On Balance  

What's stopping you?

We motorcyclists are a pretty unstable bunch. Sad, but true.

Oddly, this didn’t come up when I was grinding through the obligatory psychology degree. It came up when I was studying the problems with motorcycle safety.

Turns out that one of our big problems is that we fall down.

A lot.

Most often, when there’s something getting us overexcited, like another vehicle turning in front of us, or when we’ve gone into a corner too fast.

We jump on the brakes, lose control, and throw the bike on the ground. Or into something we needed to miss.

In any case, a sudden lack of upright attitude, with consequent injuries, at the very least to our pride, but more usually to our person. And the bike, of course.

This has a lot to do with the fact that motorcycles don’t stand up on their own, like cars and trucks. They need us to balance them on their pointy little rubber toes, there being only the two of them. Unstable.

Because of this, a lot of safety experts globally have taken to stating the (blatantly) obvious:

if we don’t come up with some way to keep motorcycles upright, especially when they need to stop quickly, then it’s best to get rid of them.

If we can’t keep bikes upright, and we don’t get rid of them, then motorcyclists are going to keep being injured or killed. The goal of road-safety programs is to prevent injury and death, so there’s your problem.

Here’s the scope.

  • In B.C., we average about 35 rider fatalities a year, and 1,600 injuries.
  • In Canada, about 200 rider fatalities annually.

That is one very large group of people who aren’t coming to this weekend’s Thanksgiving blow-out, or whatever other family event is on the horizon. A lot of families who really, really wish the motorcycle of note had stayed upright and stopped all in one piece.

Put another way, that is a massive financial cost to society. According to the coldly analytical document, “Default Values for Benefit Cost Analysis”, 2018,  BC Ministry for Transportation and Infrastructure, there is an average total cost for collisions.

And that cost is part of how we make decisions about the relative benefits to making changes in our transportation systems. CBA.

Here are the numbers: fatal collisions cost society roughly $8 million. Each.

And those 1,600 serious injury crashes in B.C. — if it got reported to ICBC, it was a serious injury  — $2 million. Each.

Ouch. But what to do?

Better stops.

Riders need help to stop bikes in emergencies, instead of losing control, falling down, and whacking things at speed. The common-sense standard prescription for that is: riders need more training, or in most cases, some training. And more experience.

Training is what I do, so I agree. Every rider instructor out there is very willing and able to describe, demonstrate, and coach riders both new and “seasoned” in the fine arts of using the brakes effectively.

That is, unfortunately, a major fly in the ointment. The fine arts.

People in trouble are often not at their best or most proficient. In an emergency, we do what we do, not necessarily what we can do when it’s a nice calm day in the studio. Or in a training session on a parking lot.

You see this when you root around in the research about motorcycle crash causation. Riders with training, without training, with extensive experience and without, tend to screw up in pretty much the same ways and to the same extent, in emergencies. Skid, crunch.

There’s a doctrine in law about this, called “agony of collision.”

In a nutshell, the courts have noticed that people acting in what they feel is an emergency can’t be expected to exercise perfect judgment or do the perfect thing. There are legal precedents built on this point. I’m no lawyer, so you should look this up yourself.

I came across it in a case referenced by Tim Schewe (Castanet columnist who appears on Tuesday) in his most recent DriveSmartBC posting.

We need, therefore, to move on. Can’t just expect riders to be perfect when they’re freaked out and reaching for the brakes.

Instead, all riders need better brakes. Ones that help us stop the bike upright, without skidding and losing control. With Anti-lock Braking Systems, or ABS, that’s what we get. This has been comprehensively proven.

See: https://www.iihs.org/topics/motorcycles#motorcycle-abs

Motorcycle ABS reduces fatal collisions by 30-40%. Injury collisions by 25-30%.

Whoa! You’d think that would be standard equipment, wouldn’t you?

It is. In Europe, India, Brazil, New Zealand, Australia……… Not Canada.

Here, when you go shopping for a bike, like you’re probably planning this weekend, (falling leaves bring falling prices), you have to ask for ABS. And on lots of bikes, you have to pay the extra cost for the option.

Your call. I paid the extra couple of hundred bucks. I figure that’s a better deal than the $8 million. And missing out on turkey.

What’s stopping you?


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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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