Riders seem set to lose their battle against speed reductions on the Oxley Highway with the mountain section to decrease as much as 20km/h.
The details of the proposal have not yet been made public.
However, the Roads and Maritime Services told us their speed review along a 44km section of the Oxley Highway between Long Flat and Walcha is “being finalised”.
The review has been carried out in collaboration with key stakeholders including the Centre for Road Safety and NSW Police. In the six years to 2017, six people have lost their lives and more than 55 people injured along this section of the highway. In response to the high crash rate, additional safety measures will be announced in the coming weeks to complement improvements completed earlier this year including pull-over bays and the installation of satellite emergency phones.
Motorcycle Council of NSW secretary Steve Pearce says they were called to a meeting with the RMS last week to be told of the changes.
“It seems that RMS are determined to impose changes to speed limits on the Oxley without consultation with motorcycling or other transport bodies,” he says.
“Their justification is crash ‘data’, which is based on local Police feedback when they attend crash sites.
“What we need is a more accurate, robust method of determining and documenting why a crash occurs.
“Too often we are being told that speed is a factor, when there are so many other factors such as road condition, environmental factors, fatigue, mechanical failure, experience and training, weather etc and these factors are not being captured.
“My question is, how can we address motorcycle death and injury rates without robust accident causation data?”
Several local protestors and stakeholders have been invited to attend a meeting with the RMS to explain the changes.
It is believed the speed will drop by 20km/h on the mountain section to 80km/h.
Local rider Ken Healey who organised a protest and petition on the speed changes last year says the RMS asked him to set up a meeting with other stakeholders to hear about the changes.
Ken says his petition has attracted more than 10,000 signatures and local Mayor Peta Pinson is “all over it and right behind us in our campaign”.
“At the moment all I know is the RMS have said they want to put up 80km/h signs before Christmas,” he says.
“I don’t know the distances either side of Gingers Creek, however this is what the meeting is about.”
The speed review is part of a $60m plan to “improve safety” on the road. Read about the other measures here.
Speed review history
The history of the Oxley Highway speed review starts in July 2105 with the publication of the Oxley Highway Route Safety Review.
It found the highway had just over twice as high a casualty crash rate as other NSW country roads (30% v 14%).
Of the 415 casualties from 2008 to 2012 on the Oxley, the majority were drivers (49%), motorcyclists (24%) and motor vehicle passengers (21%).
Motorcycles were involved in 96 casualty crashes from 2008 to 2012 with one fatal in 2013.
Just over three quarters (78%) of all motorcycle injury crashes involved a single vehicle and more than half (56%) of the riders involved were locals.
The review made 14 recommendations including removing roadside hazards, adjusting barriers, better line-marking, improving the road, expanding mobile phone coverage and an education campaign particularly targeting riders.
It also recommended reviewing speed zones.
Guess which won!
In September 2016, temporary electronic signs were installed warning motorists of speed changes which included dropping the speed limit to 60km/h from 100km/h on the mountain stretch.
That triggered protests by riders and many local business operators and residents concerned about delays and impact on businesses with a subsequent drop of riders and tourists.
The speed battle included a petition and protest meetings.
In response, the RMS decided to review their speed review and promised a decision by Christmas 2016.
Meanwhile, a reshuffle of the NSW ministry resulted in the Member for Oxley, Melinda Pavey, scoring the roads portfolio.
Consequently the speed review was postponed and the RMS has been promising it is being finalised for the past 11 months.
Pavey’s office says they have no comment to make “at this stage”.
Now it seems the speed battle is lost and the review is imminent. However, speed reductions may be less than initially planned. It’s a compromise that doesn’t seem to satisfy anyone!
The Oxley seems doomed to join several other great motorcycle roads in Australia with reduced speed limits.
The infamous list includes Mt Glorious Rd, The Great Ocean Rd, The Putty Rd, Bells Line Of Road and The Great Northern Rd.
The 450km highway runs east-west from Port Macquarie on the NSW central coast through Tamworth to Coonabarabran.
It includes 160km of “motorcycle nirvana” from Wauchope over the ranges to Walcha.
Veteran motorcycle journo Mick Matheson says the Oxley Highway is a road all riders should travel at least once in their lives.
He produced this video extolling its virtues.
“There are about 300 corners, the traffic is usually light, and the experience covers more than just the ride because of the character of the places you visit along the way,” he says.
The Oxley is so popular with riders, the town of Wauchope has declared itself motorcycle friendly.
Last weekend they held their first annual Moto Fest, attracting more than 1000 riders and more than 180 bikes in the show and shine.