Motorcycle Riders: Is Concern Warranted? TIRF Poll

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OTTAWA, June 29 2009 – Canadian motorcyclists are not behaving more or less risky on the roads than other drivers according to a public opinion poll conducted in September 2008 by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation. Designed to investigate motorcycle rider behaviour and public attitudes and perceptions of the problem, the poll also revealed the public is less concerned about unsafe motorcycle riders than other road safety issues. Yet researchers and interest groups may not agree and suggest that concern is still warranted.

“Riding a motorcycle was perceived as being the least risky of all road behaviours,” says Ward Vanlaar, TIRF researcher. “Only about 17 percent of respondents perceived riding a motorcycle to be very or extremely risky.”

This lower rating of concern may be the result of the public’s perception that riders’ driving behaviour is comparable to that of other road users. For example, 25.5% of Canadian motorcyclists admit to riding well above the speed limit, compared to 24.3% of drivers. This suggests that there is really no difference between riders and drivers given the low margin of error of this study.

Despite the relatively low-level of risk perceived by Canadians, researchers and interest groups express concern over the safety of motorcyclists. While data from Transport Canada suggest that the overall number of motor vehicle crashes is decreasing, the motorcyclist fatality rate in Canada has increased every year, from 172 in 2002 to 229 in 2005. This increase was paralleled by a comparable increase in the number of motorcyclist registrations.

“There was a modest decrease in the number of motorcyclist fatalities in 2006 of 0.3%,” says Vanlaar. “Although such a decline may be encouraging, it is small and it is too soon to tell whether the percentage is truly declining or not.”

Motorcycle riders are more vulnerable because they lack the protection of an enclosed vehicle. Motorcycles also lack many safety features of passenger cars such as airbags and seatbelts. Also, when involved in a crash, a motorcyclist without a helmet is 40% more likely to suffer a fatal head injury and 15% more likely to suffer a non-fatal injury.

“It was found that those who frequently ride a motorcycle without wearing a helmet were significantly more likely to be older than those who do frequently wear a helmet,” says Vanlaar. “Those who do not frequently wear a helmet were also more likely to be from a rural area and were more likely to be unmarried.”

What is encouraging about the survey findings is that only 3.1% of Canadian motorcyclists report riding without their helmet. However, there is still room for improvement in decreasing the number of riders who engage in risky riding behaviours as 10.5% of motorcyclists polled admitted to weaving in and out of traffic, 9% of riders admitted to passing other vehicles when it is not safe to do so; 8.5% of riders admitted to performing stunts on public roads, this in addition to the 25.5% who admit to riding well above the speed limit.

“While overall motorcycle rider behaviour may not be more or less risky than the behaviour of other drivers,” says Vanlaar. “Canadian drivers and motorcyclists alike agreed on various countermeasures to discourage risky driving behaviours.”

Seventy-three percent of Canadians agreed that motorcycles should be impounded for performing stunts on public roads; 66.2% agreed that there should be increased fines for the non-use of helmets for motorcyclists; and 51.8% agreed that there should be an engine size limitation for new motorcycle riders.

Motorcycle riders agreed with increased fines for the non-use of helmets as drivers of other motor vehicles and motorcycle riders were actually more supportive than other road users for restricting engine size for new riders.

About the poll

These results are based on the Road Safety Monitor (RSM), an annual public opinion survey conducted by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF). A total of 1,201 Canadians completed the interview. Results can be considered accurate within plus or minus 2.9%, 19 times out of 20. This report was made possible by financial support from Transport Canada, the Brewers Association of Canada, the Canadian Motorcycle Association (CMA), the Motorcycle & Moped Industry Council (MMIC), and the Canada Safety Council (CSC).

About TIRF:

Established in 1964, TIRF’s mission is to reduce traffic-related deaths and injuries. As a national, independent, charitable road safety institute, TIRF designs, promotes, and implements effective programs and policies, based on sound research. TIRF is a registered charity and depends on grants, contracts, and donations to provide services for the public. For more information, visit http://www.tirf.ca/.