Think Motorcycle Safety This Spring

By Kevin Masterman, Toronto Police Service Published: 5 a.m. April 3, 2017

Traffic Officers are asking motorcyclists to ease into the Spring season by keeping their own safety at the top of their mind.

A man in TPS uniform standing amongst a row of TPS motorcycles
Training Constable George Carl has been riding police motorcycles since the early 1980s

“With the warm weather we’ve had, and the warm weather to come, we’ll see more motorcycles on the road and we’re trying to bring awareness on how to prevent collisions in the first place,” says Traffic Services Sergeant Brett Moore. “Motorcycling is not an easy thing to do at the best of times. So at the beginning of the season take your time, hit an empty parking lot and shake off the cobwebs.”

Moore says an analysis of the last 78 motorcycle fatalities in the city since 1995 boils down to two factors: speed of motorcyclists and lack of awareness by other drivers.

“Motorcyclists travelling too fast for their abilities or beyond the speed limit and other motorists not paying attention: turning in front of them,” says Moore, who urged drivers to keep in mind that motorcyclists are revving back up and to keep an eye out in their blind spots and mirrors for the smaller vehicles. “Hopefully with more people preparing and thinking about these factors in advance we’ll have fewer collisions this season.” 


Training Constable Steve Aguiar lays out the Traffic Services Top 10 Motorcycle Safety Tips

Traffic Services Top 10 Motorcycle Safety Tips:

  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.
 
  2. Make sure you have proper riding gear: A helmet is required by law, but riders should also think of wearing 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? 

From 1995 to 2017, 18 of the 78 motorcyclists who have died on Toronto roads were under the age of 25. The group with the highest rate of fatality is the 25-39 age group, which comprises 46 of the 78 victims. In 27 of the 78 motorcycle fatalities, the driver of the motorcycle was driving properly at the time.

Motor Squad officers, who patrol the city on motorcycles from April through November, want to encourage their fellow riders to pay attention to getting their machines ready but also getting their own head in the game because no matter who is at fault – the greatest risk is to those on two wheels.

Training Constable George Carl says failing to know your limitations on a motorcycle has both serious injury and deaths on the roads.

“Failing to negotiate a curve, going too fast towards an intersection, not being able to give themselves the time to react to a turning car – those are the types of things that we see when there is a serious injury with a motorcyclist,” says Carl, who has rode street bikes for 35 years and dirt bikes before that. “More often than not there is a certain amount of blame that goes to the motorcycle rider because they weren’t prepared or they didn’t take the risks seriously.”

He said having the heightened senses of being on a motorcycle comes with risk.

“You take a certain amount of risk when you get out on a motorcycle. You have to accept the fact that it is an increased risk because you don’t have a car around you. You don’t have the crush zones and the cage and the airbags,” says Carl, who spends his recreational time on a 2004 Kawasaki Concourse he’s owned since it was new. “So all you have is your helmet, your gear, your knowledge and probably more than anything your attitude toward riding. It can come down to having the wisdom to know when to back off, when to adjust your speed for your own safety and when to make a lane change to be seen better.”

A close up of TPS logo on a motorcycle with TPS hat on seat
Officers patrol on motorcycles April through November

Training Constable Sheikh Khurshid said riding a motorcycle goes beyond the time you are in the saddle on open road – it’s a lifestyle.

“Psychologically is the biggest piece. To me, it’s a whole process and it’s very psychological. The moment I start riding or my private bike or police bike,” said Training Constable Sheikh Khurshid. “I have to take ownership that I control you, you don’t control me, even though that piece of equipment is way more powerful than I am, your mind is the most powerful thing.”

Whether it’s on his police Harley Davidson or the Honda Varadero Adventure bike, Khurshid will always hone his skills throughout the season.

“All you need is an empty parking lot. You start with big turns, small turns, tight turns and once you’ve established that psychological control, then you’re good to go. Our training is that you don’t need to have cones or training facility to warm up. You need two parking spots to do figure eights, tight turns,” Khurshid says. “The test has to happen when you’re getting prepared to ride. You never want to test yourself in a live environment.”

Khurshid also encourages people to stay in shape, the more physically fit you are the better control you’ll have over heavy bikes.

“Motorcycling riding in general, I think, is very physically demanding. Not only should you get training and improve your skills, but it’s a lifestyle. You should be in good physical shape to turn this bike and control it,” Khurshid says. “You’re saying you’ve physically prepared yourself, you’re psychologically zoned in from every single angle.”

A man in TPS uniform standing beside TPS motor squad logo on wall with names of fallen officers underneath
Training Constable Sheikh Khurshid says the names of motorcycle officers who lost their lives under the Motor Squad emblem reminds officers of the dangers inherent on the roads

For Training Constable Steven Aguiar, who got his start in motorcycling over ten years ago as a police officer, awareness of other drivers is a key factor in being good atop a motorbike.

“It wasn’t until I got involved in motorcycling that I realized how vulnerable you are and it’s made me a better driver.  As a motorcycle driver I scan every intersection from left to centre to right,” says Aguiar. “You have to be social with people. Whether it’s eye contact, a nice gesture, beeping your horn and alerting cars you’re on the road.”

Anytime he is passing through an intersection with a driver making a left turn, he will try to make eye contact.

“I can get a sense from that communication even though it is at a distance and normal speed, I can still get a sense as to whether I feel that person sees me and if I feel something is not right I can start to slow down, beep my horn or make an adjustment,” Aguiar says.

He said motorcyclists need to find a balance between defensive and assertive driving.

“It’s easy to miss a motorcycle. Knowing where a car’s blind spots are is important so you stay out of those areas. You want to move through those areas quickly, not speed through, but get out of that danger zone,” he says. “A motorcycle is small. It’s has a small footprint on the road and small lighting. So making the motorcycle more visible including me as a rider such as wearing high-visibility gear or a green reflective vest or adding lights to the motorcycle makes it much safer.”


TPS crest watermark