Safety and the Motorcycle Rider

This archived article is from July 2001. Although every effort has been made to make sure the information presented is accurate, please note that it may contain information that is out-of-date.

The image of the typical motorcyclist is changing. No longer do young, thrill-seeking riders predominate. No longer are motorcycles looked upon as cheap transportation. Today, more and more middle-aged riders are taking to the road. Many of them ride powerful, expensive machines. There's even a name for the new wave of motorcyclists - "rubies" (rich urban bikers).

The average age of riders in CSC's motorcycle training program is now late 30s, about 10 years older than a decade ago. During the 1990s, the age of the average US motorcycle buyer rose from 25 to 39 over the past 10 years.

The typical California motorcycle buyer is a 42-year-old male white collar worker with an income of US $67,000.

In Canada, motorcycle sales have more than tripled in the past few years, from 24,000 in 1996 to 76,000 in 2003. The average age of buyers is about 46 years old.

Most Canadian bikers are trained

Seventy per cent of all newly licensed motorcyclists in Canada (in Ontario, 85 per cent) take the Canada Safety Council course, which is called Gearing Up. Enrollment is increasing as motorcycles regain their popularity. In 2003 alone over 23,000 riders across Canada completed the Canada Safety Council's Motorcycle Training Program. The program has achieved world-wide recognition for its excellence in content and delivery. Motorcycle enthusiasts not only become safer riders, they also thoroughly enjoy the course.

Teaching someone how to ride a motorcycle is very different from training a new driver. Most new drivers need to learn how to operate the vehicle, obey the rules of the road and relate to traffic. On the other hand, most beginning motorcycle riders already know how to drive and have experience in the road environment. The bike is a second vehicle, often bought for recreation, and they want to be able to handle it safely.

Impressive progress

Motorcycles used to have a bad reputation for safety. Motorcycle fatalities peaked in 1973, when 903 motorcyclists died on Canadian roads. The heavy toll of deaths and injuries raised an alarm, which led to the Canada Safety Council's motorcycle training program, the first program of its kind in the world. Transport Canada provided seed funding in 1973-74, and the motorcycle industry has provided ongoing support since then.

Today's vehicles and roads are safer, and so are the riders - because most of them have been trained. In 2002, there were 172 motorcyclists killed on Canadian roads. This represented 5.9 per cent of the total road fatalities in Canada, down substantially from 10.7 per cent in 1983. In the 11 years from 1987 to 1998, the motorcycle fatality rate decreased by 40 per cent. The injury rate went down by 48 per cent.

The decline in motorcycle fatalities has outpaced a general downward trend as fewer people in general are being killed in motor vehicle crashes. Between 1983 and 1999, the total number of all traffic fatalities dropped 30 per cent. During that period, motorcycle registration dropped 33 per cent, so a reduction would be expected due to less exposure. However, fatalities dropped by a very impressive 65 per cent.

Many fatal motorcycle crashes have a common profile: single vehicle, on a weekend, in the summer, at night, in a rural location and on a road with a posted speed limit of 90 km/h and over. These crashes are typically the fault of the motorcyclist. Alcohol is involved in about one-third, well over half of which have excessively high BACs (over 0.15). Young riders account for only 11 per cent of motorcycle fatalities.

For any who dispute the value of training, recent experience in Quebec is revealing. From 1985 to 1997, motorcycle rider training was mandatory in Quebec. In 1998- immediately following the removal of mandatory rider training in 1997- motorcycle fatalities shot up by 46 per cent. Quebec reintroduced mandatory rider training effective July 1, 2000.

Mandatory rider training offers benefits, but also has some drawbacks. Ontario, for example, has taken the route of voluntary training with incentives, which has proven more effective in the long run.

The bottom line, he says is that there is no substitute for a safety conscious, sober, trained motorcycle rider.