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Bikers rally against deadly drivers

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James Lowen (left) and Steve Orvis ride their motorcycles down Main Street in Winnipeg Saturday. There was a motorcycle safety rally at the legislature Saturday.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

James Lowen (left) and Steve Orvis ride their motorcycles down Main Street in Winnipeg Saturday. There was a motorcycle safety rally at the legislature Saturday. Photo Store

DOZENS of motorcyclists braved the cold, rutted roads and distracted drivers of Winnipeg to rally outside the Manitoba legislature Saturday.

They weren't there to protest high insurance rates as they have in the past. This time it was to rally for safety and to plead with the public to be more careful when driving.

"Last year was a bad year for motorcycle riders," Winnipeg police Sgt. Russ Heslop told the crowd at the Coalition of Manitoba Motorcycle Groups' rally. There were five times the number of serious accidents than there were in the previous three years combined, said the crash investigator.

"Not often was the motorcycle at fault." Most often, the motorcyclist did everything in their power to avoid the crash, Heslop said.

On average, three motorcyclists or scooter drivers are killed in crashes yearly in Manitoba, says the Manitoba Public Insurance Corp. Another 136 are injured in crashes.

The motorcyclists coalition meets annually on the grounds of the Manitoba legislature to kick off the riding season and for the proclamation of May as Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month.

This year, it was proclaimed by motorcyclist and MLA Dave Gaudreau (NDP-St. Norbert). His main safety concern is drivers on four wheels using hand-held devices rather than watching the road.

"The distracted-driving thing is huge," said Gaudreau. "It's scary for people on motorcycles." Whenever he and his wife are riding their motorcycles and spot someone using a hand-held device while driving, they slow down and let the distracted driver get well ahead of them to be safe.

What galls Gaudreau is how brazen some motorists are when they're breaking the law.

"Last summer we saw a guy with a laptop on his lap driving a Corvette convertible," said Gaudreau.

The MLA applauded the police and MPI for stepping up enforcement and penalties for drivers breaking the law, but the message doesn't appear to be sinking in, he said.

"People aren't getting it," he said.

Sgt. Heslop agreed. The fines and demerit points aren't dissuading distracted driving, he said.

"There's a never-ending supply of people who want to give us their money," he said. There have been days when one officer working on distracted-driver enforcement will issue 80 tickets, he said.

On top of car, truck and SUV drivers not watching where they're going, there's another hazard that's especially bad right now, says a man who's been motorcycling for close to 50 years.

"With the long winter, the roads are in bad shape," said Doug Houghton, past president of the Coalition of Manitoba Motorcycle Groups.

"There are a lot of potholes and winter sand on the streets." Drivers on four wheels dodging potholes aren't always on the lookout for those on two, said the 67-year-old. "We want to remind riders here to be careful."

In Manitoba, it's mandatory for people to complete a motorcycle training course. It's delivered by Safety Services Manitoba, which also offers optional defensive motorcycle courses.

MPI is launching its annual motorcycle safety-awareness advertising blitz next month.

The public insurer says young drivers in high school driver's ed classes are learning to be on the lookout for motorcyclists.

"We reach over 12,000 new drivers every year," MaryAnn Kempe, MPI vice-president of community and corporate relations, said at the rally.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 2, 2014 A3

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