Potentially Problematic Opinions Month: When It Comes To My Safety, I Don’t Care About Your Opinion
This rather late post [sorry!] is a part of Alex Neill’s Potentially Problematic Opinions Month, which you can read more about on her blog, Adventures in TV-Land. Throughout the month of August, I’ll be posting once a week about something vaguely “problematic” or “controversial”. Get in touch with Alex if you’d like to play along.
What does the typical motorcyclist or scooterist look like? A man in a leather vest with a long grey beard, perhaps. Or a mod with Pete Townshend’s hair cut, whose ride is kitted out with far too many unnecessary mirrors. Maybe it’s that twenty-something redhead who likes wearing jeans and band t-shirts – wait, no, it couldn’t be her. She couldn’t possibly know what she’s doing on a two-wheeled motor vehicle…
I’ve been riding my Vespa for more than two years now. That might not seem like much, but I’ve passed practical and safety tests – one for my learner’s permit, and another for my full license. I own multiple helmets, and different types of leathers. My gloves cost more money than my favourite pair of boots. I’m a regular commuter, and I’m confident [and safe] on the road. So why do people continually try to lecture me about motorcycle safety? Maybe it’s because I’m young, or because I’m female. Maybe it’s a combination of the two. But either way, I’ve had enough. It’s time for this to stop.
In order to obtain a motorcycle license in Victoria, you need to complete a series of tests. First you need to earn your learner’s permit, by completing a written test [based on road rules and motorcycle safety], and a practical test [to prove that you can successfully operate a motorbike/scooter]. For the record, I passed this test on my first try. One of the older, more experienced riders in my class didn’t. He forgot to indicate.
Once you’ve held your learner’s permit for a minimum of 3 months [maximum 15], you can complete your license test. I elected to do my license test in a class, where we spent one half of the day learning safe riding techniques, and the other half completing the practical aspect of the exam. The way the license test works, is that you complete a series of tasks, including emergency stops and swerves. You’re awarded points based on your errors, and as long as you finish with a total of less than 40, you pass. According to one of the instructors, in order to qualify as license instructor, you need a score of less than 20. I got 16. Two people in my class failed. Noticing a pattern here?
Last week, I was at the post office to collect a parcel. Feeling lazy, and knowing that I’d be in and out almost immediately, I didn’t bother to take off my [open-faced] helmet. One of the men in the queue behind me felt the need to comment on this, telling me that I should only ever wear a full-faced helmet, and that the buckles on my shoes were unsafe. I responded politely that I knew the risks, and tried to end the conversation, but this man insisted on reminding me to be safe. I stayed calm and polite, but inside I was seething. Isn’t it rude to walk up to a stranger and tell them that they’re doing things wrong? My supposed lack of safety precautions was not affecting him in the slightest. What right did he have to comment?
Well, according to the people on Twitter, he had every right. As I was posting on @WeMelbourne last week, I used this incident as an example of how frustrating it is to be a young female rider, constantly judged and criticised by people. Instead of agreeing with me, those who engaged in the conversation chose to lecture me, just like that man did. Don’t I know that accidents can happen even when you’re just nipping down to the shops? Don’t I realise that full-faced helmets are much safer than open-faced ones? Do I understand that most motorcycle accidents aren’t caused by the rider themselves, but by other people on the road?
Of course I know all of these things. I am fully aware of any and all safety risks that come with riding a Vespa. And here’s a confession: sometimes I’m not as safe as I could be. But does that give a stranger the right to comment? No. I don’t think that it does. Do I walk up to strangers in supermarket car parks to remind them to put on their seatbelts when they get into the car? No, I don’t. When a friend calls me, excited, because he/she just got their Ps [for a car], do I immediately remind them to drive with both hands on the wheel, and not to let their passengers distract them? No, I don’t.
On that note, do people lecture cyclists as often as they do motorcyclists? Because the amount of people I’ve seen riding pushbikes in sundresses without helmets far outweighs the number of people on scooters or motorbikes who don’t wear full leathers. I think riding a bicycle without a helmet is a completely ridiculous and unsafe thing to do. Still, it’s not my place to say anything. If that person has chosen to take that risk, then that’s their choice. I have no right to tell them otherwise.
It doesn’t matter who you are; it’s not your place to comment on somebody’s motorcycle safety. It’s rude, and frankly, I find it insulting. I’m a qualified, licensed motorcycle rider, yet on a regular basis I find myself belittled by others [both “experienced” riders, and people who’ve never even sat on a bike], and lectured about safety. It’s time for this to stop. I’m an adult. I know the risks. Leave me alone.