Kevin Jennings, a GFL Environmental transportation safety specialist, still doesn’t know how he survived. The odds when a speeding motorcycle crashes into a truck are not generally in a rider’s favor.
But he remembers everything else about Aug. 23, 1990.
He was commuting to his afternoon shift as a driver with Loomis Courier in Mississauga, Ont. It was a typical sunny day, and the southbound stretch of Dixie Road heading to Derry Road was one of his favorites. No driveways. Few intersections. Not much of anything to get in the way of his prized GSXR 750 Suzuki.
“I don’t know. I think I took an aggressive pill or something,” Jennings says. “I was very aggressive in my lane changes.” The traffic signal at Steeles marked the start of his “acceleration run”.
He can’t be sure exactly how fast he was going when he collided with the turning flatbed’s trailer bogie at Advance Boulevard. Despite the aggressive braking. “You hit a certain point where the forces of nature say, ‘No, you can’t do that,’” he says. “There’s no way that truck driver would ever have seen me in a million years.”
Pieces of the bike disintegrated into “plastic shrapnel”. Jennings tumbled into oncoming traffic. He hobbled over to his motorcycle – what was left of it – and sat on the curb. A witness asked if he should call an ambulance.
Things could have been worse. His legs and arms were marked by road rash. The top right side and chin guard on its helmet carried its own scars. (“I swear by the full-face helmets.”)
Four months later, Jennings was back at work, a timeline that proved to be too aggressive. “I kind of rushed my rehab and I wasn’t ready to come back, even though they had me doing shunt work,” he says. Adding another layer of soft tissue trauma to a right ankle injured in the crash, he ultimately needed another six months off to recover.
A career in fleet safety
But the experience represented the start of a career in fleet safety. He completed fleet driver-trainer courses from Ontario Safety League. His work at Loomis evolved into a safety and compliance role, which he took to several smaller companies.
“I had to take a different path or I was going to turn into a statistic,” Jennings says of his new commitment to highway safety. The story of that crash now anchors his orientation sessions for new truck drivers. It gets their attention. “It’s too easy to lose your life in a motor vehicle crash,” he says. “This is something that can kill you very easily, and not everything is in your control.”
But focused truck drivers can make a difference.
Many motorcycle riders come to assume that other drivers can see them, or at least hear them coming. At a time of year when more riders return to the road, Jennings advises truck drivers to check their mirrors more often, adding to the typical checks every five seconds in an urban environment, and to adjust mirrors before wheels begin to roll.
“That extra awareness of smaller vehicles is really, really important … Don’t assume that there’s nothing there. Take that extra opportunity to check.”
He still rides to this day. “I’m not smart enough to stop riding.” But these days his downtime is spent on a Yamaha V Star cruiser. And there are no more acceleration runs.
“The street is not where you go fast,” Jennings says.
He learned that lesson the hard way.
May is Motorcycle Awareness Month.
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