The Federation of European Motorcyclists’ Associations represents motorcycling organisations such as the British Motorcyclists’ Federation and Motorcycle Action Group across Europe. As general secretary, Dolf Willigers lobbies organisations on behalf of European riders, and his current focus is the way autonomous vehicles interact with motorcycles as well as urban mobility and emissions. Interview by Jill Boulton of Visorcat.
Describe your job as FEMA general secretary. What do you do from day to day and what are your responsibilities?
As general secretary I’m responsible for the daily business of FEMA. Our main task is lobbying: representing the European riders in Brussels at the European institutions, but also at other organisations. To do this properly we need to know what we are talking about. A large part of my time goes into reading, studying reports, stuff like that. On average two days a week I attend meetings in Brussels. That can be meetings of the Motorcycle Working Group that deals with filling in the parts of the motorcycle type approval framework regulation that is delegated to the European Commission, or events around road safety that are organised by other organisations. I’m there to have our voice heard, to show that we are still there, to get my knowledge up to date and to meet other people and exchange views with them.
How did you end up doing this job?
I was a volunteer (Board member) with MAG Netherlands for many years, I still am by the way. Some five years ago I decided to step out of the board and focus more on the content. I did so as editor of our magazine, as FEMA delegate, as substitute for our road safety officer etc. As editor I interviewed several MEPs. When FEMA decided to change course and focus more on the lobby work some people looked at me and asked me to apply for the job.
What is FEMA campaigning on at present?
Our main issues at the moment are ITS/C-ITS/autonomous driving cars, with a focus on Tesla, and the way these techniques are tested – or not – with motorcycles and other two-wheelers, urban mobility and emissions (you cannot separate this), and crash barriers.
What would you say is the biggest issue facing European motorcyclists at present?
Urban mobility and emissions. We are facing more and more restrictions in entering the cities and there is more to come. This happens while in fact we are part of the solution, not of the problem. But to convince the authorities, we have to work on our image and work at cleaner and more fuel-efficient motorcycles. We actively promote the development and use of electric motorcycles, while at the same time we claim freedom of choice and will always fight for that.
What do you think of autonomous vehicles?
In the end they can be beneficial for motorcyclists. Drivers get distracted as we see on the road every time. Machines are always focused. However, this only works if the systems work well, 100% reliable. What we see now is that systems very often fail to react properly to motorcycles. A very recent American study by John F. Lenkeit showed, that 41% of the tested forward collision warning systems did not respond adequately to motorcycles. 41%! But to be honest: really autonomous vehicles are something of the future, say 20 or 30 years. Do not underestimate the human brain. We still can do things computers cannot. Computers still cannot improvise and find solutions for unknown situations and that is something we have to do in traffic all the time.
What is FEMA’s stance on motorcycle safety?
I’m getting a bit tired of all those people telling us all the time that motorcycling is dangerous. When an accident happens of course you’re much more vulnerable than a car driver, we can’t deny that. To survive we have to avoid accidents. For us the best way to do that is proper training. The present system, with a staged entrance and the focus in testing technical skills, doesn’t help to make new riders good riders. We need better training with focus on risk perception and skills to stay out of trouble. And of course we must be saved from cars with distracted drivers, who rely too much on their poorly tested driver assistance systems.
OK, so how would you advise your fellow motorcyclists to stay alive while riding? Do you have ONE pearl of wisdom to pass on?
Stay focused and anticipate.
And what drives you to do what you do?
I have a passion for the road and everything that comes with that.
OK, so enough of the professional stuff! What bike(s) do you ride and why?
I have just one motorbike, a Honda Pan-European. I have this because I ride all year round and mainly long distance. From my home to Brussels is 130 kilometres and I ride that twice every week, next to other trips. Often with much luggage. It’s my main means of transport so it needs to be reliable too. Sometimes my wife comes with me riding pillion. On my former bike, an African Twin, she couldn’t manage this for a long time. Last June she rode over 4000 kilometres with me without any problems. The Pan fits all my demands.
What sort of riding do you do and where?
I use my bike the way most people use their car. It’s my main way of transport for the longer distance. This year I made a long trip around northern Europe to visit some of our member organisations and have some meetings. When I have meetings somewhere in Europe I try to go there on the bike. For leisure I prefer one of my push-bikes. In the environment where I live it’s more fun as there are some nice nature bicycle tracks. Also to stay healthy. I have a job with little exercise.
Anything else you would like to add?
Yes, all riders should stay united, no matter what kind of bike you ride or why you ride. And join your local organisation. We cannot do our job without the active support of the riders.
Thank you for this interview Dolf, and for the work you do for all motorcyclists. Ride safe!