An ad hoc task force is to be formed to monitor and evaluate the behaviors of riders of heavy motorcycles for one year, with the results to be used to determine whether they would be allowed to ride on national freeways, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) said yesterday.
The announcement came after the ministry convened a meeting yesterday morning to discuss the possibility of opening all freeways to motorcyclists riding bikes with engine volumes larger than 550cc.
Officials from government agencies, transportation experts, representatives from motorbike rights groups and bus and cargo transport association representatives were invited to attend the meeting.
People riding heavy motorcycles are only allowed to ride on expressways and National Freeway No. 3A, despite an amendment to the Road Traffic Management and Penalty Act (道路交通管理處罰條例) in 2010 that allowed them to ride on freeways at sections and time periods determined by the MOTC.
Although heavy motorcycle riders have for years been asserting they have the right to access all freeways, the ministry has rejected their petitions, citing objections from the public and local governments.
Yesterday’s meeting came after thousands of motorcyclists held a rally on Saturday calling for the ban to be lifted and for the ministry’s evaluation period for heavy motorcycle riders to be halved from a year to six months.
Participants reached a consensus on several matters, Department of Railways and Highways section head Michael Tsao (趙晉緯) said.
The National Freeway Bureau should quickly form an ad hoc team to evaluate the riders’ behavior, he said, adding that members of the team should include independent transportation experts, road authorities and representatives from different organizations representing the rights of different types of road users.
Second, members of the team should discuss the standards whereby riders are to be evaluated, Tsao said, including the number of fatal accidents caused by the riders and the number of traffic law violations and illegal acts committed by motorcyclists as reported by the police.
The illegal acts include frequently swerving in and out of traffic, overtaking other vehicles or changing lanes without following proper procedures, riding beside another vehicle in the same lane, riding on the freeway shoulders, failing to follow traffic signs or signals and failing to keep a safe distance.
The team could also add more standards to its evaluation, he said.
The team would monitor the riders from the surveillance cameras installed along Freeway No. 3A and Highway No. 64 from this month until June 30 next year, Tsao said.
Results of the team’s evaluations are to be reviewed every four months, he said, adding that they would be compared with those of small passenger vehicle drivers.
The ministry is supposed to represent public interests, MOTC Deputy Minister Chi Wen-chung (祈文中) said, adding that the observation period is needed to collect objective data.
If the riders meet the standards set for them and prove that they do not commit more traffic law violations than small passenger vehicle drivers, the National Freeway Bureau could then choose the freeway sections on which it would allow the motorcyclists to ride, Chi said.
The choice of freeway sections would only include those with low traffic volume, low diversity of vehicles and expectedly fewer heavy motorcycles, he said, adding that they would be permitted to ride on the freeways in October next year if everything proceeds smoothly.
The quarterly review is to let motorcyclists know the behavioral issues they need to address, Chi said, adding that it would also help the ministry identify the safety risks when heavy motorcycles and small passenger vehicles share freeways.
The results would also be disclosed online for public review, Chi said.
Representatives for the riders argued in the meeting that the ministry deprives riders of their right to access the freeways because a few people violated traffic regulations, Chi said.
“This is a public policy and motorcyclists must persuade other road users that their safety would not be compromised. The first step that motorcyclists should take is to find ways to overcome the barrier set by the administrative authority to control safety risks,” Chi said.
A survey conducted by the Research, Development and Evaluation Commission of the Executive Yuan last year showed that 63.1 percent of Taiwanese opposed allowing heavy motorcyclists ride on freeways.
Meanwhile, 23.9 percent said that freeways should be open to motorcyclists under some conditions, whereas only 6.7 percent said all restrictions set for motorcyclists to access the freeways should be removed. About 6.2 percent had no definite position on the issue.
Surveillance tapes on Freeway No. 3A also showed that motorcyclists are more likely to engage in dangerous behavior than car drivers.
For example, in footage recorded between 7am and 8am during the Lantern Festival on Feb. 11, five out of 18 heavy motorcycles driving on Freeway No. 3A failed to keep a safe distance.
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