Dr Julie Brown and motorcyclist

Motorcycle safety


Ensuring motorcycle riders are kept safe on our roads



Motorcyclists are classed as vulnerable road users because like pedestrians and cyclists, they have no protective shell. However best practice in road safety is to provide an overall ‘safe system’ that takes into account this inherent vulnerability and works to reduce the risk of injury for all road users. A safe system is built around ensuring responsible road users enter a system that is forgiving of human error and minimises the consequences of any error. A detailed understanding of the interaction between all elements of the system is needed to achieve this. For motorcycle safety this means we need a detailed understanding about how riders, their vehicles and the road environment interact to identify appropriate ways to reduce the risk of crashes, and the risk of injury.

Our research

We recently conducted a three year in-depth investigation of motorcycle crashes and in parallel, have developed a number of research streams addressing injury and crash prevention. For injury prevention we have been examining the performance of protective equipment and studying the mechanism of pelvic injury. We have also been examining barriers to the use of protective clothing. As heat discomfort is the number one reported barrier to the use of protective clothing, we are collaborating with researchers in Wollongong (UOW) and Victoria (MUARC and RMIT) to investigate this issue in detail. For crash avoidance, together with researchers from Victoria (MUARC) and Adelaide (CASR), we have partnered with researchers in Italy (UniFI) to examine the potential of advanced braking systems for motorcycles.

The motorcycle riding community in New South Wales plays a significant role in much of our research. By talking to over 500 riders across the state, we have begun to build an in-depth profile of the riding population. This will help set priorities for developing strategies to reduce the number of riders injured on our roads. We are also continuing to conduct focus groups with riders to ensure we gain a good understanding of what rider’s needs. If you have any interest in participating in our studies you can contact our research team.


What we have found

Findings from the AUSTROADS funded crash investigation study can be found here (add link to Austroads). We have also described the profile of motorcycle riders in NSW, providing for the first time, an estimate of the prevalence of key risk factors across age groups. This includes a description of riding frequencies, frequency of riding in different conditions, frequency of riding for different purposes i.e. commuting and/or leisure, and self-reported involvement in crashes, near misses and traffic infringements. We have also demonstrated the high use of some protective equipment among NSW motorcyclists (100% helmets, 82% protective jackets, and 73% protective gloves), and the room for increased use of protective panst (56%) and footwear (57%). These data are an invaluable resource to developing strategies and programs to enhance the safety for riders of different ages.

Our crash studies have confirmed previous findings related to the frequency with which the motorcycle fuel tank is a source of groin and pelvic injury demonstrating that there has been little improvement in the crashworthiness over the last few decades. We have also seen variation in the performance of protective clothing worn by Australian riders further supporting the need to introduce some mechanism for communicating aspects of clothing performance to riders to assist in their purchasing decisions. For abrasion resistance, we have validated the approach taken in European product standards to assessing the performance of protective clothing. We have also developed a method for estimating the probability of abrasion injury with respect to performance in the European Standard test. This information is useful to those developing consumer information programs, and other assessment protocols for protective clothing both in Australia and internationally. We are currently conducting similar work examining the performance of impact protectors and body armour, as well as the best ways to measure their performance.

We have also identified the potential for thermal strain in some forms of protective clothing in hot summer conditions, and we have examined the impact different types of materials might have on this, See the Catalysts Program. We are currently examining the impact this might have on rider performance, and rider fatigue.

See what’s going on at NeuRA