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On Balance  

Dead man's curve

Our beautiful B.C. is a land of fantastical landscapes, of deep and winding valleys through steep and rugged mountainous terrain.

Those of us who love riding motorcycles are doubly blessed because our roadways, for the most part, follow those contours, up and down, twisting and turning, coiling back on themselves, endlessly fascinating and challenging.

Each turn or rise is a new vista, often a whole different topography, and every shift of shape drives us to deeper connection with our bikes and ourselves.

That’s the good part.

Not so good is when it all goes horribly wrong on one of those curves.  

In a moment, a heartbeat, we’re down and gone.

That particular moment has come this season for far too many riders in the Southern Interior. 

By my count, based on the media reports I can find, 13 riders have died of their injuries this year. Can’t tell how many more are badly injured, but from previous year statistics, at least 500.

I combed the media reports to find those numbers because we need to be able to talk about this year now, not two or three years from now, which is when the official statistics come out.

These aren’t just numbers we’re talking about. These are people, families, communities. In a river of pain. Right now.

So I want to be very, very careful here to be heard as a person who gives a damn about those people, and not just some wonk playing around with the numbers about their lives.

Before we go any further, let me introduce you to some other people who give a damn, and actually do something about it:

AIM, the Interior BC Association for Injured Motorcyclists, in a community near you, is a group of people who volunteer their time and energy to provide some help to downed riders and their families. They get out there and lend a real hand.

You can find them if you or somebody you know needs them, by phone or by e-mail:

250-306-4561; [email protected].

Go ahead. They’re the real deal.

Now, it’s cold and wet outside, and I’m happy about that, because what it means today there are fewer riders on the road, so fewer chances for another rider to be hurt or worse.

But “fewer” isn’t good enough.  

Relying on rain to wash away the problem is just daft.

I’m looking for zero. Zero fatalities on our roads.

Nothing else comes anywhere close to what I expect, and we should all expect for each other. That’s the plan, and Vision Zero is what it’s called, around the world.

You can look it up: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vision_Zero

The idea, originated in Sweden in the 1990s, is straightforward.

We need to stop accepting that some people will die, others be harmed for life, just trying to get from A to B.

Mobility is what we want from our transportation system, not death. And to get there from here, we need to stop kidding ourselves about what works, and what doesn’t, to create safety.

What works is a systematic way to deal with the problems of getting people safely from A to B, instead of just forever hectoring people to “straighten up and fly right."

That system, the “Safer Systems Approach” is based on a very clear-eyed, honest appraisal of the human being.

  • Fact: people make mistakes. All the time. That’s never going away. We can reduce error rates, but it’s ridiculous to base everybody’s safety just on the wild notion that we can somehow magically get
    100% of the road users, 100% of the time, to be 100% correct in their decisions and their actions.

For this reason, we need all the elements of our road system to make it possible for people to survive human error; to arrive alive in spite of it.

  • Fact: human beings aren’t built for hitting. If we’re hit too hard, we perish. This is a pretty major flaw in our design, but we’re not making any useful headway in genetically modifying our way to indestructibility.

For this reason, we need a road system that has designed-in limits to the amount of impact force a person will have to deal with when a mistake is made. The limit for pedestrians, for example, is very familiar.

Remember those reminders earlier this month about school zones? 30 kilometres an hour, right?

Why? If a car hits a person at that speed, they have about a 90% chance of living. At 40 k/hr, they’re five to six times more likely to die.

So, to get to Zero rider fatalities, we’re going to use a Safer System that works to reduce riders’, and other drivers’, mistakes, and at the same time prevent fatalities from them.

It works on four channels:

  • safer riders
  • on safer roads
  • riding safer motorcycles
  • at safer speeds.

Starting now. Channel Two:

All those curves on B.C. roads? Predictably deadly.

Seventy per cent of the riders who died this season in the Southern Interior lost control and crashed on curves, into oncoming vehicles or into trees and rocks, for lack of simple protective barriers. Some concrete protection.

Stop the blame, and the pain. Fix the roads.

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About the Author

Bill Downey is a retired professional social worker in support programs for people with congenital or acquired physical and cognitive challenges, who was also a volunteer firefighter and a BCGEU health and safety advocate.

For many years, he has been a motorcycle riding coach/instructor with Kelowna Safety Council who spends too much time studying international traffic safety research and not enough time doing all the outdoor things a boy from the Okanagan should be doing.

He has lived a very large portion of his life on two wheels as a commuting and travelling cyclist, but, for the extra challenge, he is also as a motorcycle commuter.

By nature, he has a balanced approach to all things.

[email protected]https://kdsc.bc.ca



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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