On Balance  

Taking mayors for a ride

The BC Coalition of Motorcyclists hosts an annual event in the spring, when they invite provincial MLAs to join them on their bikes for a run around Victoria and surrounds.

They do this to build awareness, at the decision-making level of government, of issues facing the motorcycling community.

Popular event, by all reports. But not, to my knowledge, mirrored by any similar tour for mayors and council members.

Recent local events suggest it probably should be.

Seems that a cabal of local mayors just rose up as one and did a radical thing.

They wrote a letter. Um, hm, yes they did.

They denounced the provincial government decision to make drivers for ride-hailing services get a Class 4 driving licence, like everyone else transporting small numbers of people for hire.

This, in their estimation, unnecessarily and unfairly impedes the development of ride hailing.

Now, as a motorcyclist with a keen appreciation of traffic safety, I know a thing or two about licensing. And we’ll come on to that in a bit, but first, following the excellent example of the BCCOM, I thought we should take the mayors for a local ride.

Saddle up, gentlemen.

We’re touring Kelowna, rolling along Highway 97 from the area near City Hall, toward Orchard Park, and then out as far as the Sexsmith Road junction.

Six lanes of traffic, all of it moving well above the local speed limits, as you do. Lots of level crossings, lighted intersections, access roads.

Lots of drivers of all sorts of vehicles demonstrating their usual habits and their various understandings of traffic law.

Man, it’s a busy space. No wonder ICBC doesn’t do road tests along here, eh?

  • How’s that helmet and jacket working for you?
  • Feeling really confident beside those cars and trucks?
  • Trusting, even?
  • Relaxed, in the certain knowledge that all those drivers are well up to the task, right?

Ah, here’s Orchard Park, we’ll do a lap around it to spend some quality time on Springfield, then off to a famous centre for roadside comestibles at Sexsmith.

Off you get, ease out of the bash hat, and let’s talk.

In that little ride, we’ve made it through the 10 highest crash rate intersections in the Southern Interior.

This is the region that has the highest rate of fatal crashes in the province, far out of proportion to our share of the provincial population. 

And the Thompson-Okanagan Highway 97 corridor is where the going is at it’s very worst. ICBC’s crash maps make it pretty plain.

We just rode through the heart of that corridor. This is the epicentre of traffic safety concerns.

Let’s trot back down the road again, see if we can get to No. 1 on the list, the very well-known and much-loved 97 and Spall Road.

Sorry, didn’t catch that, something about “not on the back of that thing”? Where’s your trust?

Standing at the side of the road, a few steps from yet another of the famous roadside eateries, we can spend awhile just watching normal driver behaviour. As I did, a week ago, with a group of other riders concerned about traffic safety.

We’re going to watch those red-light cameras flash, many times, in our half hour with coffee.

We’ll watch in fascinated horror as driver after driver races toward an amber light, whistling past others about to make last-minute left turns.

We’ll flinch as yet another group of drivers file nose-to-heel across the intersection, the first under an amber, then the next two under the red.

And then there’s the “efficiency experts” who race from their left turns all the way straight across three lanes to get into the gas station.

  • No signal
  • no shoulder check
  • no proper lane changing,
  • full bore.

All completely normal, every-day stuff. Performed by a legion of every-day, Class 5 licensed drivers.

You know the ones; the drivers who “don’t need” to undertake any further review or testing before they’re entrusted with the professional role of transporting vulnerable people.

No point in them going through the Class 4 licensing procedures, you say.

Well, here’s the thing about licensing. It may not be a perfect system, by any means. But in a world where 27% of fatally injured motorcyclists were riding without a valid Class 6 motorcycle licence, we have a very acute sense of how important that little extra piece of paper really is.

Typically, around 20% of fatally injured drivers – same thing.

And, thinking about that chauffeur role, 31% of the passengers who died in Canada in 2017 were not wearing a seat belt. A driver’s responsibility.

