On Balance  

Our duty to accommodate

I’m a bit grumpy. It’s raining again. Even though I’m one of the fortunate minority who has a lawn and a lawn tractor, on days like this, the joys of marrying the two between the deluges elude me.

I’ve had a lot of days like this on the bike, too. Even though it’s a wonderful thing to have a bike, a licence, and the cash to get on the road, some days the road just gets on my nerves.

This is why I’ve written fairly often about the concerns for motorcyclist safety that revolve around the fact that we have to cope with a lot of well-known unnecessary risk.

This is on top of the fundamental risk of balancing and manoeuvring an unstable and highly reactive vehicle, which provides zero crash protection.

The core level of risk, which is much higher than the challenges faced by operators of other road vehicles, is what makes me want to think about the problem through an old lens, a perspective from a previous life.

In workplace health-and safety-courses, which I had the privilege of delivering, we deal with a concept called the Duty to Accommodate.

This usually comes up in the context of workers who have sustained an injury or illness that prevents them from now being able to do the work they used to without some type of assistive modification.

This can take the form of changes to the work process, the work environment, or both.

In these situations, the idea is that people have a right to continue with gainful employment, disability notwithstanding, as much as they are reasonably able.

Employers who make the necessary modifications so that this can happen are undertaking their duty in law to accommodate workers’ disabilities, or differential abilities, and keep them in the workforce.

Consider this the first way that this principle applies to rider safety: we’re at extraordinary, and unacceptable, risk in road traffic situations that aren’t adjusted to accommodate our disabling conditions (two missing wheels, for a start).

To see the second way this principle applies, we have to consider that the duty to accommodate extends beyond just the folks who have had some work-related illness or injury.

It also applies to groups of people who are protected, by human rights legislation, from discrimination.

These are people who would never get a chance at paid work, or decent-paying work, without some legal requirement that employers accommodate their “difference,” or perceived unsuitability/incompetence.

This is where “equal opportunity” and “equal pay for equal work” campaigns come in. Employers aren’t allowed to exclude or discriminate against people who aren’t their own flavour of colour, gender, or religious affiliation.

It is a fact that motorcyclists, however otherwise privileged (and many, if not most of us, are), can be perceived and discriminated against by some as being unacceptable for proper society.

Too weird, too bad, probably dangerous. Also smelly.

So, no restaurant service, no hotel room, passed over for promotions or pay rises, and so forth. Sometimes blatant, sometimes subtle, but the message is the same: Get lost, stinky.

How does this fit with rider safety issues?

Blatant government failure to uphold their duty to accommodate, that’s how. Oh, sure, there’s all those nice, helpful messages about the need for more rider safety, and how everyone should look out for motorcyclists, but:

  • Roadside barriers are designed to work for cars, but research elsewhere has proven that this very design makes them lethal for riders. Better engineering and design exist, but not implemented here.
  • Slippery surfaces may be easily manageable on four wheels, with the help of a caution sign. Again, and unnecessarily, extremely dangerous for riders. And again, the better alternatives are well-known in engineering circles.
  • Along those lines, literally — vinyl pavement markings, like crosswalks, are an induced, artificial hazard occurring at turning points, precisely the motorcycle’s most unstable moment.
  • Crash-and-injury prevention technologies and engineering are proven, required standards in the automotive world. Nil for motorcycles. Available, relevant, and proven, but not required.
  • Research-proven injury prevention standards exist for rider gear; none apply in the Canadian market to jackets, gloves, or jeans sold as “protective” here.
  • Roadway and intersection configurations, and traffic control systems, exist which are proven to be particularly effective in reducing the risks that motorcyclists experience.

My point is this: our governments, at all levels, have a duty to accommodate the exceptional risk aspects of the motorcycle, and as well a duty to avoid discrimination against motorcyclists. The fact is, however, that they routinely and utterly disregard these duties.

That brings us to the image at the top of the page. Road authorities have a duty to accommodate motorcyclists’ safety needs, but: it is a duty that is equally met by the rider’s duty to undertake reasonable measures within our abilities to protect ourselves, and to ride safely.

Just like at work.

None of us will enjoy safety parity if some of us insist on riding as if our lives don’t matter.

Don’t lean into oncoming.

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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