Perceptual Counter Measures: A Long Term Application in the NZ Coromandel Peninsula.

The Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand’s North Island has some of the most exciting motorcycling conditions in the country (and if you’ve ever been to New Zealand, you’ll realise that’s a big claim); coupled with stunning views, the area is a must-go spot for New Zealand riders.

Unfortunately, although popular, the roads are dangerous – the NZTA (New Zealand Transport Agency) reported that although motorcycles compose 1-3% of all traffic around the area, they are involved in 44% of crashes. The NZTA decided to turn to something called ‘’perceptual countermeasures’’ to improve safety.

The special markings (alongside other measures to make the roads safer for motorcyclists, such as wider road shoulders) were put in place is 2012 on two sites in the Coromandel Peninsula. Ideally the NZTA wanted to see a speed reduction and better cornering, through riders entering a corner wider and hence exiting closer to the shoulder of the road (rather than the centerline – therefore avoiding oncoming traffic and the possibility too much speed carrying the rider onto the opposing lane).

After a year of use, a report by the Mackie Research Council concluded that there was no real impact on the speed of motorcyclists, but there was a slight impact on cornering.

Perceptual countermeasures are not a new idea – there was research into their effect on traffic as far back as 1999 by Stuart Godley; however, trials of the measures, and more specifically trials on motorcyclists have been sparse. The biggest one (prior to this one) was in Australia, in 2008 – where it was found that any effects on speed and cornering were more of a novelty than anything else, short term results showed some slowing down and better cornering but this largely dissipated in the long term.

So how does it work? In this case, additional transverse markings were put onto the outer and inner lanes to allow riders to perceive that they were in fact going a little faster than reality.

Rob Bullick from the NZTA stated that the corners selected for this test were ones where motorcycles crashes had occurred (typically by the motorcyclist crossing the centreline).

Comments from the NZ rider community (gathered via the kiwirider forums) ranged from this being yet another attempt from the NZTA to act in a ‘’Nanny State’’ mentality, the markings being a distraction (encouraging rider vision to fixate on the marking rather than ahead on where they want to go); to more positive responses such as that these marking being of most use to inexperienced riders who would not be able to judge correct cornering technique correctly. Almost all agreed that there were far more useful ways to reduce motorcycle accidents by making the roads wider / reducing gravel on the road by sealing adjoining road entrances / alternative roadside drainage.

The NZTA is committed to making roads safer for riders, often counter to the wishes of the riders themselves by using heavy handed enforcement techniques such as blitzes/cameras/forcible speed reduction; thus it is good to see them attempting a ‘’softer’’ method to reduce crashes in a problem area. However, it does seem that there are other, established and more common sense methods to reduce both the incidence of accidents and their severity.

There does appear to be space in the road safety arsenal for perceptual countermeasures, the report did note that at one of the locations there was a larger impact on speed when the countermeasures were coupled with a sign before the corner.

As with all things, there does not appear to be an easy answer, and the best answer is the combination of many factors ranging from visibility, rider education, road conditions and a balance between the wishes of the NZTA to reduce the risk associated with motorcycle riding and the wishes of the riders themselves, for whom the appeal of motorcycling hinges on the ‘’freedom of riding’’.

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Matt Ramieri

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