We have so many things to appreciate in Suffolk – great scenery, superb food and drink, acres of space and many beautiful market towns and villages. It’s therefore not surprising that we are attracting an ever-increasing number of visitors to the county.
One group of visitors that we are attracting in greater numbers are motorcyclists. Although I am no a biker I do know people who really enjoy riding motor bikes as a hobby and for their daily business; in fact, our own Chief Constable is a qualified police motorcyclist and a keen biker.
It’s easy to see why bikers are attracted to our fabulous country roads particularly here in the west of the county – a combination of straight runs and twists and turns add real variety and, as I said, the scenery is second to none. However, there is a major area of concern that I want to share with you and that is the number of road deaths that have taken place this year in the county.
Over the past years the number of serious road accidents across Suffolk has been steadily declining – which is a great achievement. Sadly this year we have already had 26 fatalities and of those five were motorcyclists. Each one is a terrible tragedy for the individual, their family and friends. We must do whatever we can to try to resume the positive trend in road safety and as the Police and Crime Commissioner I must try and help deliver improvements not just for visitors but for residents who rely on their motorbikes for their livelihood.
At our recent Suffolk Roadsafe meeting, which is attended by police, fire, the county council and the Highways Agency, we specifically discussed the motorcycle fatality rate. This was partly due to the release of the video produced by the Suffolk and Norfolk Roads Policing Unit; it showed the actual moment that David Holmes sadly lost his life on the A47 when a car pulled out in front of him whilst he was travelling at 98mph, some 60 per cent higher than the legal speed limit. The message for all road users is excessive speed can kill, as can poor driving. We must all understand that any vehicle is potentially a lethal weapon and every single one of us can always improve our driving ability.
There are a lot of motorcyclists in Suffolk, our motorcycle rider rate is 10 per cent higher than the national average – probably due to our rural location and lack of public transport coupled with the cost of motoring.
We cannot sit by and do nothing and hope the problem disappears so we will be starting some new initiatives later this year. Inaction is not an option. I have identified funding of £180,000 to help improve road safety and a significant proportion of this will be used on trying to reduce the number of motor cycling accidents.
It seems to me that there are opportunities to keep our resident bikers safer and we have some initiatives we are about to launch. We have already funded some motorcycle courses free of charge through our community safety fund. To date, 40 bikers have attended training courses and have gone on to take the RoSPA and SAM courses.
The county council is considering a route-based speeding strategy to identify A and B roads where the speed limits need reducing. At the same time the constabulary has been asked to improve enforcement, backed by a publicity campaign to improve rider awareness and safety which includes a Suffolk wide ‘Think Bike’ campaign that I have funded in conjunction with BBC Radio Suffolk and Mark Murphy.
I am particularly interested in supporting a Rider Intervention and Developing Experience course for motorcyclists. Similar to the driver awareness courses for speeding drivers, this would be offered to riders who would otherwise receive penalty points for inappropriate riding but can attend the course instead. The one-day theory course aims to create a positive and responsible approach to motorcycling and effects change by developing perceptions of other road users, hazard awareness and cognitive testing. I do know that when I took my Institute of Advanced Motoring Test earlier this year it definitely had a positive influence on my driving and was well worth the effort.
I am certain that if we all work together we can make Suffolk’s roads even safer for all our residents, visitors and businesses. Let’s get on with it.