Licensing, and the licensing process, matter. Just like in firefighting, each level of certification means a renewed and upgraded competency. Like a person would want, putting their life in someone else’s hands.

Riders without a Class 6: think on.

Your Honourable Worships, you, too. How you getting back?


Crossing the golden line

Remember Sam the Sham and The Pharaohs?

Nah, me neither.

But right around now, Labour Day weekend, I can’t get away from their big hit in ‘66: Little Red Riding Hood.

What with the world and his seven daughters all headed for Grandma’s house for the last big blowout of the summer, the tune’s inescapable.

“Hey, there, Little Red Riding Hood, do you really think you should”...  go out riding on B.C. roads today?

The thing is, as your friend and mine at ICBC, Lindsay Wilkins, has again pointed out, the Labour Day weekend is especially fraught.

We seem to have about five deaths and 610 injuries every year on these three days.

And those numbers are getting worse, not better.

So, Red, you’ve been on my mind. I was going to write a whole different thing for this week (the mayors got on my nerves, more later), but something’s been bugging me through this season that I just have to get at right now, before you’re out the door for the weekend.

The centre line. The yellow painted divider between you going your way, and me going mine.

Turns out we’ve had a lot of very, very bad crashes that have gone worst for some motorcyclists, and the pattern is that the yellow line didn’t seem to work very well at keeping people from crossing into harm’s way. What with not being concrete and all.

I’ve spent way too much of my life looking at the ICBC published stats about traffic collisions, and at their crash maps, so to cut to the chase, those maps don’t show this pattern about crashes.

They show crashes at intersections, lots and lots of intersection crashes. So we wind up pretty focused on that sort of crash, and sort of lose sight of the stuff that’s happening right out our door, so to speak. 

Best we fix that. 


We have a lot of thousands of people heading out for Grandma’s this weekend. They’re going through “the spooky dark woods” on the very roads where there’s nothing to stop them from crossing the centre line except the vague hope that everyone will play nice and stay to the right side.

Life, though, doesn’t exactly work that way. Riders and drivers are people first, and only secondarily operators of vehicles.

Sometimes the people part, warts and all, is centre stage at the controls instead of the coolly rational and perfectionistic Operator.

And people have other priorities, and various little habits, that tend to override the rules and good guidance of such luminaries as W.J. Seymour, whose trendy 1937 handbook, Car Driving Made Easy, made a pretty good fist of being the last word on the subject of safe driving. 

Little habits, like say the five or 10 kilometres per hour drivers on average exceed the speed limit by. Or, in our case as riders, the extra five or 10 over that (the researchers have noticed, it turns out).

Little habits, like leaving a little late, because Mikey just had to “tweak” the bike as usual, but he couldn’t find the part that was “right there, I know it was.”

Little habits, like pushing just a bit too hard on the corners, and having to run a bit over the line.

There. That one. A bit over the line.

Like I said, I was going to write something else, but there you were this morning ahead of me, a bit over the line on every third or fourth bend.

You weren’t hauling fast at all.I was keeping up without breaking a sweat, and I was on my side of the line full time. So, just a little habit you have there. No big deal.

Except, well, it turns out that it really is a Big Deal. Most of the time, when people crash vehicles, it isn’t some huge and crazy thing they’re doing. Most crashes are people doing some "normal, everybody does it” thing that puts them at risk they don’t even recognize.

Until the odds catch up. Which they seem to do on this coming weekend, a lot.


Crossing that centre line seems to happen when people are tired, or distracted, or going too fast, or just have bad cornering habits.

Guess what shape a lot of the riders and drivers will be in this weekend? Trying to cover too much distance, too fast, too wiped out from working that extra shift, and too determined not to let everyone down by not getting to Grandma’s house for dinner or whatever. 

So, Red, do me a favour, and check your habits, would you?

Leave early for once, take it a bit easy, and remember that Golden Rule is all about not crossing the golden, yellow line:

“Do not impose on others what you do not wish for yourself.” (Confucius, 500 BC, give or take).

