COLUMN: Safety onus falls on riders, drivers

NANAIMO: B.C. roads are always going to be dangerous for motorcyclists, whether they have approved brain buckets or not.

Go ahead, put on a Department of Transport approved motorcycle helmet, your best pair of running shoes, and run as fast as you can into the nearest telephone pole.

How’d that feel?

Probably not too good. Maybe you broke an arm, or a leg, maybe some ribs. Maybe you got off lucky and suffered only deep-tissue bruising.

If your athleticism falls somewhere in between Usain Bolt and a banana slug, you probably hit the pole doing about 10 km/h.

Think then, the damage that might be done by hitting that pole at 50 km/h, or 100.

While I applaud the provincial government’s decision to ramp up motorcycle safety, implementing stricter helmet requirements and reducing engine power available to new riders are unlikely to curb rising motorcycle accidents in B.C.

The problem isn’t better lids or horsepower, it’s common sense.

A new rider on a 250cc or a 1000cc bike is going to suffer the same fate if the driver of a car turns left in front of them, which just happens to be one of the leading causes of motorcycle fatalities pretty much anywhere there are motorcycles. Though less powerful, a 250cc is quite capable of reaching excessive speeds, certainly speeds that can kill its rider. It just can’t get to those speeds as quickly.

What’s more, a smaller bike is actually less safe on a highway – they’re easily blown around by bigger vehicles and can’t pass as efficiently.

Still, self-preservation is key.

A defensive rider, one who stays near to posted speed limits, is aware of what is around him and strongly believes that every driver within a one-kilometre radius is about to do something extremely stupid, is a rider who has a much better chance of living to see the next day.

An aggressive rider, one who weaves through traffic, wheelies down highways, and pushes the limits of his bike, is generally the most likely to be one of the 203 motorcyclists who have lost their lives on B.C. roads in the last five years.

There are exceptions, such as the bozo who scorched traffic near Victoria last month posting speeds of almost 300 km/h. Unfortunately, cautious and responsible riders also end up being part of the gruesome stats.

Having ridden motorcycles intermittently for the past 15 years, I’ve evolved from the idiot rider to the defensive rider, and I sometimes shake my head at some of the stupid things my friends and I did.

We were lucky, pure and simple, not to have had a serious accident, or worse.

These days, when I get on my 650cc Kawasaki, it’s not to show the world how cool I can be on a motorcycle. It’s to get from one place to another and enjoy a little wind in my face. And make no mistake, I’m on red alert at all times.

As free as riding a motorcycle can make you feel, it makes you feel equally as vulnerable. It’s a vulnerability that no driver of a car/pickup/truck understands. A simple fender bender with a motorcycle can be lights out for the rider. I keep my distance from cars like a scuba diver does from a great white shark – both are equally unpredictable.

My defences are passive. I have a loud exhaust to alert drivers I’m nearby, and I plan on buying a bright green safety jacket, impossible to miss for those who like to turn left across oncoming traffic with inches to spare. I slow down at most intersections just in case.

B.C. roads are always going to be dangerous for motorcyclists, whether they have approved brain buckets or not. As long as there are invincible attitudes, motorcycles, and careless drivers accidents and tragedies will happen.

How the numbers stack up all depends on driver/rider education and common sense, not a DOT-approved helmet and less powerful machines.

reporter2@nanaimobulletin.com