HUDDERSFIELD Labour candidate Barry Sheerman has made peace with the town’s motorcyclists – but they’re not offering him a lift just yet.
As an MP he incurred the wrath of bikers when he called motorcycles “widow-makers” and “orphan-makers”, prompting a furious backlash leading to a “clear-the-air” meeting at the Field Head pub in Quarmby.
They had accused him of being out of touch with the reality of biking and, worse still, using incorrect figures relating to deaths on the road.
Speaking before taking questions from the crowd, the Labour candidate said: ““I know I irritate some people, but when I entered Parliament I got involved in one of the least ‘sexy’ subjects and that was road safety.”
He said he was among MPs who were instrumental in making seatbelts compulsory, moving on to become director and chairman of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS).
He added: “The reason I’m here and the reason you’re all annoyed with me is I have raised stats showing a rising curve of deaths on motorcycles.
“I freely confess that the way I put it ... sometimes the words come out not as well as you would like.
“The phrasing may have irritated you, but since 1950 there have been 53,697 deaths on motorcycles – more than 20,000 of them since 1979.
“If I accepted this was something we couldn’t do something about I couldn’t look you in the eye.”
Acting as chair of the meeting, Nich Brown of the Huddersfield Motorcycle Action Group said the figures Mr Sheerman had used to make his claims were riddled with errors, because they included bicycles.
He produced figures proving that rather than rising, deaths on bikes had decreased consistently from a peak in 2003.
Further still, he pointed out that as the amount of motorcycle traffic had increased by a third over 10 years, the casualty rate had in fact lowered.
He said: “Most of the people in this room who use bikes are also car drivers. We don’t see a lot of proposals for motorcycle safety and reducing our vulnerability – this should be a more detailed part of the driving test.
“Is there anything you could suggest that would do something to reduce rider accidents without putting the focus on riders who are most likely the victims?”
Mr Sheerman said road design had to play a key part in safety, and added that one police officer had told him that just as the very young had difficulty judging distance and speed, this problem returned when drivers became more elderly.