In Contact With It All: How to Minimize Motorcycle Safety Risks

“In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.

On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.”

Robert M. PirsigZen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

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Riding can evoke an undeniable feeling of freedom. However, this enjoyment is not without motorcycle safety risks.

According to Toronto Traffic Services, as of July, there have been 191 collisions involving motorcycles including 3 fatalities. The most recent involved a young woman who was killed when another vehicle made an illegal U-turn across her lane of traffic.

Devastating collisions such as these bring to light the vulnerability of even the most careful and experienced riders and the precarious circumstances motorcyclists face when sharing the road with other vehicles.

Many collisions have been caused by a lack of visibility; drivers simply do not see the motorcycle. It is important for riders to recognize these risks and take precautions before setting out on the road to minimize risk of accidents and injury. These precautions go beyond abiding by provincial motorcycle laws and regulations and can include honing defensive riding strategies and skills, ensuring regular upkeep of tires and lights, wearing gear designed to maximize visibility and reduce impact in the case of a fall, and riding in groups.

Training for Motorcycle Safety: Licensing and Regulations in Ontario

“Riding a motorcycle on today’s highways, you have to ride in a very defensive manner. You have to be a good rider and you have to have both hands and both feet on the controls at all times.”

Evel Knievel

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Getting a motorcycle license in Ontario is a graduated two-stage process that takes at least 20 months to complete. Level 1 requires a written knowledge test of rules of the road and traffic signs, after which an M1 license is earned. Level 1 then requires a road test in order to earn an M2 license. Level 1 riders may only ride during daylight hours, may not carry any passengers, and may not ride on roads with a speed limits above 80 km/h. At Level 2, the only restriction is to have a zero Blood Alcohol Content while operating the motorcycle. A second road test is required in order to attain a full M licence.

While driving courses are not required by law, the extra training provided by these courses can go a long way in teaching skills that can save a rider’s life in emergency situations on the road.

Maintaining Your Motorcycle

Motorcycle maintenance is also an essential part of staying safe on the road. Motorcycles require more regular maintenance than cars and thorough inspections should be completed before every ride. Tires, signals, headlights and brake lights, chains or drive shafts, shock absorbers, and brakes are essential to a motorcycle safety during operation and should all be properly maintained and included in the inspection.

In order to register a motorcycle, a Safety Standards Certificate must be obtained through licensed garages by the Ministry of Transportation. The motorcycle safety inspection is conducted by a certified mechanic and the Certificate remains valid for 36 days. While a motorcycle may be bought and registered without a Safety Standards Certificate, the certificate is required in order to place personal plates on the motorcycle and ride on roads.

Tires

Tires are the only point of contact between the motorcycle and the road. Buying new tires is recommended if the tread is getting low or wearing unevenly. Worn tires and inadequate tread depth greatly reduce braking power and traction, especially on wet roads. Tires should also be checked for any visible damage such as cuts, cracks, scrapes, exposed cord, or abnormal bumps or bulges. In addition, proper tire size is imperative and should be inflated to manufacturer specifications.

Wheels

Wheels should be checked for missing or loose spokes, and the rims for cracks or dents. If the motorcycle bounces several times after crossing a bump or a clunk is heard, this may be a sign that the suspension system need to be adjusted, repaired, or replaced.

Brakes

Scraping sounds when attempting to stop, or a spongy feeling when braking necessitates immediate servicing of the brakes. Fluid levels should be checked regularly if the motorcycle has hydraulic brakes.

Dress for the Fall, Not the Ride

Helmets

The most important component of a rider’s gear is the helmet. Under the Highway Traffic Act, it is mandatory for all motorcyclists to wear a helmet that conforms to the requirements of the Canadian Standards Association, Snell Memorial Foundation, British Standards Institute, United States of America Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (bearing the symbol “DOT”) or the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Regulation No.22.

While full-face helmets provide the most protection, open-face and other helmet styles will comply with Ontario law depending on their rating. When selecting a helmet, it is also important to remember that different safety ratings have varying criteria and are not all equal.

Other Gear

While proper gear cannot prevent accidents, it can help to minimize injury. Gloves, reflective clothing, body armour, long sleeves, proper riding boots, and Kevlar jeans all have features that are specifically designed to protect riders in the event of an accident or a fall.

Kevlar is a synthetic fiber used for its high strength-to-weight ratio, making it 5 times stronger than steel by this measure. It is designed to protect wearers against cuts, abrasions and heat. Kevlar is ideal as padding in the shoulder and elbow areas, as well as in riding pants, as it is more flexible, comfortable, and lightweight than traditional leather. Reflective clothing is also a key consideration for visibility, especially when riding at dusk and night.

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Riders can reduce risks by regularly having their bikes inspected, performing necessary maintenance of tires and parts, and wearing proper gear. In the height of the riding season, we remind you to have fun and put motorcycle safety first!

Thank you to Anindita Asaduzzaman, Student-at-Law, for assistance in research and writing of this post.

Michael Giordano
Written by

Michael Giordano is a founding partner of Avanessy Giordano LLP. Prior to establishing his own practice, he was a partner of a prominent Mississauga personal injury firm.

He completed his law degree at the University of Ottawa. Prior to law school, Michael studied English and Law & Society at York University.

Michael is an active member of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association and is the current Vice-Chair of the New Lawyers Division. He is a regular contributor to the OTLA blog and has also written for The Litigator.