‘Harry’s Law’: Grieving mum lobbies for better motorbike training

An Adelaide Hills mother whose son was killed in a motorbike crash four months ago is lobbying the State Government and other MPs for an overhaul of the licensing system to provide better training for new riders.

Feb 03, 2021, updated Feb 03, 2021
A memorial for Harry at the site of his accident.
Photo: Anne-marie Taplin

A memorial for Harry at the site of his accident. Photo: Anne-marie Taplin

Her crusade has the backing of a group of motorcycle safety advocates who say it’s time to change the “appalling” system causing carnage on our roads.

Anne-marie Taplin’s 19-year-old son Harry Taplin-Barton – who she says was a “careful rider” – was killed in October when his bike hit a tree in the Adelaide Hills.

Harry – a “shy, career-minded” carpentry apprentice – was one of 21 people killed on motorbikes in South Australia last year.

His mum believes a kangaroo or another vehicle may have caused him to lose control and hit the tree.

She was shocked to learn that Harry was required to complete only 10 hours of training in a “carpark” and then “let loose on our roads under any conditions – gravel, rain, darkness, heavy traffic”.

Taplin has written a letter to Road Safety Minister Vincent Tarzia and other MPs urging change to the training required for people to get a motorbike licence.

The letter is co-signed by the Motorcycle Riders Association SA, the Ulysses Club and a highly experienced motorcycle riding trainer, Trudy Martin, who have been calling for change for years.

The State Government introduced legislation to Parliament in November to reform motorcycle licensing and protect our most vulnerable road users.

The proposed changes include raising the minimum age for a learner’s permit from 16 to 18 with some exceptions, banning passengers and vehicle-towing for learners and imposing a late-night curfew for learners.

The minimum age for a provisional licence – would also be increased from 17 to 19.

But Taplin and her supporters say the proposed changes are not enough – and more needs to be done to better train inexperienced riders in the first place, particularly in dealing with hazards and changing conditions on the road.

They’re urging Tarzia to meet with them to discuss the reforms “with a view to passing them in Parliament before mid-2021”.

Taplin sees her activism as “campaigning for Harry’s Law”.

“I’m doing this to honour Harry,” she told InDaily, describing his death as “devastating”.

“If he’d been prevented from riding for that little bit longer and if he’d had the training that he should have had, and that I thought he was having, then I’d like to say he probably would be alive today.

“If not Harry, then tens of other people could have been saved.

“Time is of the essence. I don’t think it’s unrealistic for a bill to be passed before mid-year, so that’s my goal.”

In her letter to Tarzia, Taplin writes that the current “appalling” training system “failed my son, as it failed his family, workmates and friends”.

“Harry forms part of the devastating police statistics of young men who hit stationary objects,” she writes.

“This cohort has been increasing in recent years, noted six years ago after the Motorcycle Reference Group, and the University of Adelaide’s Centre for Automotive Safety’s study recommended urgent changes were needed to protect our new riders from death and serious injury on our roads.”

Taplin writes that data shows “15% of lives lost on South Australian roads are motorcycle riders, a group that also comprises 19% of serious injuries – despite motorcycles only accounting for 4% of vehicle registrations”.

“Another alarming statistic is that between 2019–2019, there was a 12% increase in young rider serious casualties, despite the number of riders reducing,” she writes.

“In 2020, there was also an increase of fatal crashes to young riders under the age of 30 years to 52% from 41% the previous year.”

She’s calling for “a better system for education and training for new motorcycle riders to match – at the very least – the system for car drivers”.

“I say ‘at the very least’, because motorcycles are clearly more risky to ride, having no protection around them,” she writes.

“My son Harry was wearing a helmet and appropriate protective gear that all met Australian Standards, and yet no amount of wearable protection could have saved him from his untimely end. Our fragile bodies are no match for an ancient redgum.”

Taplin argues what could have saved Harry was a “system that encouraged lifelong learning on a motorcycle”.

The group is calling for:

  • a mandated on-road training component equivalent to the car learners’ system that focuses on gradually acquiring skills, and educating riders to consider their actions and repercussions
  • dedicated training in adverse conditions and events (covering topics such as road surface, weather conditions, animals and other traffic)
  • overhauling the government-run ‘RiderSafe’ program to encourage innovation, on-road training and a system that focuses on competency, not a ‘factory, churn-through’ approach
  • a mentoring scheme where experienced riders can assist new riders to put their skills into practice – potentially a voluntary component.

Taplin writes “we owe it to our children and young people to firstly, educate, train and inform, and secondly, mandate via legislation reforms to protect this cohort to the same extent as we do car drivers”.

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“There have already been at least two motorcycle fatalities in 2021, and we are only… weeks into the new year. We would like to see a bipartisan approach from both sides of Parliament to pass this legislation with great urgency, before more South Australians are needlessly killed,” she writes.

Taplin told InDaily the reforms were “completely reasonable and I can’t see why both sides of government would not agree with this”.

She said it would be “insulting” if the changes she and her fellow-campaigners are calling for were not introduced.

A month before Harry’s accident, he was nominated as a finalist in the 2020 Murraylands Training and Employment apprentice of the year awards.

“He absolutely loved his job,” his mum said.

“His employer… said at Harry’s memorial service that he was the best employee they’d ever had.

“They nominated him for two apprentice of the year awards for the Hills and Murray Mallee region. He ended up being awarded a finalist two weeks after he was killed.”

Harry Taplin-Barton at work.
Photo: Murraylands Training and Employment

Motorcycle Riders Association SA road safety officer Ebi Lux told InDaily Taplin was “an incredible lady to have the strength to come out on this”.

“She sees there’s a massive deficiency and it needs to be addressed,” he said.

“We’re throwing learners out there with no experience.”

Lux said the Government’s proposed reforms only address “one portion of the problem” but much more needed to be done to better train new riders on roads, in all kinds of conditions, before handing them a licence.

“I think the Government’s inactivity is deplorable,” he said.

“It’s very disappointing that the legislation has been sitting around for close to three years… in the meantime, more and more young riders have been dying on the roads.

“I just wish that we could get this sorted out because in the meantime learner riders will continue to die and I think unnecessarily so.”

In a statement, Tarzia said his office would be in contact with Taplin “over her concerns”.

“We will examine the ideas suggested by Ms Taplin and are currently considering a report by KPMG into further on-road training for riders,” Tarzia said.

“The Marshall Liberal Government is dedicated to road safety and protecting all road users including motorcyclists.

“We know motorcyclists are over-represented in the number of deaths and serious injuries on South Australian roads.

“Any life lost is a tragic reminder of the vigilance needed on our roads to make it home safely.”

Tarzia said the Government’s legislation was “based on the recommendations of the expert report provided by the Centre for Automotive Safety Research (CASR)”.

“It is strengthened by input from key road safety stakeholders, motorcycle groups and industry representatives,” he said.

“Extra time was taken in June 2020 to conduct further in-depth consolation because of the significance of the proposed changes. This carefully considered reform could not be rushed.

“Work to progress the motorcycle Graduated Licensing Scheme continued despite the COVID-19 pandemic. It was unfortunate that not all organisations responded during consultation.

“We continue to look at ways to improve road safety and want to see this Bill pass Parliament as soon as possible to save lives.”

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