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West Region OPP stress importance of motorcycle safety amid jump in fatal collisions

OPP Insp. Shawn Johnson speaks during a news conference about motorcyclist safety in London, Ont. on July 28, 2022. West Region OPP say there have been 12 fatalities so far this year involving motorcyclists, a 71 per cent increase from the same period in 2021. Sawyer Bogdan/980 CFPL

Ontario Provincial Police are sounding the alarm and are urging motorcyclists to “make their safety a priority” amid a notable increase in fatal collisions this year involving motorcycles.

At least 12 motorcyclists have died in collisions in West Region so far this year, police say. That’s up from from the seven reported during the same period in 2021. Of the collisions reported in the last eight months, 74 per cent saw the motorcyclist at fault.

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“Twelve is the regional average that we’ve seen over the last ten years. So if things don’t change, we’re in a position to be setting a very tragic record,” said OPP Insp. Shawn Johnson in an interview Thursday with Global News.

Johnson was among four speakers at a news conference Thursday morning outside of the OPP’s London detachment on Exeter Road, held to call attention to the issue.

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Only halfway through the year, Johnson says police are concerned that West Region may break the record 19 collisions involving motorcyclist fatalities that was recorded in 2016.

Grey-Bruce and Norfolk counties have seen the most motorcycle fatalities in West Region with three each. The OPP’s West Region covers an area of southern Ontario as far west as Essex, as far north as Bruce Peninsula, and as far east as Haldimand and Wellington counties.

While a number of factors have contributed to this year’s high number of motorcyclist fatalities, the lead causes are loss of control and speeding, Johnson said.

“Loss of control can be anything from going into a corner too quick or coming upon some gravel on the road or just not paying attention and missing a corner and going off the road,” he said.

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“Some of these (involve) other vehicles, and many of them, ultimately, are a single-motor vehicle — a motorcycle that leaves (the roadway) and strikes a tree.”

Another factor is that there are simply more motorcycles on the road than there have been before, said Const. Melissa Tutin, a motor officer and collision reconstructionist with the OPP.

“People have some wealth maybe saved up from COVID time, maybe not. But there’s a lot more motorcyclists out there, which I love as a motorcycle enthusiast, but at the same point in time … the skill levels don’t necessarily match up with the number of bikes that are out there,” she said.

Tutin described a “massive uptick” in the number of motorcycle collisions that she has had to attend — collisions where someone has died or had their life permanently altered.

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Collisions involving motorcyclists can happen with riders of any age and gender, however both Johnson and Tutin say West Region OPP have noticed a trend — collisions occurring between noon and 4 p.m. on sunny and dry Saturdays and Sundays involving male drivers aged 56 to 64.

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“What happens is people appear to go, ‘I’m going to go for a nice leisurely ride with my partner or alone,’ and not have their guard up,” Johnson said, a sentiment echoed by Tutin.

“Those riders are going out on beautiful days sporadically and are going out to enjoy themselves and maybe their mindset is more on a relaxing time than a possibly assertive and defensive time,” Tutin said.

According to OPP statistics, 87 per cent of victims involved in fatal motorcycle collisions in West Region this year have been male. Nearly 30 per cent have been between 56 and 64.

All 12 of the motorcycle fatalities reported in West Region this year have occurred during clear road and weather conditions.

“If you think about the fact that you have nothing to protect you except for your helmet and your gloves and your jacket, that should be a point of reason for you and you should understand that everything out there has a potential to hurt you,” Tutin said.

“So just be cautious, have a great time and enjoy yourself, but never, never get too relaxed that you forget what you’re doing out there.”

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Motorcyclists are being urged by the OPP to ensure that intersections are clear before proceeding through them, to wear bright protective gear, and to enroll in an MTO-approved motorcycle safety training program, like that offered by Fanshawe College.

Such programs can be helpful for both young riders who are just starting out and older seasoned riders who haven’t been on the bike in a while, said John Patrick, a chief instructor of Fanshawe’s motorcycle training and testing course.

“We’re a little slower in our thinking and our movements that can cause us to lose control of the motorcycle,” he said of older drivers.

“If you have been riding for a while and suddenly you’re riding after not riding for ten years, you may still think it’s ten years ago … and you don’t have the skills to get around that corner, you’ve forgotten them.”

Safety training programs may even be useful for current riders looking to brush up on current technology and the ever-changing rules of the road, Patrick said, noting the changes that have been implemented over the decades to the courses themselves.

“When I took the Fanshawe course in 1982, we drove over a teeter totter. That was the last teeter totter I was on. Our course now, we’re more up to date with the roadways and the skills we need to ride on the roadways than we were 40 years ago,” he said.

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— With files from Sawyer Bogdan

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