On a beautiful sunny day last April, Joe “Little Joe” Evans Jr. looked over at a fellow motorcycle rider, smiled and said: “Life doesn’t get any better than this, buddy.”
Those were the 27-year-old strapping lad’s final words.
Joe Evans Jr., the son of a veteran OPP officer, was killed moments later when his Suzuki Boulevard collided with a Honda CRV on Wellington County Road 18, not far from Fergus.
In a strange coincidence, the CRV was driven by the 17-year-old son of an RCMP officer from Kitchener.
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Witnesses reported the two riders were enjoying the unusually warm spring day, sticking to the 80 km/h speed limit. A makeshift roadside memorial stands as a stark reminder of the accident, which is still before the courts.
“He was my best friend … it’s tough. We were really close,” says his dad, Joe Evans Sr., a burly explosives technician with the provincial police. He struggles every day with his grief. On the job, he has had to deliver bad news to relatives of accident victims, but never expected to hear that message himself.
“I cry every day … the pain is so deep,” says the 50-year-old, who also rides a motorcycle, as does his wife, OPP Const. Brenda Evans.
Like most men his age, Little Joe was starting to plan his life.
The plumber-pipefitter at the Bruce Nuclear plant was moving in with his girlfriend. He was to be best man at his dad’s wedding on June 30 — he’d already written the speech.
Instead, he was buried on April 25.
His father, who doesn’t want anyone else losing their sons or daughters, offers some sage advice for all motorcyclists:
“Take a course. Know the threat you are going to deal with every time you take that bike out,” he says. “Take it easy, give yourself lots of distance, 50 to 100 metres, so that you are plainly visible. Know your bike. Know how it is going to react in a panic stop. Know how to ride it, not just drive it. Look ahead, watch the signs. Pay attention!”
Although there’s been a spike in the number of motorcycle fatalities in some parts of Ontario this summer, statistics show they’ve been on a steady decline across the province since 1990.
According to the latest Ontario Road Safety annual report, motorcycle deaths fell by 47 per cent between 1990 and 2009 (from 74 to 39), and the rate of deaths per 10,000 registered motorcycles has fallen by 68 per cent.
However, the number of riders and passengers injured in motorcycle crashes has remained steady — about 1,600 per year since 2000.
“It is a big risk factor in southern Ontario to go riding on a (motorcycle),” says David Stewart, a retired Toronto motorcycle cop who has become a recognized expert in motorcycle safety.
The fact is, the chances of being killed on a motorcycle are four to eight times greater than in a car, he adds.
In a report he prepared for the Canadian Motorcycle Association, Stewart looks at motorcycle safety from 2000 to 2008, and into the future, 2010-2020.
He believes motorcycle deaths have been increasing generally across the country since 2010, partly influenced by greater affluence and increased motorcycle sales.
“Many of these sales were not to the stereotypical young man but rather to older men returning to motorcycling in middle age,” he says. “Despite any expectation these riders would behave more responsibly than those junior to them, the reverse was true and fatalities rose proportionally.”
Stewart says the key factors behind those deaths are the same for all ages: speeding, alcohol, absence/misuse of helmets and unlicensed riders. “But the profile of a risky rider now includes the older age group.”
In his report, he calls for zero tolerance for alcohol when riding a motorcycle, as well as annual refresher courses, as is being done in some European countries.
“We see some of the problems with alcohol and speed coming from middle-age riders,” he adds.
Stewart became fixated with motorcycle safety after he recovered from a 1978 accident where his cop bike was T-boned by a drunken LCBO inspector.
Stewart notes in his study that new bike sales in Canada increased from more than 52,000 in 2000 to more than 82,000 in 2008, mainly to riders over 40.
The report also points out that 88 per cent of motorcycle fatalities occur in just four provinces: British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.
“And, generally, more fatal crashes happen on rural roads at weekends between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. Almost 40 per cent of these deaths occur as a single-motor-vehicle crash, where the rider had lost control due to excessive speed or improper braking,” the report concludes.
In collisions with other vehicles, the most common statement from the other driver is, “I didn’t see him,” says Const. Clint Stibbe of Toronto’s traffic services department, a former motorcycle cop.
“Bikes, when they are coming towards you, because the profile is so narrow, they don’t appear to be moving very fast,” he explains. “What we suggest people do is wear bright, bright colours, because no matter what time of the day it is, that will stand out. You wear dark black on a dark and rainy night, then you are going to have a problem because nobody is going to see you.”
Experience is another key factor, says Staff-Sgt. Rob Higgs of Peel Regional Police.
“An examination of past collisions has shown that less-experienced riders (under 2 years), riding more powerful motorcycles (greater than 600cc), are involved in a disproportionate number of collisions,” he says.
Peel has had seven motorcycle fatalities this year, compared to none last year.
In five of those collisions, the rider was at fault; all were male; six of the seven had less than two years riding experience; three had no motorcycle licence and all were operating motorcycles with 600cc displacement or more.
Safety advocates would like Ontario to adopt the tighter restrictions England places on motorcycle riders. New riders must take a training course and cannot ride anything larger than 125cc.
There are no such restrictions in Ontario, where beginners can legally operate a motorcycle that can go 300 km/h — if he or she can afford the insurance.
There is also no requirement in Ontario for riders to take a motorcycle training course.
New riders take a written and eye test before getting their entry-level M1 licence, which restricts them to daylight hours, zero alcohol, no passengers and no roads with speed limits of more than 80 km/h (with some exceptions).
Ministry of Transportation road tests are required to upgrade your licence to M2, and then a full M licence.
An accredited training course can help riders speed through the process, but is not required.