike.

This involves the assumption that when we don't wear protective gloves and boots it's because we are stupid and irresponsible, leading to the conclusion that it should therefore be made compulsory.

Clearly this is utter bollocks. It would be rare to find a motorcyclist who is not acutely aware of the consequences of coming off their bike. Most of us have done it at least once, and remember perfectly well the pain involved.

The point is, we accept the risks.

Whenever we throw a leg over our bike, we know that it will hurt if we come off, particularly without protective clothing. It's our choice, and because no one else is harmed, we should be left alone to pursue what we love.

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I am no different from any other rider.

My bike, a BMW S1000R, is extraordinarily powerful and capable of getting me into extremely painful situations. And that's an issue, because I don't like pain. I am very much aware of what it's like to scrape my skin along the bitumen. I don't even like the cold, and regard heated hand grips as the best invention since soft toilet paper.

Most of the time, I choose to wear protective gear. In the summer I prefer a lightweight jacket and gloves. And yet, there are times when the combination of hot weather and heat from the engine makes even that uncomfortable. In full knowledge of the risks, I snip down.

I sometimes hear it said that such an attitude is irresponsible because if I am injured, I will be a burden on my fellow taxpayers (which obviously rules out a lot of people who don't pay tax) due to our socialised healthcare system.

The shared cost is not disputed, but should we modify our behaviour merely because we have a health system that discourages individual choice?

In my view, the health system needs to change. If we are reckless or irresponsible, we should bear the cost ourselves. If health insurers are legally permitted to take risk into consideration and regard motorcycling as risky, they will raise premiums.

More broadly, as a society we must stop trying to force other people to conform to our idea of what is safe, sensible or responsible. The only aspect that should concern us, and the law, is whether others are harmed.

Indeed, we should celebrate the benefits of motorcycling. Motorcycles ease congestion in cities, use less fuel, require fewer parking spaces, produce fewer emissions and cause less road wear than other vehicles.

And yet when it comes to public policy, we are barely an afterthought. In the 173-page National Road Safety Strategy Review, just two pages are devoted to motorcycling. The majority of politicians and policy makers are not motorcyclists and share the common view that we are all mad.

If we learn to speak with a louder voice, this will change. Our numbers are growing, with motorcycling more popular than ever.

In most states, motorbike registration has outstripped car registration on a percentage basis for the last five years.

In my next term, I intend to seek amendments to the National Road Safety Strategy that reflect respect for motorcycling. I would particularly like to see the best aspects from each state (such as lane filtering and footpath parking) incorporated into the national strategy.

And I will do my best to encourage opinionated police officers to stick to what they know.

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This article was first published in the Australian Financial Review.



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About the Author

David Leyonhjelm is the Liberal Democrat Senator for NSW.

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