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Southwestern Ontario sees wave of motorcyclists hurt or killed in collisions this spring including three riders and one passenger in one day

By Megan Stacey, The London Free Press

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Drivers should remember one important fact when they spot a motorcycle on the roads.

“Somebody's everything is riding on that bike,” said Dan Wagler, first officer for the Stratford chapter of a national motorcycle group.

A spate of collisions between motorcycles and their more protective vehicle cousins - even one horse and buggy - has injured or killed half a dozen riders in southwestern Ontario alone this spring.

Two Perth County riders died after crashes in May, including a St. Marys woman who was hit just days ago.

Another pair were rushed to hospital after a collision in Middlesex on Thursday, their injuries later deemed serious but not life threatening.

Wagler, a father of four who rides with the Canadian Motorcycle Cruisers, said he's noticed a tragic trend over the past few years.

“Drivers as a whole seem to be getting more and more inattentive. I don't know if it's distracted driving, texting or children in the backseat. There seems to be such a lack of common courtesy on the roads today. Everybody drives around with a me-me-me attitude,” said Wagler.

And he sees both sides of the coin, because when he's not on his motorcycle, Wagler's working as a truck driver.

“I wouldn't say there's an underlying current of drivers not wanting to share the roads with motorcyclists,” he said. “Sometimes they just don't realize, what you just did could take a life. And it could be your own.”

His key message to drivers?

“Look twice, save a life. I can't stress that enough,” Wagler said.

Inspector Sam Theocharis, spokesperson for the Stratford Police, said there hasn't been any worrying climb in motorcycle collisions within the city.

But he stressed that everyone on the roadway needs to be aware of bicycles, pedestrians, other vehicles, or motorcycles.

“When you're driving, you're looking for other motor vehicles. Motorcycles are much smaller than a car or a pickup truck or any kind of truck. You should be cognizant of what's on the road along with your vehicle,” he said.

As for riders, it's important to ride defensively, Theocharis said.

“Don't assume the other driver can see you,” he said. “Try to stay out of the blind spot of the driver. Signal well in advance when changing lanes. Keep an eye when you're turning for vehicles ahead of you.”

Wagler's club, which encourages social riding, uses a series of hand signals and riding formations to keep riders safe.

“We take safety very, very seriously,” he said. “We have a road caption who leads, and one road caption who's a tailgunner. They're in constant communication through radio.”

But the recent collisions and deaths do make Wagler think twice when he gets on the bike.

“It's disturbing,” he said. “I've got four kids at home, I know if I didn't make it because someone was being stupid – I wouldn't want to think about it.”

Motorcyclists are at a disadvantage because there's no material around the rider to protect them.

“I don't ride myself that often on my own. Sort of a safety in numbers thing,” said Wagler. “That's the main reason I joined (the club), so I could enjoy riding in a safe environment.”

Most motorcyclists are just out trying to enjoy the sunshine like everyone else.

The spouse of one of the Perth County riders killed recently, who didn't want to speak to media, did say her husband died doing he loved.

Wagler said watching for other vehicles and careless drivers can “absolutely” interfere with the enjoyment of a ride.

But he advises all motorcyclists to stay alert. It might help them stay alive.

“Don't think 'what if.' Plan that it's going to happen. Always have an exit strategy,” he said.

“Those vehicles around you are, in an essence, out to hurt you.”

mstacey@postmedia.com