Sûrété du Québec urges vigilance after deadly weekend for motorcyclists

Quebec provincial police are asking motorcycle drivers to be vigilant after six serious accidents over the weekend, including three fatal crashes.

Subsidized skills course teaches riders how to approach curves, focus on road ahead, avoid drivers' blindspots

Quebec's motorcyclists federation is offering a skills course to all riders, after receiving a subsidy from the SAAQ, the Quebec automobile insurance board. (Antoni Nerestant/CBC)

Quebec provincial police are asking motorcycle drivers to be vigilant after six serious accidents over the weekend, including three fatal crashes.

"One death is one too many for those people's families, so that's what we're trying to prevent," said Sûrété du Québec spokesperson Sgt. Audrey-Anne Bilodeau. 

Bilodeau said several of the investigations are still ongoing, but that "speed is at least a contributing factor" in all of them.

Investigators are also looking into whether distraction had a role to play in any of the accidents. 

"Usually, motorcyclists, they are more on the road when the weather is beautiful. There are also more vehicles on the roads when it's vacation," Bilodeau said.

Sûreté du Québec spokesperson Sgt. Audrey-Anne Bilodeau says motorcyclists should be extra vigilant with so many vehicles on the roads during vacation season. (CBC)

She said police are asking riders to be as visible as possible, positioning themselves strategically vis-à-vis other cars and wearing bright, contrasting colours.

Police are also asking drivers of other motorized vehicles to keep a safe distance from motorcycles on the road. 

Improving skills to 'save lives'

Sylvain Bergeron, the president of the Quebec federation of motorcyclists (FMQ), wants to take prevention a step further by teaching riders to improve their skills. 

Quebec's automobile insurance board, the SAAQ, provided the FMQ with a grant to offer the course to the general public for $160, which is about half the regular price. The course, which used to be offered only in the spring, is now offered throughout the summer and into the fall.

About half of motorcycle accidents happen when riders are alone, and often involve losing control, Bergeron said Sunday at one of the clinics, held in a Brossard train station parking lot. 

Sylvain Bergeron, the president of the Quebec federation of motorcyclists, says teaching riders how to improve their handling skills is done on their own bikes, because of each machine's particularities. (Antoni Nerestant/CBC)

Riders are asked to bring their own bikes because certain manoeuvres can have different effects, depending on the machine, he said.

Things can also go wrong in curves "because they misjudge a curve, whether it is [going] too fast or because of obstacles or the road conditions, and also when they decide to apply braking," Bergeron said. 

"When you spend quality time building up your skill set on braking, curve analysis, control of your machine, we raise the skill set, and this saves lives."

Those skills are crucial, especially during Quebec's construction holiday, which officially begins July 22.

In 2017, there were more than 20 fatal road accidents over that two-week period, more than half involving motorcyclists losing control, according to SAAQ data.

Drivers focus on objects, not the road ahead

Bergeron said riders tend to focus too much on objects rather than looking further ahead and using their peripheral vision to get the bigger picture of what's around them. 

That allows for more decision-making time, he said.

FMQ instructor Éric Vaillancourt, left, instructs Valérie Champagne in how to better control her bike at low speeds and in U-turns. (Antoni Nerestant/CBC)

"It's also being aware: 'Do I have room to move around the obstacle?' So, you have to have the time to decide. Is it braking or counter-steering, or maybe it's gassing up a little bit to get out of the wrong place."

Combined braking safest way to slow down

Another mistake people make is only to use their rear or front brakes, instead of using combined braking, which is more effective and keeps the bike stable, Bergeron said.

Valérie Champagne, who attended Sunday's class, hoped to work on controlling her Harley while driving slowly and making U-turns.

The FMQ is offering a skills course to all riders, at a cost of $160, throughout the motorcycle season. (Antoni Nerestant/CBC)

Champagne said the best lesson she learned was to work on managing her vision in the way Bergeron described. 

"I knew before, but you need to practise and to practise. It looks simple, but to use it, it's really hard," she said.

Champagne was also happy to be reminded to make sure not to stay in other drivers' blind spots. 

Bergeron acknowledged it doesn't take much for drivers not to see motorcyclists.

The one time he was knocked down from his bike, he was riding 10 km/h, and the woman who struck him had not seen him. 

"There are all kinds of distractions on the road," he said. "We have to be there. We have to have our eyes open."

With files from Antoni Nerestant and Brian Lapuz