'Dramatic increase' in motorcycle deaths in southwestern Ontario has OPP stressing safety

OPP West Region is urging motorcyclists to prioritize safety as they face a “dramatic increase” in deaths this year, police say. Fatalities have almost doubled compared to last year in the region, and account for more than half in Ontario so far in 2022.

All fatal crashes this year happened on dry days between noon and 4 p.m.

The OPP's Shawn Johnson, inspector for the West Region's traffic and marine unit, says there's been a 'dramatic increase' in motorcycle deaths in southwestern Ontario this year compared to last year. (Michelle Both/CBC)

Police have a strong message for motorcyclists heading out for a joyride this long weekend: Make safety a priority.

The directive comes as the Ontario Provincial Police West Region says there has been a "dramatic increase" in deaths this year compared to 2021.

"We have a problem with deadly consequences," said OPP Insp. Shawn Johnson of the West Region's traffic and marine unit.

"The last thing I want this weekend, being a holiday weekend, is to have an officer show up at someone's door knocking ... and telling them that they've lost a loved one in a tragedy that was preventable." 

Motorcycle fatalities have almost doubled compared to last year in southwestern Ontario, and account for more than half the road deaths in the province this year, police say.

Twelve motorcyclists died in collisions in 2022 in the area — the annual average for the last 10 years — compared to seven in the same period in 2021. In over 70 per cent of the collisions this year, motorcyclists were at fault, police said. 

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The west region of the province is leading the province in motor vehicle and motorcycle crashes, according to OPP. (Michelle Both/CBC)

"These collisions do not need to happen. They are entirely preventable and that needs to stop," Johnson said. 

Speeding, loss of control and failing to yield at intersections are the top factors for fatal motorcycle collisions. Weather has not been a factor — all collisions happened in clear, sunny and dry conditions.

"It's people that are out for an enjoyable ride on a Saturday or Sunday where the collisions are a majority happening," he said, the majority between noon and 4 p.m. 

'It's sobering and it's heartbreaking'

"These people are unfortunately getting seriously injured and killed on these roadways," said OPP Const. Melissa Tutin, who's been riding motorcycles for 22 years.

OPP Const. Melissa Tutin, who has been riding motorcycles for 22 years, says the uptick in motorcycle collisions across the West Region is sobering. (Michelle Both/CBC)

"It's sobering and it's heartbreaking." 

Tutin said motorcyclists should never assume vehicle drivers can see them. She advises riders to: 

  • Keep your head on a swivel, be looking toward the horizon and know your surroundings. Scan every driveway, intersection, entrance and exit.
  • Plan your destination, know where you're headed and give yourself breaks. 
  • Operate under the rules of the road — speed limits, road signs and road lines.

John Patrick, chief motorcycle instructor at Fanshawe College, echoes this advice. He's been teaching motorcycle skills for 30 years. 

"You have to remember that you're on a motorcycle and you don't have any protection," Patrick said. 

The rise in motorcyclist deaths is a 'wake-up call,' says John Patrick, chief motorcycle instructor at Fanshawe College. (Michelle Both/CBC)

He's concerned too many people are driving beyond their abilities, and recommends that riders practise every spring and take courses to build skills.

"The more you practise, the more efficient, the better you'll be at whatever you're doing." 

Older drivers victims

Patrick has seen a demographic shift in his teaching, as people want to learn to ride motorcycles later in life.

He said statistics are concerning, as this year, 28 per cent of deaths in motorcycle collisions were people between ages 56 and 64. 

"Nobody likes to hear that somebody lost their life. But it should be a wake-up call for all of us who are riding motorcycles to rethink what we're doing, re-evaluating what we're doing, so we're prepared the next time we get on our bike." 

Grey-Bruce and Norfolk counties each has seen three fatalities in the region this year — the highest number across Ontario. 

The London and Windsor regions are not exempt — facing some of the highest fatalities on average over the last decade in Ontario.

Essex County has the highest motorcycle fatalities average in the province at 19 deaths per year. Middlesex County is third with an average of 14 deaths, behind the Greater Toronto Area's 16. 

"Any injury or death on our highways are tragic," Johnson said. "They're not tragic just to the families and to the communities — they're tragic to the emergency responders that arrive. 

"Do all you can to protect yourself, make sure that you arrive alive, drive defensively, drive like your life depends on it."