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Motorcycle Rider Safety Task Force Report

Recommendations will no doubt lead to new legislation

In case you missed it, motorcycle fatalities in Washington state are increasing at a rate higher than the percentage growth of new riders. In 2004, 72 people died in motorcycle accidents and the raw 2006 number is higher than that.

Governor Gregoire was briefed on this situation by several departments including the State Patrol, Washington Traffic and Safety and the DOL. As a result she requested a task force to investigate why the numbers were climbing at such a rapid rate. The task force was made up of 16 people ranging from local dealers, rights organizations, government agencies and riding clubs.

It takes about 10 minutes to read through the report which you can view by visiting http://www.dol.wa.gov/about/reports/mototaskforce.pdf. Read it, then make your way back to this article for our take on it.

First off, the report was important to finding solutions to the problems. As you will or have read, more than half the deaths are single-vehicle occurrences involving just the rider and his or her motorcycle. There are four distinct areas that define the primary reasons for each fatality – lane error, alcohol, speeding and inattention. A third of the fatalities involve unendorsed riders.

I was a bit concerned that the original data I saw mid-summer only included deaths, but the revised report includes head trauma numbers for those who didn’t quite bite the entire bullet. 72 deaths in 2004, but the Department of Health reports show there were 800 head trauma cases that same year. Such numbers might make a rider think twice before they don a soup bowl (1/2 shell helmet) on their head before the next ride.

But let’s get back to the reason why these fatalities occur. The report says the four primary causes are lane error, alcohol, speeding and inattention. I boil this down to two categories.

The first is common sense. You need it to operate a motorcycle safely. Drinking too much alcohol and/or speeding shows little common sense when riding. But in more than 40% of the fatalities one or both reasons show up. Here’s how my common sense works. If I’m aware that a rider in my group is exhibiting speed I make a point to stop the ride and discuss the situation. It’s not fun to do, but it always yields a better ride for all. As we’ve pointed out here in the past, crashing puts a damper on the ride and we’d like to avoid that. As for riding with people who drink in excess, I don’t ride with them and it would behoove you not to either – for your own safety.

Specifically concerning alcohol, the task force recommends a campaign of sorts that will promote behavior modification in the motorcycle community. Shocking to see how many of the alcohol related fatalities showed blood alcohol levels between .15 and .30. That equates to 4-5 drinks an hour. Most of us would have to crawl to our taxi with numbers like that and it’s amazing that people actually hoist themselves onto their iron horses and attempt to ride. Some print magazine publishers would look a little more responsible/empathetic if they voluntarily began removing revenue-generating ‘biker friendly bars’ directories from their publications. It’s surely one of the first steps to behavior modification.

The second category to look at here is skill sets. Lane errors and inattention can be avoided with good training. We’re not talking about the Uncle Billy Bob school of motorcycle training on the back 40, we’re talking about getting good training from a state- approved or otherwise reputable course such as Rider’s Edge. People who take the classes typically take their riding seriously and learn the proper ways to keep focused on what’s happing around them, corner a motorcycle, and determine a pass and so on. Without such education under your noggin the chances increase that you will experience some sort of crash sooner than an educated rider. The numbers in the report reveal that 86% of the victims in 2004 had not taken the state-approved course.

This brings up an interesting point. The task force refrained from recommending that a certified education course be required before an endorsement will be issued. It’s always been a big question mark around the halls here as to why you have to get training to operate a truck or school bus, but not to ride a motorcycle which is an entirely different mode of operation from any four-wheel vehicle. The main issue is lack of instructors and land. But look at the budget at the end of the report and see how the task force has developed an economic model to increase the number of riders educated each year from 11,886 to 26,800 riders by 2011. That would move the state much closer to being able to educate every new rider and perhaps mandatory education is closer than you think.

On the unendorsed rider issue it was interesting to note that the number actually decreased from 52% unendorsed rider fatalities in 2001 to just 25% unendorsed fatalities in 2002 and 2003. Coincidentally in the fall of 2001 was when Sound RIDER! ran a series of controversial articles exposing the high rate of unendorsed riders in the state. Did they have an impact?

We’re also impressed with the task force’s recommendation to impound motorcycles from those who don’t have endorsements. Bottom line – if an officer lets a rider go after pulling them over without an endorsement then doesn’t the liability with regard to that rider's safety fall to the State? Unfortunately there may need to be some legislation involved to get the ball rolling on this one.

Another recommendation in the report is that dealers not allow customers to ride a bike off the lot without the proper endorsement. Right now a number of reputable dealers already exercise this and it can’t help but reduce their liability and bolster their reputation as a responsible outfit. Many are the stories of servicemen returning from duty only to be found dead three hours after purchasing their first motorcycle.

The recommendations continue with a suggestion to dump the Motorcycle Safety Foundation curriculum for training and move toward a curriculum similar to that of Oregon. The MSF curriculum has been under scrutiny ever since it was revised several years ago, or ‘dumbed-down’ as it’s often put by industry insiders. It’s noted that doing such a thing would reduce about half the costs of instructional materials used today. That reduction is not noted in the funding recommendations budget at the end of the report but the math might say that less money spent per rider means more money available to train more riders.

We like this one too. DOL should seek legislation to include motorcycle operators in the requirement to show a current motorcycle endorsement for renewal of a motorcycle registration. A move like this would indeed up the amount of endorsed riders and pipe more money into the system for new rider training.

The final recommendation is that clubs encourage endorsement for participation in organized riding events. There are some who will say "We’re not the police, why should we do this?" On the other hand there are those of us who simply refuse to ride with un-endorsed riders.

In years past, it’s been required that for a rider to win in the 3 Pass Blast event each year he or she must be able to provide proof of an endorsement. We’re not doling out checks to those who don’t take it upon themselves to ride within the law.

Read the report and understand that this is all going to culminate into some of the most interesting legislation we’ve seen in some time over the next few years. The local motorcycling community stands on the crest of a period that’s going to shape and change the way things are today. Be true to yourself and support the causes that make the most sense to you by supporting the lobbying organizations that will no doubt be the driving forces behind passing legislation that will evolve our community and those beyond our own backyard.

Tom Mehren/Fall 06

 


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