On Balance  

Gap in motorcycle safety

Not exactly “breaking news,” sorry. But it strikes me that Safety May could do with a little more emphasis than it’s had from, say, the provincial government or ICBC.

To be fair, of course, everyone’s been kind of busy with other stuff lately, and that other stuff has actually been good for road safety. Fewer vehicles on the road, fewer crashes and injuries, one less worry.

But it is May, and there are way more bikes on the road than last month, just like any other year. So, more riders at risk, and not just from The Virus. Thus, time to talk about motorcycle safety awareness.

I’ve read the Proclamation. And it is good. Except, well, mostly it’s all about something other than motorcycle safety awareness. Lots of stuff as usual about driver awareness, wildlife awareness, even noise awareness. Helpful, but…

We can agree that safety would be improved by more awareness in general on the part of, and about, all road users. We can even agree to be more “aware.” Nice. 

Job done?

Not so much.  My good and trusted friend, the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, offers this about “aware”: concerned and well-informed about a particular subject. Having knowledge. 

What facts, what knowledge, about what’s actually happening on the roads, and what actually generates real safety outcomes in this province, right now, do we have? 

Do we know, for instance, how many riders have crashed so far this year? Do we have any concrete information about those crashes? Do we know which bikes – makes, models, equipment levels, age – are crashing? Do we know which riders – age, gender, training, experience, infraction history, residence relative to crash site, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, or anything else? Do we know whether helmets stayed on heads, or fell off? Do we know anything about those helmets, like their configuration (full face, partial, modular, beanie), their age, their manufacturer, their rating levels?

This can go on, obviously. The point is this: No, we absolutely do not.

Starting with the currency of the data that is available, we look to ICBC and to Transport Canada for reporting and analysis of the reported motorcycle crashes. There, we can learn today how many reported crashes happened two years ago. 2018. 

Not current, then. Not even recent.

And, very importantly, not comprehensive by a long chalk, because of the “highly variable” reporting thresholds. In something other than bafflegab, that means we don’t gather data at all about any number of rider crashes that don’t meet the requirements for police or insurance reports. 

Over at WorkSafeBC, where you look for a template for injury prevention, the standard is that all incidents that resulted in injury, or might reasonably have resulted in injury, are required to be reported, and to be investigated. This is because we have much to learn from worksite incidents, particularly in the area of keeping people safe, if we will only pay attention to them.

Plainly this is not the standard on our roadways. Where untrained people are operating high-powered equipment at significant velocities in close and varying proximity to other road users, both protected and unprotected.

If we want to do motorcycle safety awareness, then, I propose that we start by gathering, analyzing, and reporting all the data. In real time.

Does this sound impossible? Tomorrow, turn on the television, or go online, and listen to the national and provincial COVID-19 updates. 

Or scan reports about motorcycle safety from other jurisdictions. For instance, as of May 15, there had been 24 motorcycle rider fatalities in Washington State; in 70% of those cases, rider behaviour or action is the major contributor. In Colorado, 26 fatal crashes so far this year, motorcyclist at fault in 22 of those. 

Similarly, we can access public reporting at least for 2019 in Alberta, Manitoba, New Mexico, Virginia, and very many more. 

This reflects, and generates, some greater measure of “awareness” than the overdue and outdated information from ICBC and Transport Canada.  I do not accept our failure to meet at least that standard.

Then there’s the other stuff I mentioned, the bike, gear, and rider specificity that are needed by a policy maker or an educator seriously wanting to generate improved safety outcomes. For example, what if the 2009 Humpty Dumpty Numpty turns out to be the only bike involved in fatal crashes for the past four years? Wouldn’t consumers want to know? Wouldn’t we want to know why?

The fact is that we don’t know, and nobody’s prepared to tell us. The data’s there, in the insurance and police reports, what there is of them. The VIN’s part of the dataset, and it opens out a whole suite of information about the vehicle, including for instance, whether ABS was spec’d.

As to gear, we know that not all helmets save lives. But we don’t know which do, and which don’t. We deserve better.

Same goes for jackets: some fall apart, some protect. Which?

And riders. Some crash a lot, some not. Which ones, and why, here?

May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month. Still hoping for some.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


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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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