Achieving Safe System outcomes for motorcycles in LMIC’s

Dr Shane Turner recently spent two weeks in South East Asia. Shane was invited by the Asia Pacific Road Safety Observatory (APRSO) to talk about our road safety work in Indonesia from 11 – 13 October at the Asian Development Bank. In this blog, Shane shares his insights on the work he has been doing on motorcycle safety in low and middle income countries (LMIC).

As part of Abley’s ongoing work in Indonesia, I recently spent two weeks in South East Asia, with a specific focus on Powered Two Wheelers (PTW) safety (predominately motorcycles and mopeds). When considering common transport modes, motorcyclists are regarded as the least safe, per kilometer of travel. They have similar vulnerabilities to pedestrians and bicycles, but have the added risk associated with higher levels of speed and acceleration. 

Shane presenting Manila

During a media interview in Manila (on 12th October, at the APRSO PTW Workshop), I was asked whether PTWs can be incorporated into the safe (road) system. It was a loaded question, as there are many people who think, given the high rate of crashes for motorcycles, that it is better to get people to change to safer modes, such as public transport and cars. I think this is the wrong question to ask, as I don’t see the numbers of PTWs dropping, since they are so affordable (compared with cars) and convenient to use for short trips. I believe the question should be: “How are we going to accommodate PTWs into the safe (transport) system?” This is the same question we need to ask for all current ‘vulnerable’ road users; including pedestrians, bikes, e-scooters and e-bikes. We need people-orientated streets and facilities where these road users are no longer  vulnerable.  

It is estimated that there are over 1 billion motorcycles in the world. For many people living in LMICs, motorcycles are the family vehicle. Even among those who can afford a car, some prefer motorcycles. In congested cities, motorcycles have shorter travel times, as they can often manoeuvre around congested areas for larger vehicles.

Motorcycles are also lower emitters than cars, especially larger cars and SUVs. So from a climate change perspective, motorcycles are a preferred transport mode, especially for shorter length trips.  So, if the high crash risk can be reduced, motorcycles could become a preferred mode to reduce carbon emissions, not just in SE Asia and Africa, but more widely throughout the world. We now also have options for e-bikes, e-scooters and powered skateboards, so it is highly likely there will be more PTWs and other forms of micro-mobility in the future.  Therefore, we need to design our cities and roads to safely accommodate these road users.

Addressing Major Crash Types

In Indonesia, the key fatal and serious injury crash types for motorcycles are head-ons and rear-ends. Many head-on crashes occur as a result of unsafe overtaking, often to avoid congestion or overtaking slower moving vehicles. Key treatments include adding medians (on 4-lane roads) and making roads one-way (where this is feasible). Where this is not feasible, due to costs or narrow road-width, then painted medians and no overtaking lines should ideally be applied to mid-blocks, even if only some vehicles comply – every little bit helps. At intersections, short sections of medians should still be applied.      

Designing roads to reduce rear-end crashes is challenging, especially in areas where PTWs dominate. The preferred approaches are:

  1. to reduce the amount of interaction between PTW and vehicles, and
  2. lower operating speeds so that any collisions are of lower severity. Ideally the collision impacts speeds should be less than 30km/h to avoid serious and fatal crashes, but at least below 50km/h, so that death is largely avoided.  

Along midblocks, a lower level of interactions can be achieved by providing inclusive bike lanes (exclusive bike lanes are often not suitable due to a high number of driveways and side-roads). Research indicates that slow and faster moving PTWs have a higher crash risk than PTWs travelling closer to the mean speed of vehicles – that higher differential speeds are a key issue in crashes. Bike lanes provide a space where slower PTWs (and some faster PTWs) can travel out of the mainstream of traffic. Indeed, an advantage of bike lanes is that larger vehicles are generally restricted to the all-vehicle traffic lanes. On roads with little lane marking and a wide single lane – vehicles and PTWs driving lines have little discipline, which can create rider surprise, when a larger vehicle alignment may shift.

At signalised intersections, PTW bike boxes have been found in many cases to reduce traffic conflicts (or near-misses), as PTWs can filter through the queued traffic and accelerate away before other vehicles when the green signal/light appears. This can be enhanced by providing bike lanes on an intersection approach and providing wider traffic lanes. The bikes boxes also enhance pedestrian safety as it reduces the occurrence of PTW waiting across the marked pedestrian crossing.  While the safety benefits of bike boxes in all conditions is still being assessed, it is a treatment that shows a lot of promise.    


Related blogs in this series:

Helping save lives on the roads in the Asia Pacific

Asia motorcycles crossing