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July QuickThrottle Column

The dog days of summer are here -- and in the desert it's actually been pretty mild. Of course we think anything under 110 is mild and it's been just that.  A tad too hot for riding in the day still, but not so hot that you can't do anything at all. Missing a long road trip on the bike -- it's been a couple of years. Kinda makes me sad. Here is my July column for QuickThrottle -- wherein we discuss the attrocious high fatality rate on riders, and the new requirement in Washington that riders carry liablility insurance....


Is it foolish for riders to go without liability insurance?  In my mind it is.  I wouldn’t dream of riding without insurance, yet a lot of riders are gleeful in telling me that they don’t have insurance. “Not required so I’m not gonna do it!” they proudly brag. You’ve just plunked down what my parents paid for the house I grew up in on a new bike and you aren’t going to insure it? But what about if YOU hit someone else?  Without insurance, you’re on the hook for their injuries as well. “But the law doesn’t require it so I’m not buying it.” 

Well not any more. Washington’s legislature passed mandatory liability insurance for motorcycle riders this year. Effective later this month, all riders must carry the state minimum liability insurance just as if it were any other vehicle.  That means coverage of $25,000 for bodily injury of a single person in any one accident; $50,000 for death or bodily injury of two or more persons in one accident; and $10,000 in property damage. If you don’t have that coverage now, you must have it by the 28thof July when the law goes into effect. Failure to have insurance isn’t cheap – with a fine of $450 and possible suspension of your license. The insurance is cheaper than the fine.

With or without insurance, motorcycle accidents are a fact of life. The main reason – the biggest reason -- we all ride is the sheer pleasure of it. I know some of us also ride out of necessity, using our rides to commute to and from work. I know a fair number of riders who only have a motorcycle for everything, brave souls that they are. But for the majority of us, we ride for the fun of it. So, if this is a pleasure activity, why on earth are we all killing ourselves in such big numbers? Boating is entirely a pleasure pastime – in my life I know one person who commuted by boat, living in an island off the coast of Olympia and taking his boat to the capitol every morning, but that wasn’t out of necessity, it was convenience and fun, and I’m getting sidetracked, and besides, boaters aren’t killing themselves in huge numbers like we are.

Riding is the same thing – or should be. Yet as of May this year, already more than twenty riders have died in Washington. TWENTY! And this was before the summer riding season got into full swing. This is a very very scary statistic, and a very sad one too. On average around 75 people die each year in Washington while riding a motorcycle. That’s a big number. And we have to remember, as Mark Medalen the manager of the Washington State Transportation Safety Commission’s Motorcycle Safety Program says, “these are not statistics, these are not numbers, these are people.”

And what’s worse is we are killing ourselves! It’s a myth that most motorcycle crashes are caused by other drivers. In reality, more than 75% of them are caused by riders themselves. It’s rider error in the vast majority of cases. Riding while impaired – alcohol or other substances; racing and speeding; engaging in excessively risky behavior like lane splitting; and riders who are quite frankly, in over their heads as far as their skill levels are concerned. They all cause more accidents than two vehicle crashes involving a car.

And here’s another little bit of information. More than half of the motorcycle crashes in Washington occur during the three-month period of spring and early summer – at the start of our riding season. Riders aren’t used to riding and it takes some time to re-develop those skills that we all gain with practice.

So how do we fix it? More “safety” laws aren’t the answer. Even greater enforcement of existing laws isn’t the answer. Lord knows we can’t legislate common sense – like don’t drink and ride or do a wheelie going down I-5 at 80mph. By far the best way to reduce solo motorcycle crashes is two-fold according to the stats: First -- get a motorcycle endorsement on your license. I know this is a no-brainer, and it is the law, but I know as well that there are far too many folks riding around withoutan endorsement. Second – riders who take and then retake advanced skill classes are statistically less likely to get into a solo crash. Continuing education is required for most professions – lawyers, doctors, engineers. Maybe we should require it for riders as well.

The City of Seattle has a silly little goal they call “Vision Zero”, in which they want to reduce traffic accidents to zero. Yes zero. Anyone with any common sense knows the only way to reduce it to zero would be to have no vehicles at all and knowing the mindset of many of the so-called leaders of the city, that plan wouldn’t strain credulity at all. Their plan calls for “thoughtful street planning, targeted enforcement, and public engagement.” However, we can and should wholeheartedly endorse ways to get the numbers down significantly – a much more realistic goal.

For riders, we need to take responsibility for ourselves. We need to keep up our skills. We need to practice riding, especially after a long winter. We have to set aside our egos and recognize our own limitations. And we need to stop acting like damn fools while riding. That is what will bring down the fatality rate and the accident rate more than anything.

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

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