Is safely navigating a dirt road by motorcycle illegal in BC?
Amongst the fanfare of British Columbia Ministry of Justice’s April 30th, 2012 announcement of new motorcycling laws requiring DOT, Snell M2005, Snell M2010 or ECE certified helmets are far reaching penalties for being out of the saddle. You’d better be sitting down, because the release re-emphasizes Motor Vehicle Act Section 55, which sees standing to improve motorcycle control on unpaved surfaces as illegal. Largely rural, a majority of BC’s roads are unpaved and by the letter this law does endanger, if not make outlaws of, responsible dual sport, adventure and supermoto riders.
On one front the new laws to mark the beginning of Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month are a good step forward. Introducing stronger helmet laws requiring DOT, Snell M2005, Snell M2010 or ECE certification, while not perfect, goes far toward ensuring the safety of the salad-bowl set of cruiser riders, despite their protests. Set aside that DOT still allows for ‘beanie’ style helmets, they just need to be certified, the new law will do little to affect the safety of other genres of motorcycling. Sportbike, dual-sport and adventure riders, sit in demographics that already default towards the purchase of proper modern helmets.
Where things go from law to flaw is the reemphasis of a seating requirement that ignores good riding technique on unpaved surfaces, (Section 55 of BC’s Motor Vehicle Act). In the press release’s backgrounder the requirement states, “The operator of a motorcycle must be seated astride the driver’s seat.” Essentially, a rider standing on the pegs, a well accepted off-road technique to increase control of a motorcycle on compromised surfaces, is breaking the law.
The consequences are not insubstantial, the fines range from $109 to $121, and “in addition to fines, riders violating seating requirements will have their motorcycles impounded.” Per a twitter conversation with Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles (OSMV) via their @RoadSafetyBC twitter account,
“police use common sense and the harsher punishments are designed for those stunting – stood on seat, sat on bars, etc”
Except, police are already backed by strong anti-stunting and anti-speeding (http://www.onewheeldrive.net/2010/10/26/the-40kmh-solution/) laws in BC. Strong to the point where impoundment is purely at police discretion, making cops both judge and jury; a situation recently overturned in drunk-driving legislation as unconstitutional. Indeed re-emphasis of the ‘butt in seat’ law could be a fail safe in the event BC’s stunting laws are found unconstitutional. For this or other political motivations, Police and the Provincial Government could break the social contract of common sense without changing existing laws, leaving those riding unpaved roads exposed, or be used regionally to reduce dual sport and adventure access. It’s a scenario that behooves motorcyclists to explicitly protect the option of riding safely without fear or prosecution.
Moreover, having standing on the pegs technically illegal in a province where kilometers of dirt roads outnumbers paved roads 6:1 (a conservative estimate), infers a lack of understanding of motorcycle control on unpaved surfaces and a willingness to forget the reality of our province’s infrastructure. So a bit of physics 101 for law makers then.
Physics of Riding on the Pegs: A Law Maker’s Primer
Keeping with a simplified model, let’s start with the basics. As a bike increases speed, its stability is increased by the gyroscopic action of the wheels’ rotating mass.* This in conjunction with forward inertia is why when off-road you attempt to maintain your bike’s momentum on loose surfaces, rather than slowing to a crawl.
As you slow your motorcycle it effectively becomes harder to balance, since you’re losing the stabilizing gyroscopic action and have to rely increasingly on your ability to balance the bike. Standing on the pegs assists this low to moderate speed balancing act by letting you lever the mass of the bike. The pegs can be used in conjunction with the bars to manipulate the bike’s mass and improve your ability to keep the vehicle balanced. Additionally, a rider can shift their body mass to counterbalance the bike preventing low speed falls, whose probability increase with marginal speed.
Standing also allows your body to become an active part of the suspension, letting the rider compensate for road hazards. Standing, a rider can absorb the impact of an unavoidable road hazard such as a series of potholes or cross cut in the pavement, that would otherwise destabilize the bike. In interaction with the improved balance control provided by standing, one can quickly adapt to a wider range of road surfaces and hazards. Indeed, those stewards of our safety, ICBC even recommends this technique in Chapter 9 of their “Learn to Ride Smart” Guide, which is “full of information you need to know to pass your knowledge, motorcyle skills and road tests”. Contradicting BC’s Lawmakers in the section “Strategies: handling irregular surfaces”, the learners guide reads,
“When riding from one road surface level to a different level, rise off the seat, keeping your weight on the footpegs if possible.”
