I walk along the Avarua footpath at least three times a week, at different times, usually between the hours of 5pm and 10pm.
I think I have seen just about everything there has to be seen with people riding motorbikes on Maire Nui Drive during the 10 years or so that I have been walking through the main township.
I've seen guys doing wheelies; bikes travelling the wrong way on both sides; three riding on a bike (sometimes a child stands in front of the rider on a scooter); riders (including tourists) speeding and/or racing with other motorcyclists; bikes at night being ridden with no headlights and/or no rear lights; riders using their phones, wearing headphones, or filming while driving; bikers carrying speakers which are blasting out music, and even riders/passengers drinking alcohol.
I have even seen a guy lying on his back on the seat and controlling his bike with his feet!
I missed a fatal just minutes after walking past the BTIB offices one evening. I understand the motorcyclist was the only person involved in the “accident”.
Another fatal occurred on Ruatonga Road just before I went on my walk one evening in August last year.
Sometimes I wonder whether I am the only person who sees these things. The police have their headquarters on the main strip in Avarua but very little (apart from checkpoints) appears to have been done about what happens on our roads.
There have been no private members' bills/amendments presented to parliament so obviously our MPs don't appear to be concerned.
But as soon as the prime minister (who spends half his time on a plane) states his intention to amend the Transport Act to enforce compulsory wearing of safety helmets on motorbikes, all of a sudden the police have a lot to say and the opposition says it will support the amendments. (The opposition may as well go into coalition with the government!)
I believe the current law relating to safety-helmet use on motorbikes is sufficient and it does not need amendments. It even legislates for the use of helmets on bicycles!
Rather than rushing things through, government should look carefully at the Transport Act and put everything through a select committee process.
There are lots of things that one could look at to help improve driving.
Mobile phones and headphones are not the only things that can distract you while you are riding a bike. Smoking, filming on a digital camera or phone using a stick, drinking from a container, or carrying heavy, bulky items with the left hand, may hinder a rider's ability to control a bike.
There are innovations that the public (not just the politicians and unelected officials) could look at like reducing the speed that one can drive a bike without a helmet (35kph); providing visible signage displaying maximum speeds right around the island (do you know you can travel at 50kph past the Punanga Nui market on a Saturday morning?), or even consider the compulsory wearing of helmets from 7pm to 6am.
Or make it illegal to drive two-abreast to avoid queues.
I actually think that having three travelling on a bike (two adults and a child) should be permitted. But there should be conditions – everyone on the bike should wear a helmet (even the baby) and the bike should not travel more than 30kph.
I also believe that the period that someone has their licence suspended for a drink-driving offence which does not involve injury or damage to property, should be reduced to three months.
This might sound strange for someone like myself who does not drink alcohol. But I believe the punishment should be swift, as most of those who are affected by this are those who are not well-off and need their bike more than most (we can't all have free electric cars like the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister).
However a condition of this should be that the person should be named publicly, and that if that person is spotted driving by police then the punishment should be increased – via the courts – to 12 months.
It’s a bit like a person who breaches his/her probation conditions. You infringe after serving your initial punishment, then maybe you lose your licence altogether. It will make people think twice about drink-driving.
I'll never forget seeing a guy lose his licence in court and then seeing him the very next day on his motorbike. He was wearing a safety helmet so you couldn't see his face!
And the forgotten part in this safe-driving equation is the role of police.
Government needs to increase police numbers (and pay them well) so that they are able to enforce the law. If the police are out there in force, then you will see a change in attitude from those who use our roads.
Education and awareness is also very important. Pushing the sober driver message is one way of reducing drink-driving. Decrease the blood alcohol limit to zero. People can still have a good time. It's just that you can't drive afterwards.
I can remember my primary school days when police would come in and talk to pupils about road issues such as how to cross the road correctly. I still follow the advice given all those years ago. I always wear a white tee-shirt and face oncoming traffic when walking at night (except when on a footpath).
About three weeks ago, an oncoming motorcyclist, travelling towards Arorangi “overtook” a car, using the “bicycle lane” just outside the Bond Store in Ruatonga. I had to jump into the puddle right beside the road to get out of his/her way.
It was probably fortunate that I was facing the traffic, as if I was walking the opposite way (towards Arorangi), I would have been bowled over from behind by the idiot.
Why do so many people under the influence of alcohol or drugs continue to ride around on their motorbikes? Because in the Cook Islands, you can get away with it – especially on a Sunday afternoon/evening and Saturday mornings when there are no checkpoints)
Everything begins at home. If you can teach your own children about driving responsibly – even it means taking the keys off them – then it goes a long way towards keeping them and others safe on our roads.