Taking a toll

Fifty motorcyclists, pedestrians and cyclists lost their lives on South Australian roads last year, making up 43 per cent of the total fatalities in our state.

So, what can we do to better protect this group of people and reduce the road toll? This edition, we sat down with three vulnerable road users to hear about their experiences.

The motorcyclist

Motorcycle Riders Association South Australia President Sam Maddock. Image: RAA

Last year, 23 motorcyclists lost their lives on South Australian roads. And, despite motorcycles only making up about four per cent of registered vehicles in SA, motorcyclists accounted for almost 20 per cent of the fatalities in 2023.

Motorcycle Riders Association South Australia (MRASA) President Sam Maddock understands the risks motorcyclists face each time they’re on the road.

Sam has been around motorbikes since he was a child growing up on his family’s farm. About 10 years ago he got his motorcycle licence and started riding on the road. While Sam’s only had a few near misses while on his motorbike, he says riding along highways can make you feel very vulnerable.

“You can be just pottering along, right on the speed limit and you’ll suddenly have a car that comes out from the left side road, and they notice you at the very last second,” he says.

“At this stage, you’re almost on the front of the car, so you have to do a very quick lane change when the path is clear.

A lot of the time, you need to read the traffic five or so seconds ahead so you can prepare for the worst.”

Sam says other road users can help keep motorcyclists safe by being attentive and watchful while driving.

“Look out a bit more [for motorcyclists], use your mirrors and check blind spots before doing a lane change,” he says. The MRASA advocates for motorcyclists and lobbies the government for road safety and workable legislation.

Sam says motorcyclists need to consider a couple of things when riding.

“Make sure you’re wearing all the necessary protective gear, so helmet, boots, a jacket and gloves,” he says. “And, when you’re on the road, be aware of your surroundings and be on high alert about what’s around you – look out for the unexpected.”

RAA Senior Manager of Safety and Infrastructure Charles Mountain says protective clothing is vital for motorcyclists, particularly in the event of a crash.

“Make sure the protective clothing you’re wearing has a high star rating from the Motorcycle Clothing Assessment Program (MotoCAP),” Charles says.

Alarmingly, without the correct protective clothing, a person sliding on bitumen in a crash can lose about 1mm of flesh for every 2km/h they’re travelling over 40km/h. Sliding in a crash can even scrape away bone.

In the five years to 2023, 55 per cent of motorcyclist fatalities in SA were in single-vehicle crashes. RAA is urging riders to ensure they’re riding safely, adhering to road rules and are mindful of their own and their bike’s limits.

The cyclist

Don Brice is an avid cyclist who commutes to work in the CBD on his bicycle daily, and rides recreationally on weekends in Adelaide and surrounding areas.

During the 15 years Don has been riding, he’s been knocked off his bike by motorists twice.

Fortunately, Don wasn’t seriously injured in either incident. On the first occasion, he was riding along Brighton Road and a motorist hit him while turning left onto Jetty Road.

“They didn’t even see me and turned left,” he says. “I grabbed on to the wing mirror and made the turn with the car before falling off.”

“The second time I was travelling in a bike lane on Cross Road and someone came up behind me, drifting into the bike lane, and hit me again with their mirror. That was a hit-and-run.”

While Don was lucky not to be injured in these incidents, many other cyclists haven’t been so fortunate. In 2023 alone, 84 cyclists were seriously injured while another eight tragically lost their lives.

Avid cyclist Don Brice. Image: RAA

Between 2019 and 2023, motor vehicles were involved in 72 per cent of crashes that resulted in the death of a cyclist in South Australia.

Don says one of his biggest concerns on the road is the inattention of other road users, particularly motorists.

“The main concern for me is people on their phone, and people who are in a hurry,” he says.

“You roll past people at the lights and they’re on their phone or they’re scrolling.

“[When riding] I assume I’m invisible and that people won’t see me. I try not to put myself in harm’s way, and don’t try to hurry.

Cycling fatalities

SA cycling deaths between 2019-2023

I almost ride in slow motion sometimes and make my turns slowly and deliberately so people have a chance to see me.”

Charles urges motorists to watch for cyclists on the road, particularly when turning at intersections and junctions, as well as when they’re parked on the side of the road.

“When driving, maintain a minimum distance of one metre when passing a cyclist where the speed limit is 60km/h or lower, and a distance of 1.5m where the speed limit is higher,” he says.

“Cyclists need to make sure they can be seen. They should wear bright clothing and legally need a white front light and a rear red light on their bike when riding at night or in low visibility.

“At the end of the day, all road users need to be courteous and share the road.”

The pedestrians

Grace Smith and her 10-year-old son Noah. Image: RAA

Picture this: You’re a parent driving with children in the back seat. You park and need to get the kids out of the car. Who do you get out first and how do you get them to stay near the car? And, how do you get them back in the car when you return, arms full of shopping?

This is the reality for busy parents like Grace Smyth. Car parks can be a hazardous place for people on foot, particularly children. Just last year, a Melbourne boy was killed after he was hit by a car in a church car park.

Grace has three children – 10-year-old Noah, seven-year-old Lily, and three-year-old Archie – and has several strategies to get them out the car safely.

“Usually, I’ll get Archie out first, and the other two have to wait in the car until I’m holding him, so that I know they’re not going to run off anywhere,” Grace says.

“If they do get out earlier, they have to touch the car, or stand next to it and hold onto something and make sure they’re holding each other’s hand.”

In 2023, 19 pedestrians lost their lives – more than double the fatalities in 2022. Grace has spent time teaching her children about pedestrian safety and Noah, her eldest son, recently did a SA Police road safety course.

“It was important for Noah to do the road safety course – that was a big one – particularly now he’s getting older and will want to start going for walks and bike rides on his own,” Grace says.

Since he did [the course], he’s been doing these little checks before he rides his bike.

At the course, Noah learnt what he should do when riding his bike or walking. “I learnt what the different traffic lights mean, and about roundabouts,” Noah says.

“And, if you’re crossing the road on a bike, you need to wait for the light to turn red, then for the cars to stop before you cross. Also, you shouldn’t ride your bike when you’re crossing –

you need to walk it across the road.”

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