A hidden bump that caused the death of a rider and his pillion may not have been detected by VicRoads because it scans roads in a four-wheeled vehicle, not on a motorcycle.
The Victorian Coroner’s Court did not find VicRoads culpable for the deaths of Mark Rodgers, 47, and partner Jodi Walsham, 42.
However, Coroner Paresa Spanos recommended VicRoads improves training of its inspectors to be aware of vulnerable riders and promote its hotline to report road hazards.
VicRoads accepted the recommendations and pointed out that in February 2019 it announced specialised motorcycle hazard training for road inspection crews.
However it did not agree to inspect the roads on motorcycles.
In March 2015, Mark was riding his 2007 Harley-Davidson Softail on the Great Alpine Road with partner Jodi as his pillion and another couple following on a 2007 Fat Bob.
Mark rounded a blind left-hand bend after the Devil’s Backbone and hit a bump or “shove” that knocked the bike off course into the path of an oncoming marked Victoria Police Nissan Patrol four-wheel drive.
The bike hit the bullbar and went under the vehicle, bursting into flames. Mark and Jodi could not be revived and sadly died at the scene.
Bump to blame
Coroner Paresa Spanos heard that the Softail had rounded the corner at more than the 45km/h advisory speed but less than the posted road speed limit of 80km/h.
The Coroner also heard that Honda Blackbird rider Martin Taylor hit the same bump the previous day, fell off his bike and slid across the road.
Martin survived because there were no oncoming vehicles.
Police did not attend the accident and the bump was not reported to VicRoads.
The bump was described by Justin Ezard who was following Mark on a Fat Bob as being like “a mini ramp”.
“It appeared about three foot long, six inches wide and six inches high,” he told the Coroner’s Court.
“It was big and it would not have been any fun to hit it at a faster speed.
“I didn’t lose control when I bit the bump as I hit it ‘dead-on’. It was just the slam when you hit it.”
Despite police not providing evidence of Mark’s bike hitting the bump, Coroner Spanos found the bump caused the accident and highlighted the “particular vulnerability of motorcycle riders to irregularities in the road surface”.
The Coroner said VicRoads had the responsibility to “inspect, maintain and repair” the arterial road, but had not identified the bump as a hazard to riders.
“This state of affairs would seem to speak to inherent limitations in the current inspection regime with its reliance on a four-wheeled vehicle traversing the roadway that its ill-equipped to discern road conditions that may be more problematic for a two-wheeled vehicle.”
While VicRoads promises to train its inspectors to look out for specific motorcycle road hazards, it has not made any mention of scanning the roads on a motorcycle.
Four-wheeled vehicles can easily detect potholes and bumps in the wheel tracks.
However, only motorcycles can detect these hazards when they lie in between the wheel tracks.
Therefore, authorities need to send out inspectors on motorcycles, rather than in cars.
It is also important for riders to report road hazards to authorities. They may be cynical that they will be fixed, but at least there will be an official record of the report.