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Washington motorcycle endorsement fees

Why and where the money goes

Ever wondered where the additional money you pay for your motorcycle endorsement goes, or what it's used for? Have you ever pondered how it is that the Basic Rider Course in this state can be so much less than it is in nearly every other state in this country? It puzzles new riders as well as residents who are not familiar with the history of how the additional fees came to be. Let's see if we can answer those questions.

Many riders in Washington aren't aware of the fact that almost every penny of their motorcycle endorsement fees go to a special "Rider Education" fund that can't be used for anything except the Washington Motorcycle Safety Program (WMSP). This all came about when the WMSP was formed, as a division of the Department. of Licensing (DoL) over 30 years ago. The thought at the time was that endorsement fees could be used to run the WMSP and make it less expensive for people to take training. Although the law that governs this has been tweaked a few times since then, no money from the Rider Education fund has ever been used for any other purpose in this state. Some of the tweaks have been necessitated by the fact that it's getting more difficult to find training areas, and the costs of motorcycles and other supplies used to teach the classes have increased significantly in the 30+ years since the program was begun.

Even when the state had a serious shortfall in the budget in the mid-2000s, because of lobbying by riders over the years, the money could not be used to assist in making up the shortfalls in other areas of the State's budget.

When you get your first m/c endorsement (2-wheel, 3-wheel or both 2 & 3-wheel) there is a fee charged by the DoL that varies depending on how many years are left on your current driver's license. $17 of that fee goes into the Rider Education fund, and the rest goes to the DoL to cover the administrative costs of putting the endorsement on your license. However, when you renew your license, with a m/c endorsement on it, you're going to pay $5/year for your endorsement, and EVERY PENNY of that money goes into the Rider Education fund. Some will say that the endorsement fee has increased in the last few years. That's not really true. What changed is that WA started issuing driver's licenses for 6 years instead of 5 years a while back. That raised the cost of renewing the endorsement from $25 to $30 for a full renewal, but the fee is still only $5/year. (NOTE: In an effort to spread license renewals out so that not everyone's license would expire at the same time, some licenses are being renewed for a shorter period of time.)

By law, the Rider Education fund can only be used to: pay the cost of salaries and benefits (including their travel around the state) for the six-member WMSP staff at the DoL (22% of the annual Rider Education fund budget), some is used for outreach -- to advertise the WMSP and what it does, but most of the annual budget (71%) goes to subsidizing license waiver classes, operated by the various training companies in Washington, for Washington residents and active duty military stationed in Washington. For instance, a Basic Rider Course (2-wheel) actually costs around $260 (depending on which company you take it through). A Basic 3-wheel course actually costs around $325. However as a Washington resident or active-duty military you will only pay $125, and the DoL will pay the training company the difference.

I mentioned "tweaks" to the law earlier and why they were necessary. When the WMSP was first formed, the cost of a basic class was $30 to the student with the WMSP paying the training company the difference. That was subsequently raised to $50, then $100, and it currently stands at $125. Parking lots to do the training in used to be freely donated by big companies and state or county agencies. With money getting tight all over the U.S., none of those lots are free any longer; and as I said earlier, training bikes and supplies have become more expensive as well.

One more note on that subsidy -- over the last several years there have been more people wanting to take training than there is available subsidy money. If a training company runs out of money, or is trying to spread out the money they do have so that it lasts for the entire 2 years of their contract with the DoL (which the schools are all required to do), there may not be enough money to subsidize every class or every seat within a class. When that happens, the student will end up paying the full price of the class.

As of December 31, 2015, there were 428,006 endorsed riders and 219,576 registered motorcycles in Washington.

For more information on this topic, see the following links:

Dave Wendell/March 2016


Dave Wendell operates Pacific Northwest Motorcycle Safety with ranges in Silverdale and Auburn. He has more than 3 decades of training service to motorcyclists in the Pacific Northwest.


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