Opinion

Column: The ache of motorcycle fatalities

This is a recovery scene from a non-fatal accident that occured on Sunday, August 25. The incident was handled by the Metchosin Fire Department, and I had the opportunity to speak with Stephanie Dunlop, the Fire Chief who attended the scene.  “The helmet the gal had probably saved her life,” said Dunlop, stating that she was the one who attended the female passenger. It was at least a three-quarter helmet that included a face shield.  Dunlop offered two profound pieces of advice. For riders, slow down. The 4000 to 4500 block of Sooke road sees a lot of accidents. For people who witness a motorcyclist going down, do not try to move the rider, don’t take off their helmet, and don’t do anything to improve their comfort. “When an accident occurs, don’t try to propel their head,” Dunlop advised. Motorcyclists, due to their vulnerability, “are much more liable to have spinal injuries.” - Britt Santowski
This is a recovery scene from a non-fatal accident that occured on Sunday, August 25. The incident was handled by the Metchosin Fire Department, and I had the opportunity to speak with Stephanie Dunlop, the Fire Chief who attended the scene. “The helmet the gal had probably saved her life,” said Dunlop, stating that she was the one who attended the female passenger. It was at least a three-quarter helmet that included a face shield. Dunlop offered two profound pieces of advice. For riders, slow down. The 4000 to 4500 block of Sooke road sees a lot of accidents. For people who witness a motorcyclist going down, do not try to move the rider, don’t take off their helmet, and don’t do anything to improve their comfort. “When an accident occurs, don’t try to propel their head,” Dunlop advised. Motorcyclists, due to their vulnerability, “are much more liable to have spinal injuries.”
— image credit: Britt Santowski

It breaks my heart whenever I hear of a motorcycle fatality.

I first started riding when I was 25, and in my first year, a 25-year-old women died in a motorcycle accident, in the same city in which I lived.

My phone rang off the hook. No, it wasn’t me; yes, I was okay. Inwardly, I shuddered at the notion that it might have been me.

Sometimes, when there is a non-motorcyclist to blame, it makes it marginally easier. Marginally being the key word.

Because then there is an emotion outlet: you can rage against the “other,” the one who failed to notice “one of us.”

When the motorcyclist is at fault, there is no such outlet to relieve the ache.

In efforts to prevent this happening to anyone, I repeat the mantra over and over again: Take a course, take a course, take a course.

My first stint on a bike was in my early 20s, on the back seat. I loved it. My friend knew I would love it even more if I shifted to the front seat, so he attempted to teach me to handle the machine.

“It’s easy,” he said, “just hold in the clutch, put it in first, release the clutch and you’re off.”

After learning where the clutch was and how to tap the bike into gear, I did what he said, dropped his bike, and promptly (and happily) hopped back onto the back seat. After he picked both me and the bike up off the ground.

My next stint wasn’t until years later.This time, I signed up for a course, paid through the nose, and haven’t regretted a single spent penny. In fact, I was so married to the notion of being an educated rider that I became an instructor (and eventually a Chief instructor) with the Vancouver Island Safety Council for nearly a decade.

But here’s the kicker: educated or not, an accident — even a fatality — is a forever looming risk.

It’s horrible when we under-estimate our speed and take a corner too quickly, or when a deer leaps in front of our path of travel, or when a massive rock makes a sudden appearance from under the wheels of the vehicle in front of us.

It’s an accepted, educated risk. I know this can happen to me, but because I love to ride, I choose to.

We pit vehicles against bikers when there is an accident. We lash out and find blame at all the stupidity that’s been granted licences. We rant and rave. But strip away the futile rants, and all you’re left with is a core of sorrow.

As good as a rider I think I am, truth is, it could have been me.

Today, this column goes out to anyone who has lost a rider. There is a collective ache of sadness when this happens, and assigning blame will not undo the reality of what is.

Today, I have only two pieces of advice:

1. Ride smart.

2. Live compassionately.

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