Blue Line


March 3, 2016  By Dave Stewart

1415 words – MR

Support your 1%er

by Dave Stewart

Okay, now that I have your attention I really don’t mean the usual 1%er biker. Working traffic, I was always the first to legally stop them, find anything I could that was wrong with their bike and the reason the rider was on ‘our’ roads flaunting club colours.

I’m referring to the one per cent or less of motorcycle riders who work to promote safety in a national program each May. These ‘bikers,’ a special group of riders and organizations, take part in an awareness program known as “Ride Safe to Ride Again.”

This month long program, still under construction as I write, is designed to promote safety both on and off road. It usually kicks off with a meeting with federal ministers in Ottawa, then branches out to all provincial and territorial jurisdictions, with hundreds of motorcycle enthusiasts riding out to spread the safety message – a daunting task.

The messages are directed not only to new, inexperienced and returning older riders but, more importantly, to car drivers who treat motorcyclists like road kill. As a rider for many decades I encounter many four wheel drivers each year with non-existent visual skills, except for a constant view of their iPhone as they text or call their BFF. I have also fallen victim to one of the dreaded ‘left turning drivers.’ Also impaired, this person put my police career on hold for two years by turning into my path.

Why should we be concerned for ‘bikers’ when hundreds of pedestrians each year walk blindly out into moving traffic? Recent police enforcement for pedestrian safety is important and more work is needed to prevent these needless deaths – but the increasing number of motorcyclist deaths in recent years has been completely ignored.

Motorcycles represent only about two per cent of all registered motor vehicles on our roads but account for eight per cent of all vehicular road deaths. If this is not enough to justify at least some police education/enforcement action, there is another simple answer.

The majority of these riders are innocent victims. The United Nations has categorized them as “vulnerable road users,” similar to pedestrians and cyclists, deserving of special world road safety initiatives for a 10 year period.

I must admit that a minority of riders, either through radical excessive speed and/or alcohol and drug use, can also be Darwinian in nature. I have great sympathy for those who survive these people and feel a sense of failure that I, in previous years of enforcement and with others today, failed to better educate them on how they could prevent their untimely deaths.

It would be foolish to say we can prevent all deaths, however one of the most important police functions is to prevent loss of life – and I contend that road deaths are as important as those caused by firearms or other weapons.

In recent years the importance of traffic services within certain agencies has taken a lower priority due to financial constraints and media attention on ‘newer’ issues such as race relations and social unrest.

The safety program planned for this year needs cooperation from many other people and police services to be effective. Last year at least one agency – the Ontario Provincial Police – made an outstanding contribution by staging a day long motorcycle safety event at one of Toronto’s largest shopping malls. The event was headed by the prestigious OPP Golden Helmets precision riding team under the leadership of Sgt. Lise Grenier. I hope it becomes an annual event.

The reason why all Canadian police services should get involved in promoting road safety for motorcycles can be found in annual statistics released by Transport Canada (TC) and speciality reports issued by our famous Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF).

I should apologize for using fatality figures as we also need to remember and consider the thousands of riders each year brutally injured by other vehicles. However, as a realist I know that all motorcycle injuries cannot be prevented, but, after testifying several times in Coroners Court and studying the follow-up recommendation of several cases, I believe we owe it to the deceased to do our best to prevent future casualties.

Before entering a traffic safety program you have to research statistics to view the major areas of concern. Canada has a great national motorcycle training program, “Gearing Up” has been run for decades by the Canada Safety Council and emulated by many others in provincial programs. In the vast majority of jurisdictions we also have adequate graduated licensing laws for new riders to try to prevent collisions and spills during those first inaugural years of riding. We do not need more restrictive laws, we need more effective pro-active enforcement.

The latest TC national figures show 197 riders were killed in 2013, 15 per cent more than the previous year. Of these deaths, 25 (13 per cent) of riders were female, a figure much higher than the proportion of females actually riding.

Age involvement also confirms a recent multi-year OPP regional study of road deaths showing that more middle aged riders are involved in fatal collisions. TC figures also show middle aged riders accounting for the majority of deaths – 58 per cent were between 30 and 55 years old. It has been suggested that this is due to riders returning to take up motorcycling again having obtaining their ‘M’ licence many years ago. They want to ‘get back in the saddle’ without a rider refresher course or re-license restrictions.

Many of the deaths in the OPP study also involved mature males who drank prior to their deaths, even though millions of dollars have been spent on alcohol education. This is especially disconcerting since these males should know that drinking even a little and driving a car is nowhere near the same as operating a two wheeled motor vehicle which demands balance, coordination and good judgement while on the road.

Two decades ago riders under 25 were a major concern but they now only account for 13 per cent of deaths and only one was female. This shows a major change in rider demographics and thus our education and enforcement has to change to reflect this.

Other factors have remained relatively unchanged for decades. Forty per cent of deaths involved only the rider, usually by loss of control and/or excessive speeding, the vast majority (31 out of 79) ran off the roadway onto the right shoulder area. Of the remaining multi-vehicle collisions it was no surprise that 40 per cent were due to a vehicle turning left in front of the rider.

A very recent study* by the Motorcyclists Confederation of Canada (MCC) found that the overall economic impact of Canada’s 772,000 riders was $2.68 billion in 2014.

A national motorcycle safety strategy published a few years ago had many innovative and progressive ideas to reduce risk. It included many educational and enforcement recommendations but appears to have stalled, perhaps due to inadequate funds or unwilling partners.

Two national rider groups issue annual calls for action and it is hoped that many of those forward looking recommendations will see the light of day, now targeted for the end of 2020. The three major jurisdictions for motorcycles, and consequently rider deaths, are British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. If even one jurisdiction and its police agencies enthusiastically work on this safety program, we could change public and police attitudes about road safety.

The only way we can hope to reduce ‘left turners’ is through better enforcement and education of car drivers. Active, responsible enforcement by police targeting riders who still insist on unnecessary speed and/or drinking and riding will also reduce casualty figures.

More than 40 per cent of all motorcycle fatalities are preventable. Independent motorcycle groups and individuals are working to increase safety but they need police help to make their work effective.

This is also a call to you, the individual police officer who cares about road safety, to help spearhead the work by encouraging your department to have a motorcycle safety program this year. If this fails, as it may well do, you can still help; don’t ignore the car driver who turns left in front of you.

If the person did it to you in a car, he/she is likely to do it with me on my bike – and then I may not be here next year to rant about motorcycle safety!

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