This particular wolf in sheep’s clothing is our own habit of taking little liberties with that yellow centre line, and it can bite us riders really, really bad.

Dinner, or Grandma, or that wakeboard will keep. Let it.

You matter too.

How do you like your eggs?

It's August, an uneasy time, breakfast too often comes with bad news about how it's going out there for motorcyclists.

I've been thinking about the reasons why. And eggs, but we'll get to that in a bit. 

About the motorcyclists: rider safety doesn't get a lot of ongoing attention, but when it does, a couple of themes pretty much always come up.

The first is that new riders should take a course. I teach said courses, so I'm pretty happy about that one.

The local dealerships have been helpful with getting that advice out, so a big thank you to Colin, and Jay, and all the rest of our supporters in the retail world who are trying to look after people instead of just throwing them to the wolves.

Well done, you.

And well done, too, all the family members who have pushed that message, and made sure their loved ones get safety training first, instead of just throwing a leg over and wobbling off down the road. 

The second theme is that the main problem for riders is the behaviour of drivers of other vehicles.

True enough, the mistakes and the attitudes of other drivers are a concern for every road user, not just motorcyclists, so we are going to take that seriously. Sadly, though, the main problem for riders isn't other vehicle operators’

It is us.

What we get up to on the bike, whether there's anyone else around, is mainly what determines who goes to hospital today, and who doesn't.

The BC Coroners office, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and ICBC are all pretty clear on the point, so it's well past time we started to pay closer attention to the rider.

That is what I'm doing over breakfast, or brunch actually, but  usually there's food and coffee and news.

And the news is (too often) that another rider has been killed or injured because they lost control of their bike, and wound up tangling with oncoming traffic, or some roadside furniture.

Usually without much in the way of protective or preventive equipment.

My concern about this is the "who.”

These are not, as it turns out, people who have suddenly jumped on a bike for the very first time and rushed out into harm's way. Not people who were told 20  minutes ago to take a course, but blew off the advice.  Nosiree!

These are people, overwhelmingly men, who have been riding motorcycles for a long time, who "know what they're doing,” and who evidently didn't.


The biggest group is between 40 and 60 years old, not 19; old enough to know better, you'd think.

Whenever I'm forced from the hermitage, I see before me a parade of fellow riders who may or may not have taken a course, but for whom the core elements of rider safety in the modern world remain a closed book. Plainly experienced riders, but demonstrating what so many professional riding coaches have said over the years:

you can ride for 20 years, but in terms of learning about riding, if you swallow your pride and go take a course, or another course, you find pretty fast that you just rode one year, 20 times.

Practice doesn't make perfect, it makes permanent.

To get better, you have to learn the right things to practice. See Jerry Paladino, Ride Like a Pro, on the point.

What I see confirms what I hear from our students and what I read all the time.

People ride motorcycles as a social activity; they ride because their friends or family or people they relate to ride. Their practice, if you will.

What they ride, how and when they ride, and what they wear while they're at it, are all really, really strongly influenced by other riders.

Peer pressure, as it turns out, isn't just for teenagers.

All those rugged individuals out there (that would be us, guys) are ruggedly and individualistically doing what they see a whole bunch of other rugged individuals doing.

Not so individual then. Not the lone horseman on the windswept prairies after all. 

My point is this: obviously, safety for the experienced rider isn't just about experience, and it isn't about what, or how, "everybody else" is riding. That approach doesn't get any better results than letting somebody else make other decisions for you, how you like your eggs, for instance.

Remember Julia Roberts, in Runaway Bride? Oh, come on, you watched it together, she figured out to cook eggs all kinds of different ways and find out what she liked, instead of just going with what the boyfriend ate.  

So, what the crashes and injuries out on the road are telling me is that it isn't by any means just new riders who need to take a course and learn something new, maybe something about themselves.

