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October 17th, 2017

October QuickThrottle Column

Bikers love to blame people in cars for causing injuries to riders -- but in reality most accidents are caused by riders doing stupid things, and not by cars not seeing us, contrary to popular belief. I tackle this in the column this month, which my publisher, in his usual short style, said: "Very good. Lots of 'in your face' valid points. Little does of annoyance and some sarcasm. Let all the whiners stew over this and stop blaming cagers for their friends getting hurt or killed!  Mike"

So you be the judge...
Why are we killing ourselves? Seriously, why? Solo motorcycle crashes – those where the rider is the only one involved in the crash are up. Way up.  In 2015, there were 73 motorcycle fatalities and 402 serious injuries to riders on the roads in Washington, up from 69 deaths and 361 serious injuries in 2014. But more alarming is that 75% of those fatalities and injuries were the fault of riders, and slightly more than half were solo riders! In other words, the crash didn’t involve another vehicle. We only make up 4% of the vehicles on the road, but 15% of the fatalities. We are literally killing and injuring ourselves!

Which is why I’m not as alarmed as many riders are about the increased summertime scrutiny of riders by the Washington State Patrol looking for impaired or dangerous motorcycle riders. No, this isn’t “motorcycle profiling”, it’s “idiot” profiling. “Profiling”, that is stopping a rider merely for being a rider or wearing motorcycle club apparel is illegal, thanks to the efforts of many of the motorcycle clubs and groups in Washington a few years ago. Cops are pretty much too busy to just do that anyway.  However, their primary job is to insure safety on the highway and this summer the State Patrol emphasized watching for dangerous and impaired riders. Riding should only be slightly more hazardous than riding in a vehicle, yet it isn’t, and while drivers in cars carry some of the blame, most of the blame falls squarely on us riders. We are doing the stupid things to get ourselves killed.

Take for instance “lane splitting”. I know this is hotly debated in the riding community, and now being a nearly full-time California resident – the only state where it isn’t prohibited by law – I can tell you first hand there are a lot of idiots out there lane splitting at high speeds when they don’t need to. We had a fatality early in the summer in the desert where a rider going 70mph up I-10 lane splitting when traffic was going 40mph, and he ricocheted off four cars before flying off his bike, hitting a fifth car and splattering himself like a bug on a windshield. There is a place for limited slower speed lane splitting, but not like this.

And there is no place for lane splitting in Washington at all. It’s illegal. I saw more lane splitting this summer in Washington than I ever have before, and given the emails here at the magazine, it isn’t Californians who have moved to the Northwest doing it. For some reason, more than a few riders for some reason believe it’s now legal in Washington to lane-split.

Perhaps we all need to go back to high school civics class or listen to that old “School House Rock” video “I’m Just A Bill”, which explains how a bill becomes law. So here’s a refresher. The legislature has two bodies – a House and a Senate, made up of elected officials. A bill must pass, that is be approved, by BOTH the House and the Senate and then be signed by the Governor (or President) to become law. If it passes just one or the other, or is vetoed by the Governor or President, it doesn’t become a law. It’s really very simple. Pass one, pass the other, be signed Everyone got that?

So, this past legislative session in Olympia – the one that lasted until July – there was a bill introduced to allow limited lane splitting at slow speeds. The bill was passed by the Senate, and it got a lot of coverage in the media and the motorcycle press. Yay – passed one chamber. First step done. But it wasn’t passed by the House, it never had a hearing let alone a vote. Boo. It didn’t go any further and so it didn’t become law. But for some reason, more than a few folks who have been cited by the WSP and who have written into the magazine here have complained they thought it had passed. It didn’t.  And if it did, it wouldn’t have applied to high-speed on the freeway at all. Maybe it will pass down the road – I hope it does. But it didn’t last year, it’s not legal, so just stop it!

And for God’s sake, stop harping on the State Patrol for doing emphasis patrols on dangerous riders. Cops I’ve spoken truly aren’t profiling riders just because you are riding a motorcycle. They aren’t looking to see if you are wearing “club apparel”, or even if your helmet is DOT or not. They are looking for riders who are driving like idiots, or who are impaired, who are driving recklessly, or riding too fast, are lane splitting, and following too closely or speeding, and/or are just plain being stupid, putting themselves and others on the highway at risk. If you get pulled over during one of these emphasis patrols it’s because you are behaving badly.


We’ve all seen these idiots, whether we are driving our cars or riding our bikes. Speeding, weaving, lane splitting, doing wheelies on the freeway. Granted it’s a small minority of riders, but they are the ones who get the attention and they are the ones who are getting hurt or killed by being reckless. But their actions affect all of us. Not just because they are fellow riders and maybe even loved ones and friends whom we don’t want to see injured or killed. But because their actions result in increased insurance costs for all of us – health and vehicle – as well as delayed traffic because of an accident, and space in an emergency room for other casualties. And more important, their actions influence policy makers, who love to look tough by “clamping down on those awful motorcycle riders who terrorize the roads.” That’s where anti-biker legislation comes from. If you think you’re doing a wheelie flying down SR-518 in Burien hurts only yourself if you crash, think again.

And besides, I don’t want to lose any more riding friends – or even potential friends. Yeah, I’m probably channeling my Mother at this point: “wear your helmet, don’t speed, and ride safe, wear clean underwear in case you are in an accident”, but as much as we want to blame the cars for our injuries and for killing us we are killing and hurting ourselves. We can’t control what drivers in cages do to us, but we certainly can control what we are doing to ourselves.

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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