A case in point, a 1km long stretch of pea-gravel found in a construction zone, or on any number of BC’s unpaved roads. At 30km/h a bike has largely lost the gyroscopic action stabilizing it and forwards inertia is minimal, allowing the bike to settle into the gravel. Experientially this means you’re balancing the bike on a floor covered with inconsistently shaped marbles.
Remember, in these circumstances low-speed is not your friend (unlike most laws assume), since you’re balancing the mass of the bike as well as your luggage and passenger. Additionally, bereft of forward inertia, the bike’s guiding front tire can sink into the gravel, rather than “planing” atop it. On many bikes this sees the front end “plow”, essentially be guided off course by the loose surface. They will also “wash”, where the looseness of the surface will allow an angled tire to slide out. Controlling the bike from a seated position at this speed will leave many riders struggling with the surface. Add the option of standing on a dual-sport, adventure, standard or even sport-bike, and the rider can more effectively counter for the unstable surfaces. This increases the rider’s safety, and the safety of any traffic around them.
These are not advanced skills, as the ICBC learners guide suggests. The effect even for a novice rider of standing when traversing an unstable surface is immediate and obvious. Even, Ontario, Oregon, and California recommend standing on pegs in their official motorcycle riders handbooks when encountering rough spots.
A Season Known as Construction:
As an additional consideration, BC is fast approaching road construction season, also known as summer. With a province full of non-hypothetical work zones, riders will inevitably be faced with gravel sections and are forced by the law to use of a compromised riding techniques.
This can’t be so? Would a government attempting to mandate safe behavior ignore the actual physics of riding? From our conversation with @RoadSafetyBC it seems to be the case:
Question: @RoadSafetyBC re: http://t.co/TsjW0DnX seating requirements, is standing on pegs for better control in gravel construction zones disallowed?
Answer: @neiljohnston yes – on a public highway the best place is sat down – slow down through gravel zone. Emergency stop stood on pegs = disaster
If this law is considering safety, per @RoadSafetyBC’s comment, then the best emergency stop is the one avoided. That means keeping control of your bike in a emergency situation on loose surfaces regardless of speed.
The ‘butt in seat’ law, by removing the ability to compensate for low-traction surfaces, gravel or road hazards, runs counter to the release’s quote from Denise Lodge of Coalition of Riders Educating Youth (COREY),
“Times have changed; motorcycles are more light weight and much more powerful. Now more than ever, riders need the tools and skills to ride safely.”
Clearly Lodge has street bikes in mind, but the if laws obviate valid techniques for maintaining control, then the government is subverting Lodge’s fight to increase motorcyclist road safety. And, no doubt Lodge is fighting the good fight, one that is fueled by the loss of her son in a sportbiking accident. Unfortunately though, grief over one type of incident may create a bias in her efforts that exclude consideration of a wider range of riding techniques and styles that can increase rider safety. The same applies to the largely cruiser centric BCCOM (BC Coalition of Motorcyclists), a decidedly fractured old school group many of whom resent the new helmet laws.
In only considering cruisers or sportbikes, this law takes a “Sunday putter on a sunny day” approach, where good weather and traction give the option of your butt in the seat at all time. What it fails to do is account for the reality of riding on BC’s roads, a majority of whom are unpaved, in a variety of weather and surface conditions. While standing to maintain control on gravel may not be effective on a cruiser, it is effective on standard, dual-sport, adventure, touring, sport touring and even sport bikes on low traction surfaces — and motorcyclists should not face potential punishment for safe and effective riding.
Making the Law a Solution
As @RoadSafetyBC’s comment suggests there is a blind adherence in spite of logic, physics and a complete lack of statistical evidence presented by the government in the release that, “the best place is sat down”. As we’ve discussed in a province as extensively webbed with unpaved roads and BC, that’s simply not the case. Nor is it the case on pavement in a variety of conditions including frost, wet and construction for multiple types of motorcycle.
Since these laws are undergoing a touch up, why not allow riders to use techniques appropriate for the surface to improve safety? A minimal change:
The operator of a motorcycle must be seated astride the driver’s seat, except when conditions permit or require to maintain safety and control such as on:
- unpaved surfaces.
- surfaces where vehicle traction may be compromised by road conditions.
Would provide clarity on the law and reduce the likelihood of misinterpretation or abuse by law enforcement.
