On Balance  

The price for rider safety

It occurred to me, after the last couple of columns, that I may have been giving the impression that price is no object when it comes to safety equipment. Passive and active rider assistance systems, top quality riding gear and helmets, just go buy it, right?

Sorry. Not so fast.

For myself, and obviously for many others, there’s a distinct limit on “funds available” when it comes to motorcycling. There’s enough nail-biting every year just about renewing the insurance on the bike, let alone finding the price of a new helmet, better jacket, or fresh tires. I won’t even start on the bitter and cynical joke that is the Consumer Price Index, pegged at what, 2% rise annually? Sure.

So, I get it. Adding a new bike to the mix, with all the contemporary safety engineering now available, is nowhere on my personal horizon. Never has been. But what we do find room for, once in a long while, is a newer bike, when the list of issues with the current one drops it to “project” status, future restoration or whatever.

The new helmet isn’t subject to quite the same constraints, I hasten to add. Protecting the brain comes before riding anything. Either replace the helmet on schedule, or the bike stays put. 

The budget for motorcycling requires some careful managing at the best of times, then. Meanwhile, because of the various involvements in road safety, I’m regularly studying the relevance and effectiveness of contemporary engineering, a bit like the kid I once was, staring through the window of the candy shop. Short in more ways than one.

When you have a wander around the world of advocacy about road safety, one of the themes that reliably emerges is exactly that: the problem of access and social justice. In a nutshell, the theoretical availability of more effective safety engineering and equipment, sweet as may be, does nothing to improve safety outcomes on a population basis if none of that population can afford the extra cost of the option.

Which is why safety advocacy groups like Consumer Reports, and the various automobile associations, keep pressing the vehicle manufacturers and the government regulators to make safety features available as standard features, rather than extra cost options. And to make them available on all model levels, rather than bundled with packages of luxury equipment. 

In other parts of the world than ours, Europe, India, Brazil, and Australia for example, regulators have accepted this line of argument, and made motorcycle ABS required standard equipment on all new bikes, except under 125CC. This is because the regulators in those and other trading groups have listened to the science, recognized that this feature saves lives very effectively (30% to 40% reduction in fatalities) and made it mandatory.

The effect of this policy is at least two-fold: firstly, it addresses the tendency of new bike buyers to avoid the extra cost of optional ABS. The most recent figure I have is that only 10% of new bike purchasers in the U.S. have chosen the option of ABS, which dramatically reduces the capacity of a very well-established safety measure to have much real effect on motorcyclist outcomes.

 People just don’t get that you have to stay alive to polish the chrome accessories that seemed so much more important on the options list.

Secondly, new bikes are used bikes once the key’s been turned. And used bikes are the ones most riders are more able and likely to buy. This is how ABS becomes affordable for the majority of riders. Me, for instance. So, if all new bikes had ABS when they left the showroom, there’d be a far bigger supply of used bikes with that feature than in our current situation. Especially because they don’t crash as much either.

A fancy term for that effect is the “democratization of safety.” Being Canadian, my understanding has been that we’re generally in favour of democracy. 

This is where we came in. If I and my peers are to have any shot at owning a bike that’s equipped with a reasonable amount of contemporary safety equipment, we need to be able to buy one used. To do that, and to have some reasonable choice of type, size, and general suitability, we need as many of the new ones as possible, at all levels, to be leaving the dealers’ doors with the goodies on board. 

So when I’m waxing lyrical about new bike safety technologies, what I’m doing is trying to get across the safety rationale for new purchasers to choose them. Doesn’t mean I’m blind to the problem of cost.

But speaking of cost, we also can’t afford as a society to keep covering the cost of failing to value and legislate available safety measures. The cost to B.C. of one road fatality is $8 million, and injury $2.5 million. We’re paying, alright.

Maybe it’s time we pushed harder for a bit more democratization, so we can all better afford the individual and the collective price of safety. 


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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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