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The 2010 motorcycle accident of Daniel Lanois, Grammy-winning Canadian music producer and artist, highlighted some important facts: The average age of motorcycle operators is steadily increasing (Lanois is 59), and the number of accidents among older riders is also steadily increasing. (Lanois veered to avoid a left-turning vehicle and hit an industrial box on the sidewalk going 35 mph.)

Having taught motorcycle safety for almost a decade (and having ridden for more than two), I can safely state that older riders face a different set of challenges than younger ones. Where a younger rider’s biggest obstacle might be a false sense of immortality, an older rider’s biggest obstacle might be a smug sense of knowing it all.

Oh, sure, we might have been operating vehicles for 27 years (OK, maybe I’m personalizing this a bit!), but we also might have acquired a few habits that make us a road nuisance. And when transferred onto the saddle of an iron horse (as Lanois calls motorcycles), these minor habits can become dangerous.

As a biker, you have a vulnerability that is not shared by other vehicle drivers on the road. You do not have the protection of the “metal cage” (a car’s doors, ceiling and floor). You are a single-track vehicle providing other drivers a decreased perception of your exact location and rate of arrival. And in an accident, you will always go down harder than any car driver.

These are the unalterable facts.

Here are just three traffic management tips that can decrease your risk and increase your safety. It’s time to re-learn what you think you already know about navigating busy intersections, managing your own tailgating habits and reducing your own stress levels.

Intersections

Some riders (and, yes, drivers) get overly protective of owning the entire lane when turning. There’s no need for that.

Turn left from the left-most side; turn right from the right-most side. The bulk of hazards come from the space you are moving into, not away from. It should go without saying that trucking turns should be left to … truckers.

And for goodness sake pull into the middle of the intersection on the green light, and then stop and wait for a break in traffic. To execute your turn, you should be able to simply turn your front wheel, and go. This significantly reduces your reliance on the guesswork needed by oncoming vehicle operators of the time and space you require to complete your turn.

Tailgating

The new rule of thumb for following another vehicle has been increased from a two-second to a three-second count. Those of us who learned our driving skills more than a decade ago might not know that.

Following a vehicle with anything less than a three-second count is dangerous. Yes, that other vehicle might suddenly brake and you’ll need the time to respond. That’s one hazard most of us are all too familiar with.

But wait: There’s more …

If the multi-wheeled vehicle ahead of you is navigating a sizable obstacle (like a rock, a branch or a dead animal) or a significant hazard (like an oil slick, a deep pothole or a major puddle) by driving over it, you the biker need time to respond to what comes out from between their wheels. Three seconds afford you that time.

Manage your stress

Where possible, take conscious steps to minimize riding stress.

Make it a rule to leave 15 minutes early for any destination.

If you are followed by a tailgater, pull over when it is safe and legal to do so. Let that driver inflict their anxiety on someone other than you.

And in thick traffic on a multi-laned highway, pick the right-hand lane. Yes, the slow-moving one. You’ll find that this placement alleviates stress because you don’t need to enter the futile (and anxiety packed) lane-hopping race that will get you 50 metres ahead over the span of 10 kilometres. Saving a minute or two is not worth sacrificing the pleasure of the ride.

My rule of thumb is that my safety depends entirely on me. Sure, it would be nice if other drivers would smarten up and become more aware of motorcycle riders. But that’s like depending on the man to take responsibility for a woman’s birth control: A great idea in a perfect world, but not very Smart in the practical one.

We should become more active in managing our own riding safety. And pleasure.

Lanois, a passionate and longtime motorcycle enthusiast, is, thank goodness, expected to make a full recovery although his accident left him in critical condition with numerous broken bones and bruises. In a strange, butt-backward kind of way, this makes him one of the lucky ones.

Some accidents are unavoidable; these we can’t plan for. Others are entirely avoidable; these, we must guard against. Be open to “not knowing” and start relearning your own skills.

Take control. Take a course.

And take care.

– Britt Santowski

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 keynote speaker, workshop facilitator, speaker, consultant and author.

britt[at]imallowed[dot]com

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4 Responses to “Motorcycle accident patterns are changing”

  1. on 11 Feb 2011 at 3:16 pmAnn

    Hello Britt,

    I read with interest your column on motorcycle safety in today’s Times Colonist. I’ve never ridden on a motorcycle (not brave enough), but think bikes are a great method of transportation in cities (e.g., take up less space on the road, easy to get around in, easier to find parking, energy efficient, etc.) plus I’m sure they’re fun to ride.

    I do have a major concern with some cyclists and their bikes, though, and I’m wondering if you could address it in a future column.

    Although many bikes purr quietly, I am greatly concerned about bikes that are extremely loud and contribute to noise pollution.