Foremost, the change allows the legal use of proper riding technique on unpaved or low traction surfaces, improving emergency avoidance by maintaining vehicle control. The result is the law’s proposed end goal, enhancing rider safety. Beyond that, acknowledging the nature of unpaved roads makes the law fit the reality of BC’s infrastructure. The change also educates riders of an additional skill in deal with road hazards — speculatively a law understanding the riding community will have many incredulous readers. It also prevents the law from being a being an unconsidered solution to a statistically unlikely problem and unsupported solution, minimizing criticism of the current government. Lastly, it prevents those riders who wish to travel BC’s unpaved surfaces or adapt to its road conditions from risking prosecution for riding safely — be that through police misinterpretation or malice, or by extension the government’s.
An Offer to Shirley Bond:
In examining the ‘butts on seats’ law, one can only see law makers who are ignorant of riding and its physics at work, who have ignored their consulting on riders, forgotten that BC’s roads extend far beyond the pavement surrounding parliament, and that laws need to protect the responsible majority from abuse or mis-use. To help rectify that, we’d be pleased to put Attorney General Shirley Bond on the back on an Adventure or Dual-Sport bike and demonstrate the reduction of rider control while sitting versus the improved control while standing on an unpaved road. We cannot however guarantee she won’t return with some bruises from the former experience as we demonstrate the flaw in the “butt on seat” law. At least the Attorney General will be wearing a safe helmet, which giving us one small positive step forward towards rider safety. The AG will also see some of the most spectacular views BC has to offer, provided we can stand up to get there.
Want to comment on the systemic problem with motorcycle laws ignoring the broader spectrum of riders? Make yourself heard, tweet @RoadSafetyBC at http://twitter.com/@RoadSafetyBC
Or, contact the Attorney General Shirley Bond by email at: JAG.Minister@gov.bc.ca
* Footnote: There is a diminishing return to this gyroscopic action. On a track, well beyond legal speeds, the stability becomes a force that the rider is fighting in order to steer the motorcycle. Additionally, other vectors such as wind resistance, traction provided by the surface, suspension settings that ensure the tires are actually connecting with that surface come increasingly into play. This is one reason why racers will invest in lighter rims to reduce the rotational mass of the wheels, it improves high-speed handling markedly.
Ministry of Justice Press Release and Backgrounder Follows:
April 30th, 2012 – VICTORIA – To mark the beginning of Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, the Province is announcing new safety regulations aimed at improving road safety and reducing motorcycle deaths, injuries and crashes.
Effective June 1, all motorcycle riders and their passengers must wear helmets that meet safety industry standards. This means motorcycle riders will no longer be able to wear novelty helmets, typically known as skid lids, skull caps or beanies, which do not meet the new requirements.
In addition, the new regulations:
- Will require passengers, including children, to place their feet on foot pegs or floorboards. Drivers can easily be thrown off balance and risk crashing if their passengers do not keep their feet fixed on foot rests. Children who are unable to reach foot rests will no longer be allowed to ride as passengers.
- Will improve visibility and enforcement for police. The font size on motorcycle licence plates has increased by 0.95 centimetres (3/8 of an inch). Since May 2011, all new motorcycle licence plates have been issued with the larger font.
In making the announcement, Minister of Justice and Attorney General Shirley Bond said the provincial government intends to move forward with a graduated licensing program that includes power restrictions, following additional consultation to determine the best model. Feedback will be considered along with research and best practices to develop a model that improves rider safety and reduces motorcycle crashes especially for new riders.
The Office of Motor Vehicles and ICBC will also partner on an awareness campaign to ensure automobile drivers are aware of how to drive safely when they encounter motorcycles on the road.
The goal is to reduce fatalities and injuries from crashes involving motorcycles. While motorcycles are estimated to make up about three per cent of insured vehicles in B.C., they account for approximately 10 per cent of road fatalities. In the last five years, 203 motorcyclists have lost their lives on B.C.’s roads and 5,172 have been injured. Motorcycle fatalities increased by about 57 per cent between 1996 and 2010.
The new rider safety regulations are the result of extensive consultations between the Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles, BC Coroners Service, ICBC, police and other road safety partners to develop a comprehensive approach to improve motorcycle safety within the motorcycling community and industry.
The month of May will allow for a transition period that will give government time to move to the new laws by informing riders and the public about the upcoming changes. Starting June 1, police will begin enforcing the new laws and issuing educational materials to riders found violating the helmet and seating regulations.
Fines for all new helmet-related offences are $138, and fines for seating requirements range from $109 to $121. In addition to fines, riders violating seating requirements will have their motorcycles impounded.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General Shirley Bond –
“While B.C. already has mandatory helmet and seating laws, these new standards provide even more guidance to help riders – who are more vulnerable to injury and death than other road users- enjoy a safe journey.
