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Understanding Target Zero as it relates to Motorcycle Safety in Washington State

States receiving federal MAP-21 traffic safety funds must have a Strategic Highway Safety Plan

As its name suggests, Washington's plan, Target Zero, boldly calls for the elimination of fatality and serious injury crashes by the year 2030. This goal is certainly ambitious, but also statistically quite attainable.

But could we really have any goal other than zero fatalities? If not zero, then how many? 50? 100? Who wants to volunteer themselves or a loved one to be one of the fatalities? The goal must be zero. Personally, I reject the idea that dying in a traffic crash should be an acceptable part of modern life.

Under MAP-21 requirements, each state's plan must address the "4-E's" of Education, Enforcement, Engineering and Emergency Medical Services. In other words, states must take a comprehensive approach to traffic safety and not put all their eggs in one basket. Plans must use data-driven problem identification, identify performance-based goals, employ proven best practices, and involve lots of stakeholder input.

It makes sense that addressing the biggest issues first will yield the greatest results. Target Zero priorities are grouped into three levels. Priority Level One includes those factors present in at least 30% of fatalities in serious injuries and include impaired driving, run-off-the-road collisions, speed related collisions and distracted driving, to name a few. Priority Level Two factors are present in at least 10% of fatal and serious injury crashes. Motorcyclists represent only 4% of registered vehicles in Washington but represent 14.7% of fatalities and 17% of serious injuries, and fall into Priority Level Two in the Target Zero plan. Priority Level Three are those factors present in less than 10% of crashes, including older drivers, school buses, bicyclists, car vs. train, and others.

While overall traffic fatalities in Washington, and nationwide, have been declining, motorcycle fatalities have not. In 2015, there were 72 motorcycle fatalities. Since 2005, motorcycle fatalities have fluctuated up and down between 67 and 84. The trend line is essentially flat and needs to be going down.

Back in 2006, the Department of Licensing organized the Motorcycle Safety Task Force to study and provide recommendations on motorcycle safety. Task Force members included representatives from various state agencies, rider training schools, motorcycle dealers, and rider advocacy groups. The Task Force was successful, in my opinion, because it had a neutral, outside facilitator and the group was committed to studying the data and keeping an open mind. Google Washington Motorcycle Safety Task Force to read the report.

The Task Force reviewed eight years of motorcycle crash data and concluded:

More than 80% of fatalities occur between April and September, prime months for motorcycling.

Half of fatal crashes were single vehicle occurrences; no other vehicle was involved other than the motorcycles. When alcohol is involved, two-thirds of fatal crashes are single vehicle occurrences.

Motorcyclists themselves are responsible for three out of four fatal crashes. The most common contributing factors to motorcycle fatalities are lane error, speeding, alcohol impairment and inattention.

One-third of fatalities were motorcyclists who did not have a valid motorcycle endorsement. 86% of fatally-injured riders had not taken an approved motorcycle safety course.

These findings came as an epiphany for some. For others the study confirmed what they already suspected, that the majority of fatalities are within the control of the rider. Readers familiar with the Hurt Report will recognize this as a major shift in thinking. The Hurt Report was a motorcycle safety study conducted in Los Angeles, California, in the late 1970s. This study found that two-thirds of motorcycle-car crashes occurred when the car driver failed to see the approaching motorcycle and violated the rider's right-of-way. The current Washington data told a different story.

As a result of its study, the Task Force published recommendations in the areas of rider training, public education, and traffic law enforcement. These recommendations mirror many of the objectives and strategies listed in the Target Zero plan. Some of the recommendations were to:

  • Conduct a top-to-bottom assessment of Washington's motorcycle training program.
  • Address the disparities in the use of training facilities statewide. Redistribute resources to reduce waiting times for training. The goal should be less than a 30-day wait to get into a class.
  • Allow riders to take basic rider training on their own bikes, if they wish.
  • Include motorcycle awareness in the driver's education curriculum and the state driver's guide.
  • Develop a public education campaign directed at riders under 25, riders over 40, and motorists. The campaign should target the rider behaviors most likely to contribute to motorcycle crashes (lane errors, speed, inattention and impaired riding).
  • Encourage law enforcement to focus its efforts on the moving violations noted above as well as non-endorsed riders and inattentive drivers.

Going forward, as riders we need to recognize that we are the only ones responsible for our own safety. We need to change the culture within our own community. Assume other drivers (and riders) don't see us. Wear high-visibility gear. Ride rested and sober. Take a training class from time to time.

Remember thirty years ago when very few people wore seatbelts? Our traffic safety culture has changed. Our motorcycle safety culture can change, too. It's not cool to die doing what we love.

Mike Turcott, March 2016


The full report is available at: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/partners/targetzero/PDF2/targetzero2.pdf


Mike Turcott retired from the Washington State Patrol in 2013 and currently works under contract for the Washington Traffic Safety Commission as the Regional Target Zero Manager for Lewis, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum Counties. Mike enjoys riding street and dual-sport motorcycles and has been a regular attendee at the Rally in the Gorge for several years.


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