It's motorcycle season again

Braap, braaaap, braaaaaaaaaap, chug, chug, chug, chug. Yes, it's motorcycle season again.

Time for all of us "cagers" to start complaining about the noise and riders to complain about nearly being driven over by drivers who failed to see them.

Having to put up with the unnecessary noise is a valid annoyance, but having to put up with riding like you have a target pinned on you is something that prevented me from becoming a rider.

My experience investigating collisions reinforced that a rider must drive defensively at all times and even then, this may not be safe enough.

Learn to Drive Smart, our provincial driving manual, devotes about one page to sharing the road with motorcyclists, currently starting at page 88. The section begins with the advice that more than half of motorcycle collisions result in injury or death.

That's one way of saying that the rider is a vulnerable road user that has nothing to protect themselves with in a collision other than a helmet and protective clothing.

Why don't we see motorcycles in traffic? One explanation may be inattentional blindness. Simply put, we don't devote sufficient attention to motorcycles when they are there to be seen.

Fully half of the advice in Learn to Drive Smart teaches the driver to actively look for motorcycles, especially at intersections. The specific caution involves left turns being made by the driver or the rider.

I would add lane changes to this. Motorcycles a more difficult to see because of their size. A careful check of your blind spot is mandatory before you change lanes.

Sorry, mate, I didn't see you is not a justification for collisions. As many as eight out of 10 motorcycle crashes may be caused by drivers who do not see motorcycles according to this tongue-in-cheek video from the Norwegian Motorcycle Union.

Most of the remainder of the information explains safety margins, something that many drivers and riders give little thought to. Appropriate side margins, following distances and passing space all provide time for everyone involved to recognize and react to traffic events. Too little space means too little time.

While we're on the topic of space, drivers may not realize that motorcycles can stop more quickly than four wheelers. Increase your following distance when you find yourself behind a motorcycle in traffic.

Finally, we're left with the topic of communication. Drivers must realize that riders do not pick the centre of the lane and stay there.

According to Learn to Ride Smart, another of our provincial driving manuals, a typical driving lane is divided into thirds, left, center and right. Riders choose the position that results in maximum space, visibility and traction, depending on the ever changing circumstances.

Unlike a four-wheeled vehicle, a rider moving to the left or right side of the lane may not be an indication of the rider's intention to turn. Watch for signals and make eye contract to insure that you recognize the rider's intent.

Like some drivers, some riders are happy to do what is convenient instead of what they are supposed to. Currently, lane splitting and riding a motorcycle on the shoulder is illegal here in B.C. That doesn't mean it isn't done and careful scanning strategies will help any driver to avoid trouble.

Story URL: https://www.drivesmartbc.ca/motorcycles/its-motorcycle-season-again


The trailer pre-trip check

There's nothing like a beautiful spring day to bring out the trailer that has sat unused since last fall.

A lot can happen to a trailer while it sits idle waiting to be useful again. Lighting connections corrode, tires lose pressure, reflectors are broken, brakes need service along with many other possibilities for wear and malfunction.

Are you tempted to just hook the trailer up, eyeball the tire pressure and take off? Look around you in traffic, you're not alone.

If you pull a heavy recreational trailer, you will have learned all about the necessity of a pre-trip inspection check when you were studying for your heavy trailer licence endorsement. This examination is just as important for drivers who tow light trailers.

The hitch ball must be the proper size for the coupler. Attaching the trailer to a ball that is too small is just asking for trouble.

All trailers that connect to the tow vehicle with a hitch ball require a safety chain (or chains) that are equal in strength to the coupler. These chains must be free of abrasion damage and attached to form a cradle under the hitch to support it if it fails.

Lights and reflectors are next and it is not sufficient to simply shrug and say that everyone behind me can see the lights on the back of my tow vehicle.

Tail, brake, signal, licence and marker lights must all be present and functional along with the appropriate reflectors.

Plug them in and test them before every trip. If they don't work, make the repair before driving away.

The tires must have sufficient tread, be properly inflated and capable of carrying the weight that you are going to put in the trailer.

While you're at it, check the wheel nuts to make sure that they are tight too.

Overloading a utility trailer is a common practice. I watched a man load his trailer last fall during firewood season. The sidewalls of the tires were compressed and bulging but he had made it home like that before, so he didn't think that it was worth worrying over.

If you are stopped by the police for being overweight, you will be expected unload the extra weight before you move again.

Finally, let's take a look at the brakes, if they are required, they must be adjusted and working properly.

My experience has taught me that surge brakes are the most neglected part of any trailer. At roadside checks, I used to hand an adjustable wrench to the driver and ask them to demonstrate the brake fluid level in the reservoir.

The cap was either solidly corroded in place or was destroyed in the attempt. Yes, we checked the brakes before we left officer...

Surge brakes are relatively simple to check, just pull the breakaway brake cable until it locks the lever and try to drive forward. If there is no resistance, chances are good that the brakes are not working.

Electric brakes are a bit easier to test. Just apply them from the controller at the driver's seat and make sure that they are adjusted properly and resist forward movement.

Is the battery for the breakaway brake system charged and will it hold the trailer stopped for at least 15 minutes? This is usually not an issue on RV's as the trailer battery is used for other purposes, but on utility trailers it is often dead or missing.

Before we leave the subject of brakes, remember that if your tow vehicle is a pickup truck, you may be required to stop and check the brakes at the top of steep hills just like the drivers of heavy commercial vehicles.

This is not a complete list of considerations but should serve as a good starting point for a safe trip.

Story URL: https://www.drivesmartbc.ca/equipment/trailer-pre-trip-check

Stop signs and red lights

"I almost lost my life at West Fourth and Blenheim in Vancouver this morning," reported a DriveSmartBC Twitter follower.

