#283 Licencing : Sir, may I see your licence?


More than a few problems have worked their way into British Columbia’s licencing system. Common sense might help matters somewhat.

To this deeply reluctant off-roader, the hill looked truly daunting: a rock-strewn snake of shale and gravel firing up the cliffside. With no space to turn around, my only option was point and shoot. I rolled the GS forward in first, then hooked it into second and cranked the throttle, standing on the pegs as I’d been taught. The old Beemer bounced, squirmed, heaved and clattered its way over the rocks, pitching and bucking under me like an unbroken steer.
We made it to the top, no one more surprised than me. Standing on the pegs completely changed the bike’s handling, making it feel more stable and steerable—while I was spared being launched off the bike by the violent movement of the seat.
How’s that work?
The physics of footpeg loading on a motorcycle are pretty well understood. First, you’re applying your body weight below the bike’s unladen centre of gravity instead of above it through the seat. That lowers the overall C of G, improving stability. Biased to one side or the other, peg loading also helps steer the bike, especially at low speeds where the gyroscopic effect of the wheels is reduced. So standing up on a bike (as long as the ergonomics allow) helps you negotiate difficult surface conditions—like a stretch of highway construction, for example—more safely.
Then why are regulators against it?
Ontario has banned the practice, leading to at least one conviction; and by the time you read this, BC will have followed suit. And it’s more of an issue in BC, because over 80 per cent of the province’s roads are unpaved, where “rising in the saddle” (as it was known in military motorcycle parlance) is essential for balance and control.
I don’t doubt requiring motorcyclists (and their passengers) to be seated at all times is a response to street stunting. But that doesn’t make it any less misguided. Denying a responsible motorcyclist the right to make their ride safer when travelling over compromised surfaces is just wrong, and there are other existing regulations that cover stunting.
The other measures introduced in BC’s new motorcycle regulations (effective June 1) make good sense. Banned is the BC “beanie” novelty helmet: all brain buckets must now carry either DOT, Snell or European ECE stickers. (For committed scofflaws, DOT stickers are available online.) Unfortunately, there are also plenty of DOT helmets that wouldn’t save your mugshot in a faceplant. I guess you can’t mandate intelligence.
Also in every wannabe BC biker’s future is graduated licencing—though the province has yet to decide how this will be implemented. Proposals under consideration include the Australian model, which targets power-to-weight ratio. A recent high-profile new rider incident involving a 300 kmh sportbike ride on a Vancouver Island highway simply lends force to the argument.
A similar program, of course, would work equally well for four-wheeled newbies, but that’s a non-starter. Victoria can afford to tick off a few thousand learner bikers, but alienating the province’s more than two million motorists would be political suicide.
But there’s a problem.
I recently met a guy who moved to BC from England a few years back. The province doesn’t recognize driver licences earned in the UK, and requires immigrants to re-sit driving tests. (Neither does ICBC, the provincial insurer, recognize claim-free time earned overseas in awarding safe driving discounts, but that’s another matter.) So Mr. Immigrant bought a car and booked his driving test, passing first time. No problem.
Then he buys a motorcycle: a large, powerful cruiser on which he carries his wife. He fronts up at an Autoplan ICBC agent, gets the bike plated and insured, and rides away. But he doesn’t have an endorsement for motorcycles on his licence, nor has he sat the mandatory knowledge test required to get him a motorcycle learner’s permit. Even if he had done so, by law he would be required to be accompanied by another experienced rider, restricted from driving at night or on major highways, and the missus would have to walk. At no time did anyone check his licence.
I heard once from an RCMP officer that almost a third of bikers pulled over for roadside licence checks are not properly licenced. So what is the point, one has to ask, of introducing a graduated licencing program that will only reach two-thirds of its target audience? Shouldn’t ICBC insurance agents be tasked with checking a road user’s licence before issuing insurance and a licence plate?
Similarly bizarre is the province’s mandate that no one is uninsurable, especially in terms of age discrimination. Though younger riders pay higher rates because they lack no-claim discounts, a 16-year-old in BC can still buy insurance for a ZX-10R and ride away.
Maybe we wouldn’t need graduated licencing if ICBC adopted the common sense approach used by UK insurers. For insurance purposes, motorcycles are grouped by factors that include power, speed, and crash history. Insurers publish charts that show motorcycle insurance group against years of experience, so riders can estimate their insurance cost. If our hypothetical 16-year-old (s/he would actually need to be 17 in the UK) looked at an insurance chart for zero years experience against Group 17 motorcycles (the group that includes ZX-10Rs and similar sportbikes) they would see the abbreviation “N/A,” meaning “insurance not available.”
Makes sense to me.