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 firstname.lastname@example.org and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com
Remember that social media meme about being able to cripple a generation if we all had manual transmissions? Well my dealer friend says that coming back from the International Motorcycle Show in New York City, he just learned that when they tested the new electric bikes there with the millennial generation – Harley’s “Live Wire” and Erik Buell’s new “Fuel” (even though it doesn’t use any) or the “Zero” SR/F among the few on the market – the hipster kids came back and said “that was fun! I could see myself riding one.” And the biggest reason given? They didn’t have to shift! Apparently the thought of shifting a manual transmission frightens them and keeps them from wanting to take up riding in the first place.
Everyone who rides pretty much knows that California is the home of “lane-splitting”. This refers to the ability of a rider to ride between moving or stopped vehicles on a roadway. It’s not uncommon to be driving down a California freeway at 70+ mph and have a motorcycle rider come flying up between you and the car in the next lane. The first time it happens to you the shock is something akin to a heart attack. After a while though you pretty much get used to it.
April's column looks at motorcycle police officers. The iconic motorcycle cop might be vanishing. Some cities are closing their motocycle squads because of -- get this -- the dangers of distracted drivers! And you thought chasing a bad guy with a gun down a dark alley was dangerous -- so is riding a motorcycle when Muffy is taking a selfie, putting on makeup and talking on the phone while driving down the road...
Well it seems another year has gone by. And the only thing I've written or posted have been my Road Signs columns this year. That saddens me, and as we make a new years resolution, I'm going to do my best to write more than just my columns for here. I miss writing, and my focus has been elsewhere this year for sure. Next year is right around the corner, and among a few other changes, I'll be making a better effort at writing more.
So here's my December column, last of the year for Quick Throttle -- in which we talk about the misperceptions many people have about bikers, and wonder why that is....
Merry Christmas and my 2019 be fantastic!
If you aren’t careful, and you don’t read it closely, there’s another hidden little monster on your ballot this fall in Washington. It’s the “Carbon Tax”, known as I-1631. Now on the ballot it’s not called a “tax”, but rather a “fee”. In fact, the question on the ballot says: “This measure would charge pollution fees on sources of greenhouse gas pollutants and use the revenue to reduce pollution, promote clean energy, and address climate impacts, under oversight of a public board.” The proponents think that by calling it a “fee” not a tax that you’ll be fooled into voting for it, just like with the Sound Transit “car tab fee” increase.
Now, why as riders should we care? Two reasons. The net effect of this would be to further increase the gas tax, already the third highest in the nation behind Pennsylvania and California, another whopping 14 cents per gallon. Let that sink in. And while that will add about .72 cents to the cost of a fill-up on a six-gallon tank Harley Ultra, just think what that will add to the cost of your 20-gallon car every time you fill up on top of that! Not to mention the additional cost added on to the price of everything that emits carbon, from the natural gas that heats our homes and runs our busses, and even fuels many power plants, to the diesel fuel that is used in railroad locomotives and trucks that deliver our food and goods.
This tax – err, “fee” – is expected to raise up to $1 BILLION, that’s with a “B”, and climb as it increases $2 per ton plus inflation each year. That .14 cents per gallon increases is based on the initial $15 per ton. Add $2 and change a year to that and each year the gas tax will climb about 10% more. Fourteen cents becomes sixteen, which then becomes nineteen etc, in perpetuity! And what becomes of all that money? Well it doesn’t go to making the roads better or traffic flow more smoothly – something that would reduce carbon output much more significantly. It falls under the control of a board of “citizens” appointed by the governor. Fifteen unelected people will then get to divvy up that pot of money on any flaky hair-brained scheme they come up with. They are not accountable to the citizens in any way.
Still not convinced? Consider this. As gas prices rise, the pressure to reduce the price then increases. The easiest way to reduce them is to add ethanol to the mix. The EPA announced in October that they are rewriting the rules to allow for additional ethanol – up to 15%, at the direction of the President. You know what 15% ethanol will do to an air-cooled Harley motor? It’s not pretty. It eats up gasket seals, and it burns hotter than regular gas. Harley’s with their air-cooled engines will burn up. The likelihood of increased ethanol is why Harley developed those partially liquid cooled larger Milwaukee Eight engines. The easiest way to reduce tail-pipe emissions is to burn hotter and with more ethanol. On any older Harley engine, it’s going to destroy it. This is why the Motorcycle Riders Federation and other motorcycle advocacy groups have been working and lobbying the EPA to not go to E-15 fuel.
But the demand for lower cost fuel, coupled with the cry from corn farmers in the Midwest who have been hit hard with the trade war with China, is putting pressure on the EPA to adopt E-15. If Washington increases its fuel tax by .14 cents per gallon, that pressure further increases to do something easy to lower fuels costs. Say hello to widespread E-15, making those long trips where gas is scarce, harder to find something that will not destroy your rides engine. The EPA wants to also allow its sale year-round, not just winter months. But in the summer that high of ethanol causes more pollution not less. But we gotta make the farmers happy and consumers happy with lower gas prices. That is until they have higher engine repair bills that eat up those meager savings.
So yes, elections do have consequences. Pay attention to what’s on the ballot this fall and know what you are voting for or against -- especially those pesky initiatives. And keep a close watch on your wallet, as well as your motor!
Gary can be reached at email@example.com and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com