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August QuickThrottle Column

I've been having a wonderful time with the family and friends in Utah so far this August.  I'm taking Mom and my step-dad Ron up to Idaho this week to visit some of Mom's relatives in her hometown of Clifton, ID, and then up to Boise to visit my step-sister Tammy and her family. I'm enjoying reconnecting with a lot of my Utah roots, and will have some thoughts on that down the road.  In the mean time here is my August column for your enjoyment and/or annoyance. 
Raise your hand if you like insurance companies. That’s what I thought. They are, unfortunately a necessary evil in today’s litigious society. And it often seems that their sole purpose is to collect premiums from us and then deny liability when we go to make a claim. We are required by law to purchase it for our four-wheeled motor vehicles, and for our health care if our employer doesn’t provide it or we aren’t old enough or poor enough for Medicare and Medicaid. Our mortgage lender requires it for our house if we have a mortgage, and many landlords require renters insurance. I know very few people who really like their insurance companies, whether it’s vehicle, homeowners, or health, especially whenever you write the check for your policy. Let’s face it, there isn’t a lot to like about them.

But from time to time insurance companies actually do things that make you think they really care about their customers and non-customers alike. Maybe they do, or maybe they are just doing things to keep from paying out claims if they don’t have to.

It does make good business sense to take precautionary steps to keep people from making claims in the first place – it’s why you get a discount on home owners insurance for having a burglar alarm, or on motorcycle insurance for having passed a rider safety course. Why health insurers don’t see this and balk at paying for routine checkups that can catch and prevent expensive things down the road is beyond me (and way beyond the scope of this magazine column, and I’m getting sidetracked here.)

So, I’m going to give a huge shout-out and applaud the efforts of a couple of giant insurance companies – State Farm and Geico for not only reminding riders of our responsibilities to ride safely, and listing ways for riders to be safe, but for also calling out to drivers to watch out for and pay attention to motorcycle riders. In a recent mailer to customers, State Farm said: “A heads-up for motorists: Collisions with motorcycles are usually the non-motorcycle driver's fault. Remember, motorcyclists have the same rights as other drivers. Check your blind spot, signal your intentions and avoid distractions.”

And both State Farm and Geico are making massive marketing outreaches to the riding community, touting their rates and coverage.  In California Geico is putting up billboards every few miles offering motorcycle coverage and State Farm is blanketing the state with TV commercials. The insurance industry has discovered that riders are a good source of premium dollars – and apparently the payouts are not high enough to not go after attracting new customers. Why our own Northwest homegrown insurer PEMCO doesn’t do this I don’t know, but it’s nice to see that we riders are a wanted customer base by major insurers.

And on the topic of insurance, I was talking with a buddy outside a coffee shop in downtown Palm Springs who just bought a brand new $30,000 Street Glide and was complaining that “Harley Finance insists that I get insurance but the state doesn’t require it so why should they? What a crock!” Having been a banking industry lobbyist for years I told him the lender is protecting their assets in case you wreck it – “you wanna be paying back $30K on a loan for a bike you don’t own anymore?” He scoffed and said “that’s not gonna happen, and if it did I’ll just walk away from it and not pay it back, the bank can afford the loss.”  “Yeah, well good luck with that buddy” I replied as he sped off and promptly lane split his way to a traffic light. I do have to question the judgement of those riders who choose to ride without insurance since the state doesn’t require it – much the same way I question the wisdom of folks who choose to ride helmetless.  In a way I’m glad lenders do require insurance – although I’ve mixed feelings about the government requiring insurance or helmets.  I will always have both, but it’s my choice. It makes me think what the riding community would say if lenders or insurers required helmets too?

Plain and simple anyone who doesn’t ride with insurance (or a helmet for that matter) is a fool in my book, and at times the libertarian in me cringes and wishes the state did require insurance. My coffee shop buddy bought just the bare minimum that Harley finance required of him, and I can only hope he doesn’t ever need anything more. For instance, they don’t require un-insured and under-insured motorist coverage. But frankly, the person that hits you is far more likely to be un-insured or under-insured leaving you to foot the bill, and if you don’t have the coverage yourself, you are out in the cold mister!  I’ve (knock on wood) luckily only been involved in two accidents in my years of driving and riding – both times, once riding and once driving, I was struck by someone who had either no insurance or not enough insurance to cover the damages. I was very glad for that uninsured/underinsured coverage let me tell you.

These days I’m fortunate to own all my bikes and vehicles free and clear. The states of Washington and California where I reside and have my vehicles licensed all require liability insurance only and only for the vehicles, not the bikes -- but I carry full coverage for everything.  I’ll increase my collision deductible to save some bucks, but I wouldn’t be caught dead without liability and uninsured motorist coverage.  Face it, people who can afford to drive a Bently don’t “need” insurance but are more likely to carry full coverage anyway and are, for whatever reason, seem to be a lot less careless on the road than the schmuck in a beater.

And no, I’m not an insurance salesman, nor do I own stock in any insurer. But I do think it behooves every rider to carry liability and uninsured motorist coverage at a minimum. And, yes, the libertarian in me cringes at the notion of the state requiring insurance for riders like they do for vehicle drivers. There is some logic to the notion that it’s the penalties in increased insurance costs are a major factor for people being a bit more alert driving for fear of increased insurance costs for stupid driving error and minor accidents. So, maybe we need to consider it for motorcycles as well – in the long run it will benefit all of us with more riders in the insurance pool, and insurance companies paying attention to that and working to increase rider safety. Coupled with the “threat” of higher premiums, just maybe we’ll have some more careful riders on the road.

Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com 

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