On Balance  

Riding and the White Bear

I’ve been obsessing, sifting through media reports to get last year’s count of tragic results from our mutual passion.

I do this because data summaries in this province are always years out of date. And they’re rubbish.

A solemn task, and not just a voyeuristic impulse, like the guy with the camera who has no business on scene, but intrudes, clicking away to satisfy his own ghoulish needs.

And a frustrating task, struggling with the reports themselves, because we’re often left with a limited sense of what actually happened.

More often than not, some banal comment about impairment not being a factor, or whatever.

Makes sense, though. There are obvious privacy issues, and sensitivity concerns, that I share. I apologize if it doesn’t seem like it. There are legal issues, insurance issues, you name it.

So we rarely get a comprehensive understanding of the who-what-when-how-why, except in the rare instance of published court proceedings.

Still, if we’re going to have any sort of useful discussion about rider safety that’s relevant to our local experience, we do need to know more than we’re told.

And the information sure isn’t coming from ICBC.

Their most current data summary, for 2019, does confirm what we were able to glean from the media survey for the year:

As usual, 13 fatalities in the Southern Interior region.

Once again, our area topped the provincial collision outcome severity rates. We didn’t crash more than riders in other areas, but the crashes were more often fatal.

Might want to read that last sentence again.

Now, the Southern Interior region is a vast territory, so to be specific:

Highway 97. From just north of Vernon, to Osoyoos. Even more specifically, from Peachland to Penticton. Apart from that, Highway 3 beyond Princeton. The Kamloops area, and the Salmon Arm-Sicamous area of Highway 1. Highway 33. Occasionally outside those corridors, but not concentrated in particular areas.

In terms of rider safety, we really are talking about some very identifiable sections of the main routes through the Thompson-Okanagan that have for years been very hazardous for motorcyclists.

You can see where this is going: just like with the COVID vaccination roll-out debates, there’s a pressing case to be made for targeted road safety measures specific to motorcycling in historically high-risk zones.

How did last year compare? Did the outcomes support that case? Absolutely, they did.

Even though, for large chunks of the year, we weren’t supposed to be taking “non-essential trips” (almost the definition of motorcycling), we lost nine good souls in our region. Five of them on the Highway 97 corridor, as described.

Painfully, more women seem to be showing up in this ledger. I’ve written before on my growing concern about the specific safety issues for women who ride. Usually, those issues don’t seem reflected in the fatality rates.

During the past 10 years, the B.C Coroners Service has found that 91.3% of riders fatally injured were men, and only 8.7% were women, usually passengers.

Last year, in our area, make that 22%, riders, not passengers.

I’m worried about this becoming a trend. Even though the numbers are small, the change they represent is consistent with the changing demographic, and the limited amount of women-specific design incorporated to motorcyclist safety.

What else do we see in the reports?

We see the White Bear.

Dostoevsky apparently said it first: “Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute.”

That’s from Winter Notes on Summer Impressions, 1863, not that I’ve read them.

More recently, this has been studied as the problem of Rebound Effect Psychology, or Ironic Process Theory, but we get it.

The more you try to look away from something, or not think about it, the more you wind up looking at or thinking about just that, overwhelmingly.

We also call this “target fixation” sometimes, in Rider Theory.

On the Okanagan roads last year, this looks to have cost lives two different, but critically related ways.

First, riders crashed into vehicles in their path, or near it. Too often, as described in most rider training, this happens when riders are unable to avoid a hazard because they can’t direct their sight, thoughts, and actions anywhere but directly at that terrifying thing.

The White Bear.

“Look away, to stay away,” or “Look to safety, look to your out.” Easy for us instructors to say, but as the science tells us, extremely hard to actually do in the moment. Fear and resultant fixation are cruel and relentless masters.

Second, though, and important, The Bear invades the mind of people responsible for making our roads safer. In this case, try as they might, they cannot stop seeing motorcyclists as The Problem, and look instead at the roads.

In most fatal collisions here last year, and previous years, a simple centre divider on the roadway would have saved the rider.

We need a concentrated effort by decision makers to look away from riders, toward the needed safety measures for everyone.

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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