12 months ago

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Mississauga, Ontario, Canada

A few years ago, a dear friend of mine was riding his orange Indian Chieftain home on a back road after being away for a few days on a last-minute riding trip.  Mother Nature had blessed him with a few days of summer-like weather in the month of November - what motorcyclist wouldn’t have taken advantage of that?

Gaetan and Betsy Sturgis

Gaetan and Betsy Sturgis

Only 3 ½ hours from home, he was riding in a northbound lane when he approached an intersection equipped with traffic signals.  Travelling in the southbound lane was a Nissan Pathfinder. Within seconds, his beloved bike, Betsy, was in pieces and he was dead.  Just like that.  In an instant, he was removed from the lives of his family and friends, never to be seen on this earth again.  

Did my friend or the driver approach the intersection aggressively trying to beat the light?  Was someone not paying attention?  I will never know.  Regardless, my friend paid the ultimate price with his life.    As motorcycle riders, we will always lose in the event of an accident or a simple mistake such as taking a corner too fast.  The price might be as simple as a story to tell or as costly as a life-altering injury or death. 

I started to ride after being diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2014.  Facing my mortality caused me to stop waiting for the right day to pursue something which I had wanted to do since I was a young girl.  Since becoming a part of the motorcycle community in 2016, I became more aware of serious injuries and fatalities as a result of motorcycle accidents.  Many times, these unfortunate incidents occurred at intersections as a result of drivers not seeing the motorcycle.

Ang and Honda Rebel

Ang and Honda Rebel

I had my own incident when I was a relatively new rider in 2017.  I was stopped at a red light in a northbound passing lane and as I looked in my mirror (head on a swivel)  I saw a car approaching from behind.  The driver was focused on reaching the left turn lane which was a few car lengths ahead.  Rather than stop behind me to wait for the light to turn green, she chose to drive into the empty southbound passing lane and as she did so, her front passenger tire grazed my left foot.  My immediate reaction was to punch her car and shout something like “What the f*ck!!!!” which caused her to immediately stop her vehicle.  Long story short, while she was very apologetic, she said “I didn’t see you”

I was on a red and black motorcycle wearing a red and black riding jacket and a red, white and black full-face helmet.  It was a beautiful sunny, dry clear afternoon.  How could I not be seen?  Had she been distracted?  After all, she did have two children in the back seat.  Was she so intent on reaching the turn lane that she was completely focused on watching for an approaching car in a lane that she should never have been in?  Was it a combination of factors?

Whatever the reason, the end result could have been much worse for me.

Recently, Treat Williams was killed in a motorcycle accident as a result of a collision with a driver of a 2008 Honda SUV.  It has been reported that the driver had turned his signal on before turning left into a parking lot and may not have seen the motorcycle.  Authorities continue to investigate this unfortunate tragedy however regardless of the outcome, a life has been lost and it appears that this was a preventable accident.

This incident took me back to my friend’s untimely death referenced earlier and I became angry.  Another life was lost.  What can be done to prevent these tragedies?  As we can only control our own actions and how we react to situations, are we not each responsible for improving how we share our roadways?  Have we forgotten the basic rules of the road?  Are we in such a rush that the lives of others no longer matter?  Can we not live without our cell phones when operating a motor vehicle?

I do not have to travel far on my bike or in my car to see poor driving habits and I suspect that the same applies to you.  Several riders that I know are often quick to point the finger at the driver of a vehicle when there is a collision with a motorcycle and will not even consider the possibility that the rider may have been in the wrong. 

It seems that it is us (motorcycles)  vs. them (car drivers). 

What can we do to repair this and improve things moving forward?  I suggest that we add a component of motorcycle awareness to driver’s education including explaining things such as;

  • Why we ride staggered
  • Why we block
  • How hazards impact our ride (i.e. wet roads, grass, sand, gravel)
  • How to merge with motorcycles riding in a large group

As motorcycle riders, I suggest that we review our own riding habits.  Are we still practicing what we were taught? 

  • Head on a swivel at all times
  • Do not ride aggressively and do not rush - remember when it was all about the ride?
  • Use extra caution at intersections - wait for the next light if you have to
  • Do not ride when you are tired, angry or feeling unwell.
  • Ride like you are invisible - loud pipes are not guaranteed to protect you.
  • Wear your gear 
  • Keep a level head - do not allow your emotions to get the best of you in the event that you are faced with a bad situation involving a driver or perhaps, another motorcycle rider.
  • Give way to the car even if the right of way is yours.  You will lose in the event of a collision.
  • If riding at night, make sure that your bike is equipped with extra lighting.  Use reflective tape to help ensure that you are seen.

It is easy to blame others in the event of an accident and while you might be right, this will not save your life.  

Your objective should be to enjoy the ride and arrive at your destination safely with stories to share about how awesome your journey was.  

Angie Sandow


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