Experienced riders, who "know what they're doing,” should think pretty seriously about taking a step back, and deciding to go find out what the story really is about what makes actual safety and skill, and what's maybe just plain luck or somebody else's dumb idea. Their eggs.

I did, by the way. Wound up teaching it in the long run, but that's another story. You can, too.

The Safety Council has courses for experienced riders, and that's a place where you can just focus on what actually works for you, instead of just hoping your brother was right about those tires, or that bike, or that way around the corner.

Your eggs, your way. 

Saving Dad's head, and life

Motorcycle helmets, salad bowls, and prize cabbages

When was Father’s Day? Did I miss it? Did you?

Or,id you give him something kind of lame, but you never know what to get the guy anyway?

Besides, he was off riding with his buddies all day.

Well, here's a thought I want to share about Dad, and what the present meant even if it was lame.

Full disclosure, my Dad shook my hand and then passed away when I was out of the room years ago, so I tend to be working on Father’s Day and it blows right by.

The present, writing on the card, and going over to Dad's on the day meant something about being glad he's still around.

Sure, who gets along all the time? Bound to be some ups and downs, but generally that's better than funerals, so you got the card and all.

Good so far?

Now, I've been paying pretty close attention to things that can help keep dads around, if they ride motorcycles like yours does, because I'm one of the team of rider instructors at the Kelowna Safety Council.

They want me to talk about helmets as one of those things in particular, so here we go. They do, you know. Helmets do keep riders alive, and their brains functioning as well as they ever did, when said riders wear them.

Like seat belts, they save lives and prevent injuries when they're used.

But, and it is a very big but, not all of them do, and not all the time, again like seat belts.

This might be where you come in.

A good helmet, properly fitted and properly fastened, will do a good job in a crash. It can prevent brain injury in anywhere up to 60% of crashes with head impacts, and fatalities by roughly 35%.

Depending on how recent the research is that you're looking at, a full helmet protects the rider from 50-80% of the head impacts we tend to experience, all of them below the ear tops, and mostly from the ears forward.

How's Dad's face looking? Still got that chin? Think on.

The problem we need to get at though, is the fact that almost 100% of B.C. riders killed in bike crashes were "helmeted,” at least to some degree, because we have helmet laws.

There's pretty obviously a big gap in how those helmets are working out, a gap, as far as I can glean from all the research I've looked at, is about helmet design and fit.

ICBC isn't exactly forthcoming on this issue, so we have to look around the world for some guidance about the gaps in helmet performance and in our helmet laws.

Some of that guidance is this: when surgeons in Wisconsin asked why "helmeted" riders were showing up at their emergency wards with head and brain injuries, they discovered that in 64% of those cases, the helmet had parted company with the rider before it could have done any good.

So, not done up properly, or not possible to do up properly because of sloppy fit and design.

And then, as the Australians found, partial helmets offered no more than about 20% of the necessary protection in a crash. Even when done up nice and snug, they were essentially pointless.

We've known it was bad with partial helmets since at least 1991, courtesy of a Dr. Ouellet. He called it at around 45%, being American and needing to be somewhat conservative about saying bad things about that North American gold standard of (not) protection, the halfie, beanie, brain cap, whatever dad calls it.

They‘re still legal in B.C., for sort of the same reasons. Gap in our laws.

My point is about the thing Dad's been riding around with on his head. If it looks more like a salad bowl with strings attached and corny stickers than a full helmet, you may have a problem like mine come next Father’S Day. Nobody to hang out with and grouse about. 

Here's a possible solution that my fellow riding instructors - all my fellow riding instructors, all over the province - want you to consider very seriously.

Take Dad to a decent bike shop, get him properly fitted with a full helmet to replace the salad bowl, throw down the cash, and get the job done.

Use every bit of emotional blackmail you can dredge up, then some more, and make it your deal that he wears the thing.

Save the salad bowl for the prize cabbage, don't let him be one.

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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

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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