Slow Down This Spring

By Ron Fanfair, Toronto Police Service Published: 4:03 p.m. March 23, 2015
Updated: 11:58 a.m. March 25, 2015

Speed, aggressive riding and vehicles making left-hand turns in front of motorcycles are the main contributing factors to biker collisions that, in some cases, end in fatalities.

An officer sitting on a motorcycle with a few bikes behind him and in front of him, all lined up.
Constable George Carl of Traffic Services cautions motorcyclists to slow down on the first few days of hitting the road this spring.

Prompted by an increase in collisions last year, Traffic Services (TSV) hosted a motorcycle safety awareness session on March 23 at its Hanna St. headquarters.

This is the first time TSV has held one of these sessions.

“One of the things that helped us move this was that the Ontario Provincial Police did a similar thing at the bike show and they talked about the fatalities they have had in the last 10 years and the fact that the average age was a lot higher than was expected,” said Constable George Carl. “It was mainly older men who were getting back into riding on a huge motorcycle they are not used to.

“So we looked at our fatalities, which are very similar in that way. The ages for us, however, are a little bit lower, around 29-35. It’s not as high as the 40 bracket, which the OPP are seeing and not the really young riders that you might expect. That may have to do with the fact that a lot of young people simply can’t afford the insurance for motorcycles.”

There have been 62 motorcycle fatalities – all involving males – in the city in the last two decades. A total of 15 were under the age of 25.

@TorontoPolice Spring check up for motorcycles

Constable Clint Stibbe said most of them were preventable.

“I believe that slowing down is the best thing you can do to save your life,” he said. “If you double your speed, you quadruple your stopping distance. Obviously, the slower you go, the easier it is for you to stop the bike. Impaired driving can also affect you if you are operating a bike. One drink is one too many.”

Stibbe also said that far too many riders are purchasing bikes beyond their capabilities and not maintaining them.

“These machines are extremely fast and powerful,” he noted. “We have M1 riders getting on race bikes. They are inexperienced and putting themselves in jeopardy. It’s in their best interest to start small and work their way up slowly. You have to walk before you run.

“We have also seen many collisions where there was a flaw with the motorcycle, which was preventable. However, it was ignored,” Stibbe said, of the importance of keeping up with maintenance.

TSV officers said slowing down, taking a course, riding with a buddy, making yourself visible and refreshing your skills are at the top of the list of safety recommendations.

“No matter how long you have been riding, you will be rusty after a few months,” said Stibbe. “Your skills and association with a motorcycle deteriorate quickly when not riding, even for a short period of time.”

A TSV officer for the last 28 years, Carl cautioned riders to take it easy during the spring months.

“It takes a month or so before you can get back into the groove,” he said. “For the first month, it’s cold and the tires are hard, so your bike doesn’t have the grip that it will have during the summer. There is also debris along the shoulders and in the centre lane at intersections. You just need to slow down and take it a bit easy.”

Ten Tips for a Safer Motorcycle Ride: 

1.  Take a course: It’s important for you to learn how to safely drive a motorcycle and to be evaluated by an instructor. Your skill set will develop as you learn to control the motorcycle; the motorcycle shouldn’t control you. Toronto Police Motor Squad officers re-qualify every year, prior to engaging in their duties as motorcycle patrol officers. 

2.  Make sure you have proper riding gear: A helmet is required by law, but riders should also think of adopting to wear long sleeve shirts, long pants, ankle boots and a jacket (even when it’s hot outside). Riding in the sun constantly drains you, and we should think about reducing road rash in case of a fall. 

3.  Make yourself visible: Many collisions are caused by a motor-vehicle turning into the path of a motorcycle driver. You want other drivers to see you. Wear a reflective vest or contrasting colours and continually try to make eye contact with drivers to be sure that they’re aware of you. 

4.  Slow down: Most fatal collisions are caused by excessive speed. Motorcycles are unstable vehicles and they have a limited grip on the road. You don’t want to lose control with excessive speed, especially around a turn. 

5.  Don’t ride impaired: You shouldn’t ride a motorcycle or drive a vehicle after drinking alcohol or consuming drugs, and you shouldn’t ride when you’re tired. You need 100 per cent of your attention and focus when operating a motorcycle. 

6.  Ride with a buddy: Riding with friends allows you to occupy a full lane; this practice increases your visibility and you can keep an eye on one another if something goes wrong. 

7.  Make sure your motorcycle is properly maintained: Check your vehicle frequently for general maintenance and problems. Tire pressure is especially important. The contact patches of your tires are about the size of a footprint. This small area is all that keeps you on the road and any problems with tire pressure can be dangerous. 

8.  Communicate with other drivers: Attempt to make eye contact with other drivers, making sure they’re aware of you and your movements. Consider using hand signals prior to turning or changing lanes as indicator lights on motorcycles are very small. Also, if you’re comfortable with a specific group of cars, stay with them. 

9.  Scan the road: Many collisions are caused when cars turn into the path of motorcycles or come out of driveways. If you’re aware of what’s happening around you, you can avoid dangerous situations. Your head should be moving, checking your mirrors, and your eyes constantly scanning the road when riding on a motorcycle. 

10.  Refresh your skills: No matter how long you have been riding, you will be rusty after a few months. Your skills and association with a motorcycle deteriorate quickly when not riding, even for a short period of time. Take a refresher course if it’s been a while since you’ve ridden. Ask yourself, can I improve? Am I the best and safest driver I can be?

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