Two recent serious motorcycle collisions in northeastern Ontario has prompted calls for change in the way the Ministry of Transportation licenses motorcycle drivers.

A Sudbury motorcycle instructor says the MTO should reconsider the way it licenses motorcycle riders in Ontario.

Currently, people over the age of 16 can go into a local DriveTest Centre, pass an eye and written test, and received an M1 motorcycle licence. That licence means the person can technically drive solo off the property, without ever having touched a motorcycle.


Eric O'Neill has been a motorcycle instructor for more than a decade. (Hilary Duff/CBC)

"If you go in and write your test and you get an M1, yeah you can come to any motorcycle shop and buy the biggest, fanciest, shiniest one on the floor and drive away with it,"said Eric O’Neill, who has been an instructor with Cambrian College’s motorcycle training program for 12 years.

"Would you allow someone to write their airplane pilot’s licence and then go buy an airplane and fly it? Or course not."

The Sudbury DriveTest Centre issues about 10 to 15 motorcycle licences every week, and said most new licence holders do take precautions.

"They don’t leave the office and start driving down Lasalle," said Shelley Rivet, the supervisor of the centre. "They usually will go into parking lots, that kind of thing, and do some practising before they get out onto the main streets."

There are also conditions put into place throughout the graduated licensing system, she said.

The M1 licence is valid for 90 days, meaning motorcycle drivers must complete a driving test within that time frame to graduate to the M2 level. During the M1 period, Rivet said riders can’t drive at night, with a passenger, or on any of the major highways in southern Ontario.

Training program for new motorcyclists

Motorcyclists are encouraged by DriveTest — and many insurance companies — to enroll in a motorcycle training course, like the one O’Neill teaches at Cambrian College.

Both Cambrian and Collège Boréal in Sudbury offer the 20-hour course, which boasts a full roster of students during every weekly session held in the spring and summer months. The course offers both in-class and on-the-bike instruction, and covers everything from appropriate following distances to defensive driving.

"Most importantly ... we always teach that you have to drive around with the philosophy that you’re invisible and so you have to constantly look out for every other road user," O’Neill said.

According to O’Neill, new riders often underestimate how challenging driving a motorcycle can be.

"Both your feet, hands, and brain need to be working to operate the controls," he said.

As for keeping motorcycle drivers safe, O’Neill said drivers are asked to be cautious of bikers on the road, especially since riders are often taught to drive closer to the left side of the lane, near the centre line.

"When a large transport is coming to you at highway speeds, it’s like a snowplow of wind in front of the vehicle," he said. "You just have to be aware of that."