“Thanks to individuals like Denise Lodge and the Adey family, who have shown a commitment and passion for improving road safety, we are able to turn tragic circumstances into real improvements.”
Denise Lodge, Coalition of Riders Educating Youth (COREY) –
“Since March 3, 2005, in memory of my son Corey, I’ve been actively advocating changes to legislation, the culture, attitude, belief and behaviour to ensure other young riders don’t needlessly lose their lives.
“With more people getting motorcycle licences, risks are rising. We know that safety starts with the rider and we also know that an approved motorcycle helmet can save a life.”
“Times have changed; motorcycles are more light weight and much more powerful. Now more than ever, riders need the tools and skills to ride safely.”
Jamie Graham, chair, BC Association of Chiefs of Police Traffic Safety Committee –
“Police have been asking for these changes for years. We have seen the harm that inadequate safety equipment and poor choices cause. You have to be responsible for your actions, dress appropriately, pay attention and focus on driving, and you will prevent a tragedy.”
Dr. Roy Purssell, emergency physician and chair of the BCMA’s Emergency Medical Services Committee –
“The new safety requirements will save lives. When motorcycles and vehicles collide, the rider of the motorcycle is the one most often seriously injured or killed. I have provided care for motorcyclists who arrive at the emergency department with minimal injuries after surviving a terrible crash simply because they were wearing a well-designed helmet and other protective gear.”
- Helmet laws have been found to reduce fatalities by as much as 37 per cent.
- Each year in B.C., there are about 2,200 crashes involving motorcyclists and about 42 rider deaths.
- Motorcyclists are eight times more likely to be killed and more than 40 per cent more likely to be injured in a crash than other road users.
- The main factors contributing to motorcycle crashes are speed, an inattentive driver and failure on the part of other drivers to yield to right-of-way of motorcyclists.
- Helmets that meet industry standards have a rigid head covering with a strong, stiff outer shell and a crushable liner. The stiff outer shell protects the head by distributing the impact throughout the surface of the helmet, and the crushable liner protects the head by being able to absorb the energy of the impact. Full-face helmets are not mandatory.
- Helmets must comply with standards outlined by the United States Department of Transportation (DOT), Snell Memorial Foundation 2005 or 2010, or United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE).
A backgrounder follows.
Ministry of Justice
Government Communications and Public Engagement
April 30, 2012 Ministry of Justice
B.C.’s new motorcycle safety law
Beginning June 1, 2012, B.C.’s new motorcycle safety law will come into force. It has three components:
1. Helmet Safety Standards
All motorcyclists and motorcycle passengers in B.C. must wear a motorcycle helmet that meets one of the following safety standards:
- DOT – Also known as FMVSS 218, conforms with the U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 218.
- Snell M2005 or Snell M2010 – In accordance with the Snell Memorial Foundation 2005 or 2010 Standard for Protective Headgear for Use with Motorcycles and Other Motorized Vehicles.
- ECE – In accordance with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe ECE Regulation No. 22.
The safety helmet must display the proper certification label. Full-face helmets and visors are not required and riders are free to choose any helmet colour they prefer. However, eye protection and brightly-coloured helmets are strongly recommended to help prevent collisions, injuries and fatalities.
Uncertified, novelty “beanies” do not meet the requirements.
Fines for all new helmet related offences are $138. Refusing an officer’s demand to produce a helmet carries a $276 fine.
2. Seating Requirements
The operator of a motorcycle must be seated astride the driver’s seat. Passengers must be seated behind the operator astride the passenger’s seat with their feet on foot pegs or the floorboards at all times (even when the motorcycle is stopped – e.g., at an intersection), or be properly seated in a side
The operator is responsible for ensuring passengers younger than 16 years of age are properly seated. Any passengers, including children who cannot reach the foot pegs or floorboards, are not permitted to ride as passengers.
Fines for violating seating requirements range from $109 to $121 or vehicle impoundment, if considered stunting. Failing to use foot pegs and permitting a passenger to be unlawfully seated both come with a $109 fine.
3. Licence Plate Improvements
Since May 2011, ICBC has been issuing motorcycle licence plates with larger font. Font size has increased 0.95 centimetres (3/8 of an inch) to assist law enforcement with identifying the vehicle.
Existing plates can be upgraded to a plate with larger font by contacting ICBC.
The fine for an improper display of a licence plate or an illegible licence plate has increased to $230 from $196.
Ministry of Justice
Government Communications and Public Engagement