“Where did you get your licence, a cereal box?”
So goes the famous aphorism, a line directed at line cutters, lane hogs and non-indicators on a daily basis.
Yes, it’s a jest, albeit an exercise in anomie and derision. The thing is though, if you were to shout that at a passing motorcyclist, you might just be closer to the truth than you might think.
Let’s take a quick step back before I take two forward. I’m a 27-year old Melbourne-based motoring journalist who until two weeks ago had no idea how to ride a motorcycle. How embarrassing.
I’ve always seen the appeal of crotch-rockets, felt the keening desire to jet around town on something two-wheeled. It’s a visceral and edgy way to get about.
And so I decided to finally do something about it. A spontaneous mouse click in some hotel room far from home, deep into the night, locking me in for an exercise of mind at HART.
HART – Honda Australia Rider Training – is a veritable one-stop shop for those rank amateurs wanting a fast track into the fast lane. A solitary day to get from go to whoa, the promise of a learner licence just a nine-hour course away.
An excellent service, might I add, one that held my figurative hand and took me from passive bystander to participant in the blink of an eye in the best way such a short amount of time allows.
But I have a minor bone to pick. Not with HART, but with the wider system in which it, and any number of other such services, operates. Because while I left with learner licence in hand, I also left with a bad taste in my mouth.
Notwithstanding the hilarity of seeing my 194cm frame on a 250cc tiddler, the humour in the day was for me of the blackest kind.
Should I really have received a piece of paper enabling me to ride a motorcycle on a public road? No booze in the blood and no pillion passengers aside, I am free to indulge in any LAMS-approved sub-660cc beast I could care for.
This is despite having riding experience that amounts to little more than a few hours of low speed laps, the odd J-turn and an emergency stop or three. Oh yes, and the ability to ride like a demon in a straight line at 10km/h.
My Vicroads licence test conducted at HART, in full accordance with the law, required me to perform an emergency stop, ride along in a straight line very slowly while staying upright and taking a pair of moderate left and right turns at any speed I chose.
This, coupled with a 30-question multiple choice test that I studied for over a glass of red the night before and yet passed with 29 right answers, got me that precious green piece of paper.
Something isn’t right with this picture. Do I seem ready to ride on the road? Really? Do I trust myself with my very limited abilities? Suffice to say that I’ll be sticking to the back roads. But the point is I don’t have to.
We talk about how the state of road craft in Australia is sub-par. Spend some time elsewhere and it’s as clear as day. Might it be a fair argument that it shouldn’t be so easy to get a licence?
I can’t help but feel that much of the problematic nature of Australian roads comes from a fundamental lack of training and understanding of anything beyond the very basics.
I generally consider motorcyclists to be a cut above drivers, with some notable exceptions, and given the heightened risk endemic to that mode of transport, skills need to be learned fast. The consequences are dire otherwise.
Motorcyclists have so many considerations to make and skills to hone that car drivers don’t have to bother with. You could write a whole chapter just on lane positioning. For this reason, I feel, riders become pretty good, pretty fast.
But it still makes me curious that I can hold a licence with such limited training. This was also very much the case when I got my car Ls in Western Australia in 2003, and then my Ps on my 17th birthday in 2004. It was a cakewalk then, and I was far from ready. Joys of hindsight.
Youngsters getting their car licences now have to drive many multiples the number of supervised hours I was required to. Back then it was 25, though state-by-state that figure is much higher today.
Yet either way, bike or car, things could be tightened up. It’s an old argument but one that still has legs. I don’t profess to have the expertise to prescribe a solution, but I do want to get a conversation going among you, the readers.
Ought it be harder to get a licence to control a vehicle on the roads, two-wheeled or four? And is the current licencing system culpable for some of the major issues out there with road safety? Tell us what you think.