The road safety expert who advocates wire rope barriers, lower speed limits and mandatory hi-vis vests for riders, and alcohol interlocks and electronic rider aids on bikes has been honoured with a special award.
UNSW Sydney Professor Raphael Grzebieta has been honoured with the 2019 Kenneth A Stonex award in recognition of his lifetime contribution to reducing run-off-road injuries and transport deaths worldwide.
He also says speed limits throughout Australia are “much too high” and in some circumstances should be 80km/h on highways and 40km/h in cities.
But one of his most controversial stances — particularly among motorcyclists — is his support for wire rope barriers.
The self-proclaimed “world authority on motorcycle-into-barrier impacts” says “riders killed in barrier impacts is less than 1% of all road fatalities” and “around 5-6% of all motorcycle fatalities”.
“In other words, any changes to current designs of road barriers will have almost no effect on reducing rider fatalities and serious injuries,” he says.
The annual Stonex award was presented by the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Transportation Research Board’s (TRB’s) Roadside Safety Design Committee AFB20.
It honoured the Prof for “identifying the leading causes of roadside fatalities and injuries and developing mitigation techniques using full-scale crash testing and computer simulation”.
The Professor says he has “long advocated for installing nation-wide wire-rope barriers”.
“When wire-rope barriers are installed with rumble strips on rural roads, there is an 80 to 90% reduction in fatalities and serious injuries,” he says. Sweden halved their fatalities when they installed these barrier systems in 2000.
“Victoria has now installed 1200km of wire-rope barriers on rural roads to reduce their rising fatality count in 2016. They just recorded their lowest ever road fatality count (in 2018).
“Other states and in particular NSW are still lagging behind terribly. They are simply not investing the same scale of money to have a real effect on deaths and serious injuries.”
Victoria’s road toll in 2018 was 214, compared with 259 in 2017 and 290 in 2016 when they started installing wire-rope barriers, he says.
The Prof says the barriers have been controversial with motorcyclists because of misinformation.
They have also supported a petition by widow Jan White, whose husband, Phil, aged 60, died when his bike unavoidably hit a dead kangaroo on a 110km/h slightly sweeping bend of the Calder Highway in Victoria on November 5, 2017.
Phil hit four support poles on the WRBs next to the road.
Critics of WRBs say they are positioned too close to the roadside and prevent drivers and riders from pulling over in an emergency our breakdown.
Prof Grzebieta helped launch a $1 million project examining motorcycle impacts into roadside barriers and how motorcyclists could be better protected in collisions, particularly with W-beam barriers.
“We disproved all of the myths promulgated by motorcyclists, providing strong support for continued installation of these lifesaving barrier systems,” he says.
“Sweden saw a 40 to 60% reduction in motorcycle fatalities.”
However, WRBs are banned in Belgium and Norway, not supported by the Netherlands government and have never been used in Germany or other European countries, except Poland, Iceland, Romania, Sweden and the UK to a lesser extent.
Professor Grzebieta also says the award recognises his research into the reduction of speed limits on highways, suburban and high pedestrian active streets.
“The speed limits throughout Australia, in particular NSW, WA and NT, are much too high,” he says.
“In NSW, the limit on parts of the Newell highway are 110km/h where there are no barriers installed. The speed should be reduced to the survivable limit of 80km/h unless median and roadside barriers have been installed.
“Also the speed limit in residential streets, the CBD and high pedestrian active areas should be 40km/h, preferably 30km/h, in line with best practise European countries that have half the Australian fatality rates,” he says.
“The Australian default speed limit for suburban roads is currently set at 50km/h.”
In a paper he co-wrote with his UNSW Sciences colleague Professor Jake Olivier, presented two weeks ago at the TRB’s annual meeting where Professor Grzebieta received his award, Professor Grzebieta said the reduced speed limits he proposed were commonly used by countries such as Sweden, Netherlands and the UK, which had the world’s lowest road fatality rates.