"I was turning left. The traffic lights were red for the traffic on Fourth. I stopped for the stop sign on Blenheim, then moved into the intersection to make my turn.

“The vehicle approaching me from the opposite direction was speeding and didn't even slow down for the stop sign. She went straight through."

My first thought was whether this woman missed seeing the stop sign or whether she was taking advantage of the red traffic light on the cross street to deliberately disobey her duty to stop.

It does not matter where you encounter a stop sign, the law requires a complete cessation of your vehicle's (or cycle's) movement at the proper place.

Once you have stopped and yielded the right of way to other road users as the rules dictate, only then are you allowed to proceed with care.

This applies to traffic on Blenheim Street.

Don't forget that you may have a duty to yield to the vehicle turning left, even if you are traveling straight through the intersection.

The red light is a different matter. This traffic signal is at an intersection, so drivers and riders on Fourth Street facing it are required to stop, wait for a green light, yield to traffic still lawfully in the intersection and then proceed if it is safe to do so.

The only exception to this is when making a right turn on red is not prohibited. However, you still have to come to a stop, yield as necessary and make your turn with care.

Throw a few pedestrians into the mix and the rules requiring a driver to yield become more complex.

The Twitter follower travels this route frequently and says that he is often subjected to the wrath of drivers behind him when he stops for the stop sign and the traffic light is red. Honk, honk, honk! How dare you slow me down.

This reminds me of the proverb look before you leap. This wisdom has been forgotten by many drivers as the tendency is to keep going rather than stop or slow down.

After years of observing this behaviour, I often joked that I wanted to be assigned to a "bridge out" complaint.

I would set up cones, park my police vehicle with the emergency lights flashing, stand beside the road holding a stop sign and watch everyone drive by and fill up the hole.

Story URL: https://www.drivesmartbc.ca/intersections/stop-signs-red-lights-honk-honk-honk


A plan to fight that ticket

If you've received a ticket and have pleaded not guilty, you should prepare well ahead of time for the trial.

Last week’s column told you what to do if you received a ticket. Since you have decided to go to court and fight the ticket, here’s what you need to do.

Request disclosure. Write to the officer involved and ask for notes, pictures, or documents that the police will be relying on for evidence at trial. Allow lots of time for the notice to reach the police and return the answer to you.

Make notes ahead of time on the items that you wish to bring to the court's attention that will show you are not guilty of doing what was alleged.

Subpeona any witnesses that you require. You do this by attending at the court registry with the names and addresses of the people that you require.

Consider attending traffic court to observe before your trial date. This will allow you to become familiar with what will happen and allow you to be less nervous and more focused on the big day.

At the courthouse on trial day before the trial commences is a good time to play "let's make a deal" with the officer. Talk to them outside the courtroom and make your offer.

Things like offering to plead guilty to speeding at $138 instead of $196 might be accepted. You have nothing to lose by asking.

Can't find the officer and still want to try? When your case is called, ask the judge for a brief adjournment to speak with the officer.

Dress neatly, don't chew gum, turn off your pager/cell phone, take off your hat. In most cases the dispute will be heard in traffic court.

The judicial justice of the peace is called "your worship," otherwise in provincial court it is "your honour." It's not too big a deal unless you are being discourteous. If you are first and don't know how to address the judge, ask, they will be impressed that you are earnest.

if you are going to call witnesses, have them leave the courtroom before your trial starts. They can sit and watch until then, but if they sit there and listen to part of the trial, their evidence is tainted and cannot be given as much weight by the court.

Listen carefully to the evidence given by the officer. Take pen and paper with you to make notes if you wish to.
On cross examination, ask questions that highlight any evidence given by the officer that is to your advantage and ask if anything needs to be clarified so that you understand and can respond to it.

If you are going to give evidence, know if you are going to affirm to tell the truth or if you want to swear on the Bible. It's surprising how often this has to be explained as well.

Be careful about choosing to give evidence on your own behalf. If you do, you are open to cross examination from the officer and must answer. Gaps in the officer's testimony can be filled in this way. This is not the time to complain about police treatment.

The court is only interested in the evidence. Complaints about police misconduct are for the public complaints commission, not the traffic court.

Both sides will be given a chance to summarize. The summary is your chance to highlight important parts of the evidence from both the officer and yourself (if you chose to testify) that show you are not guilty.

The verdict will be given and the justice will explain the reasons. If you are found not guilty, that's it. The ticket goes in the garbage can and you are free to go.

If guilty, the trial now moves on to the penalty phase. The officer may choose to show the court your driving record (if you have one) and suggest that the penalty not be lowered

If this is an offence without a minimum or a statutory amount. You have the chance to explain why the penalty should be different for your circumstances or failing that you can give evidence about your financial circumstances and ask for a reasonable length of time to pay.

If the justice asks how long you need, be prepared with an answer. Don't just shrug your shoulders and leave it up to them.

If you think the guilty verdict is improper, it isn't necessary to say so. Stop by the court registry on your way out and ask about an appeal.

You will likely be wise to seek advice from a lawyer before proceeding. Appeals take place in Supreme Court and it is very formal with all the I's dotted and T's crossed before you get there.

Story URL: https://www.drivesmartbc.ca/qa/qa-how-deal-traffic-ticket

More Behind the Wheel articles

About the Author

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. He has been writing his column for most of the 20 years of his service in the RCMP.

The column was 'The Beat Goes On' in Fort St. John, 'Traffic Tips' in the South Okanagan and now 'Behind the Wheel' on Vancouver Island and here on Castanet.net.

Schewe retired from the force in January of 2006, but the column has become a habit, and continues.

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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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