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Back when I got my licence to ride, it was one fee, one test, and one licence. And, not to brag but … I signed up to take a course anyway.

While I had it easy, I’m all for a more complicated system.

I, for one, celebrated the proactive ICBC changes here in BC. I enthusiastically welcomed graduated licensing, decreased tolerance for drinking and driving (way to set the example, Honourable Premier), and the banning of hand-held cellphone devices. And I happily welcome the increased severity of consequences, from high fines to impounding. It means others are less likely to hit me.

There’s another change I’d like to see. Driver training should be mandatory.

When I got licensed in 1990, the now-famous Hurt Report was still relatively new. A team of enthusiastic motorcycle-riding researchers, headed by Prof. Harry Hurt, investigated more than 900 accident sites and reviewed more than 3,600 police reports over a two-year period. Published in 1981, here are some of the findings:

  • About 74 per cent of all accidents involved a passenger vehicle;
  • 73 per cent of the motorcyclists in an accident did not wear any eye protection (that’s just stupid!); and
  • About 50 per cent of the fatal accidents involved alcohol (ditto).

Significant contributors to accidents were:

  • Motorists failing to recognize a motorcyclist’s right of way;
  • Lack of rider conspicuity (the art of being seen). The most frequent cause of accidents was the failure of the motorist to see and recognize the oncoming motorcycle;
  • The most frequent collision involved a left-hand turning passenger vehicle and a straight-driving rider (not referencing sexual orientation here folks); and
  • Most accidents happen close to home, and within five months of owning the motorcycle involved in the accident.

Less significant contributors included:

  • Weather (about two per cent);
  • Road defects (less than two per cent);
  • Vehicle failure (less than three per cent);
  • Animals (about one per cent); and
  • Road rage.

Over-represented in the accident stats were:

  • Riders with a track record of traffic citations and accidents;
  • Riders without a proper licence, or with a revoked licence; and
  • Female riders, student riders, and the unemployed.

Under-represented were:

  • Riders with dirt bike experience;
  • Riders with passengers; and
  • Riders of the bigger cruising motorcycles equipped with fairings and windshields (but when these bigger bikes went down, the results were often more severe).

The significance of rider training:

  • Most riders in accidents (92 per cent) were self-taught or learned from family or friends;
  • A biker typically has less than two seconds to respond to an issue; and
  • Most riders did not engage in any collision-avoidance tactic.

And for those of you who religiously swear by your novelty helmets, here are a few irrelevant gems:

  • Of the over 900 accidents investigated and the 3,600 reports researched, only four minor injuries were attributed to helmet use, and in each of those cases the helmet prevented critical or fatal head injury;
  • Helmets that were DOT certified provided the most protection; and
  • Riders and passengers with helmets had fewer (that’s right, fewer) head and neck injuries for all types of injury, at all levels of injury severity.

Since this report, there has been a resounding research silence. The U.K. commissioned the MAIDS report, but licensing practices and driving environments there are so incredibly different from ours that comparisons are moot.

Which means that those who set the safety standards (our clever politicians) are pretty much guessing at what to do next to improve motorcycle safety. And I don’t know about you, but guessing politicians scare me silly.

B.C. has seen a sharp rise in the number of insured motorcycles (from 60,000 in 2004 to 94,000 in 2008). And according to the Vancouver Island Safety Council, our province has the lowest percentage of safety school sign-ups. Ding ding ding. I think we can see a problem here. While ICBC has the power to look at what the certified schools are doing, someone should be looking at what the new riders are doing.

Currently, it is up to the individual to register for driver training. It also used to be up to the individual to buckle up, to talk on their cellphone and to smoke in their car with their infants in tow. I think it’s time to stop giving the choice. All drivers need the training. The Hurt Report shows it quite clearly: Other vehicle drivers need to be trained to see us bikers, and we bikers need to be trained to respond.

In Canada, progressive provinces like Saskatchewan and Quebec already have mandatory training for all drivers. It’s time for us in B.C. to catch up. Reduce the number of deaths. Increase the average driver’s intelligence. Mandate driver training. Now!

Britt Santowski is a former chief instructor with the Vancouver Island Safety Council, where she trained instructors and taught riders for almost a decade. Santowski is also a workshop facilitator, speaker, consultant and author.

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2 Responses to “Mandatory training a smart option”

  1. on 11 Feb 2011 at 5:04 pmTM

    Response received by email

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    Good Day Britt, I’ve been meaning to write you ever since you first started your column in the T.C. to tell you how much I enjoy the articles, from riding in the “zone”, loud pipes. proper riding apparel, “beanie” helmets, proper training etc, etc. I’m 76 now and at the tender age of 70 I bought my first 49cc scooter for riding around PI (instead of taking the car to go to the bank or get a bag of groceries). I enjoyed it so much, except for having to slow down on the hills, I decided to take a motor cycle course, which was conducted over several days at a U-Vic parking lot on supplied 250cc Honda motorcycles. After passing my skills test with the school I moved up to a 150cc on which I did my ICBC road test. I’m sure you’ve heard this hundreds of times before, but anyone of my friends who has taken a course in order to obtain a Class 6 license including myself has said, “every car driver should take a motorcycle riding course”. I’m now riding a SYM-RV250 and I must say its thrill every time, be it picking up a loca pizza or organizing the annual, “PI Mid Life Crisis Motorcycle & Scooter Society” ride to Vancouver Island,(usually ten of us, riding in groups of three). Yes, I wear a full face helmet, gloves, day glo yellow “Joe Rocket” jacket, jeans and boots. Keep up the good work, how about an article on scooters,( not the mobility kind)?.

    Keep up the good work.

    Yours, for keeping the rubber on the road, TM

  2. on 11 Feb 2011 at 5:06 pmB. P.

    Response received by email

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    Britt:

    Your column in the last Times Colonist was a good one. I received riding instruction in England during the 1970′ s from the RAC (Royal Automobile Club), which was mandatory for learners. We had lectures on avoidance of accidents, the importance of front wheel braking and did lots of slow speed slalom work, among other things. Learners could only ride up to 250cc machines and were not allowed on motorways. When I returned to Canada in the 1980’s and bought a 500cc road bike and a 250cc trail bike, I was astounded to learn that anyone could buy and ride a large and powerful motorcycle with no training. I joined the Retreads to take part in road rallies and was even more astounded to find out that riders here thought that a 500cc bike was “too small” and they knew nothing about balanced braking, bump steering or other accident avoidance techniques. When I explained the use of the front brake for panic stops and bump steering to avoid hazards, most told me that they didn’t “believe” in these techniques, as though we were discussing a religion, rather than physics. Sometimes these discussions, especially about braking, took place after a rider (usually on a Goldwing) had just fallen over after trying a panic stop using only the rear brake!

    Keep up the good work on instituting mandatory rider training.

    Regards,
    B.P.

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