It all comes down to numbers.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that, between 1997 and 2008, annual motorcycle fatalities in the United States increased by 150 per cent. And, according to a more recent study commissioned by the same organization, motorcycle deaths in 2011 in the United States were up 2 per cent over 2010 – 4,612 in total.
While these numbers are proportionately down in Canada, what's really disconcerting is that riders more than 40 years old accounted for a whopping 75 per cent of all motorcycle accident fatalities. I'm way past that age and, to quote Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry, a man's got to know his limitations.
Here are some other numbers I find troubling:
Motorcycle riders in Canada are at least 15 times more likely to be involved in a crash than automobile drivers. And one in 10 traffic deaths on the road involves a motorcycle. Put another way, a motorcyclist is 14 times more likely to be killed in a collision. Considering that bikes make up a scant 2 per cent of all vehicles on the road, these numbers are mind-boggling. Incidentally, the numbers are highest for high-powered sport bikes.
More than one-third – 36.3 per cent – of all Canadian drivers admit to using cellphones while driving. This number, obtained by the Traffic Research Injury Foundation of Canada (TIRF), means bad news for motorcyclists and, despite various nationwide safety campaigns, motorists are not getting the message when it comes to cellphone usage/texting while driving.
In 2012, there were more than 26 million registered vehicles on the road in Canada. This is up 10 million over 2000, and probably 10 times the number that were on the road when I first started riding, in 1964. Simply put, Canadian roads are getting crowded, and more cars means more potential for an accident.
Ten. Or thereabouts. This is the number of times I've come off my bike while riding – either because of an accident, or because I was not paying attention or playing the fool. Don't remember them all, but the notable ones involve being hit head-on in my own lane by an inattentive teenage driver, colliding with a locomotive late at night, coming off the back of my bike while attempting to ride backward, dropping a fully loaded tourer in a major intersection downtown, and flying over a stone wall after falling asleep. Admittedly, youthful stupidity was a factor in at least a couple of these incidents, but the fact that I survived says to me that I may be pushing the envelope when it comes to second chances.
Three. The number of riding training courses I've taken. They probably made me a more capable rider, but, in terms of safety and making things better out there for riders, they haven't changed things one iota. Riding a motorcycle these days has become a defensive proposition; you can't relax when you're always worried about being clobbered.
Five. The number of bones I've broken or fractured due to motorcycle accidents. Heel-bone, knee, ankle, thumb and nose. Not to mention at least one concussion, and bruises beyond count.
Two. And a half. Approximately. This is the number of years it took me to get over my last accident. It involved wheelchair time and months of physiotherapy and I still have the odd twinge of vertigo. As you get older, you don't bounce back as quickly and injuries that would have been nothing but an inconvenience years ago are now major obstacles. Much as I love riding, my aversion to hospitals is greater.
Four. This is the number of vehicles involved in a collision in Fredericton recently. They were trying to avoid a family of ducks that was crossing the road. One of the vehicles was a motorcycle, but luckily the rider wasn't injured.
I hasten to add that I don't intend to completely stop riding. Asking me to do that is like asking me to stop walking. I bought my first bike in 1964 – a Suzuki 80 scrambler – and old habits die hard. I still love motorcycles and have a few more years left in me yet.
However, I plan to modify my riding habits. Among other things, I won't be riding downtown ever again. Anyone that takes their bike/scooter into the city is asking for trouble. It's Death Race 2013 down there, with construction, crazy bicyclists, heavy truck traffic and bad drivers everywhere.
Much as I'm loathe to admit it, I also think my days of dawn-til-dusk touring are over. Incomparably exhilarating as it is, riding a bike all day gets tiring, and fatigue leads to trouble. Day trips for me from here on in.
And when I do ride, I will be more scrupulous when it comes to changing lanes, merging into traffic, following behind trucks, coming to a complete stop at stop signs, performing over-the-shoulder visual checks, and watching my speed.
I don't want my days to be numbered.
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