    I live on Cook St. in Fairfield and although I don’t mind the steady hum of car traffic, loud motorcycles on the street are extremely annoying and irritating. Sometimes I hear them coming from several blocks away. They drown out stereos, TV, and conversation. Noisy cyclists disturb the peace at night and wake people from their sleep. One night a few weeks ago I heard a deafening roar about 11:45 PM. I got up and looked out to see what the commotion was. Twenty (!) cyclists were riding in pairs and made their way south on Cook St. before turning right onto Fairfield Road. The noise was incredibly loud.

    Noise from motorcycles is a frequent topic of conversation among my neighbors and others who live, work, and shop in Cook St. Village. It’s actually having a negative impact on quality of life, especially in the summer, because it erodes peace and quiet in communities.

    I’ve contacted both the police and my city representative and although they agree it’s a real problem, they both said by-laws are difficult to enforce.

    It seems to me it now must be up to the motorcyclists to regulate themselves and apply peer pressure on those who’ve made their bikes extra loud by actually spending money and paying someone to put on a louder muffler.

    I realize this is not a direct safety issue, but I do wonder if riders aren’t susceptible to hearing loss when they choose to ride such loud bikes.

    Thanks for listening!

    Sincerely,

    Ann H

  2. on 11 Feb 2011 at 3:17 pmBritt

    Dear Ann,

    Thanks for your suggestion! In an upcoming article, I do make the point that 80% of all input is visual (and not auditory), but you do raise an excellent point. There are in fact noise bylaws, and there are bikes out there that are in violation of those laws. Unfortunately, they are often not enforced, although in Vancouver they have started to ticket the odd rider.

    I’ll keep it in mind for future articles, and look for ways to weave it in. Some argue that the noise helps to keep them safe as it increases their conspicuity (their presence) in traffic. I’ve observed, though, that we tend to hear noises ahead of us more so than those behind us, which reduces that argument somewhat. But I’ll need to look into that further.

    Thanks, Ann, for reading the column and taking the time to share your thoughts!

    All the best to you,
    Britt Santowski

  3. on 11 Feb 2011 at 3:18 pmAnn

    Hi Britt,

    Thank you for your very prompt reply!

    Re: the notion noise increases their conspicuity/presence – yes, I’ve thought about that and can see their point. If I were a rider I’d want to make sure that cars were aware of me, too!!

    But, as a driver, I think the key issue is for cyclists to drive sensibly! As a driver I’m concerned when cyclists zip up and in and out in traffic, driving much faster than the flow of the other cars! To me, it’s unpredictable and I don’t know what they’re going to do. So what if I hear a roar? It’s gone in a flash.

    As a pedestrian, I watch cyclists race up toward yellow lights, trying to beat the light. Sure, they make a loud roar, but will the cars waiting to move ahead on their green light hear it and know where it’s coming from?

    I’m not sure if I’m making myself clear, here, but let’s just say I have some concerns about how some cyclists ride/drive so I’m so happy to see your column in the paper!!

    Every time I see a cyclist with good, safe driving skills on a quietly humming bike I bless them!! LOL I wish they were all like that!!

    On another note, I thought it interesting you began the column mentioning Daniel Lanois. I’m an admirer of his work and the initial news story in the paper caught my eye. Riding on a bike looks like so much fun, but at the same time cyclists are so vulnerable. We all (drivers, riders, and pedestrians) need to do our part to keep roads safe.

    Thanks for considering my request about noise. I really appreciate it.

    Have a great weekend,

    Ann

  4. on 11 Feb 2011 at 4:22 pmHarry

    Hi Britt,

    I read your article from 9-July regarding “How to lower risk of riding accidents” and quite liked it. Especailly ” My rule of thumb is that my safety depends entirely on me” seems to be the only thorough accident avoidence strategy. In this regard, it would be interesting to write about the phenomena that large numbers of riders ride in jeans and T-Shirts (with friends or oven their children on their back seat in the same “fashion”).

    It does not matter what type of bike you ride or how fast, hitting a vehicle with 35Km/h followed by unforgivable ashphalt puts medical personal to work.

    Only thing I didn’t like was your comparison in regards to birth control in comparison : “But that’s like depending on the man to take responsibility for a woman’s birth control: A great idea in a perfect world, but not very smart in the practical one”. Times have certainly changed today. There are enough responsible man and women in todays modern world that regard birth control for each party as important as responsible motorycle riders carry propper gear. But you are right in terms of your message: acquiring and practising safety skills as well as beeing one step ahead in the traffic is important . I hope that my daughter is never ever sitting on the back seat of some irresponsible person but get her own bike, gear and depend on her own skills.

    Anyway, thanks for picking up on motorcycle issues in the TC.

    Regards,

    Harry

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