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Motorcycle fatalities drop in Washington State

October 13, 2009

NOTE: To date, 62 fatalities were reported, compared to 71 for the same
time period last year

www.seattlepi.com/local/411107_motorcycle13.html

Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Last updated 11:53 a.m. PT
Motorcycle fatalities drop in Washington state
By HECTOR CASTRO
SPECIAL TO SEATTLEPI.COM

For Washington state motorcycle riders, this past summer was a good
riding season.
Aside from the warm weather and clear skies, from the tail end of spring
through summer, there was a drop in rider fatalities compared to last
year. Preliminary figures from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission
show that from May through the end of September, there were 43
motorcycle fatalities across the state. During the same period in 2008,
there were 62. Just for the month of September, the figures dropped from
14 fatal motorcycle crashes in 2008, to eight this past month.

To date, 62 fatalities were reported, compared to 71 for the same time
period last year, according to the same preliminary data. For those
working to reduce the number of fatal motorcycle accidents, any
reduction in such crashes is welcome.

“So far, 2009 has been better than last year,” said Steve Stewart, until
recently the state coordinator for the Washington Motorcycle Safety
Program.

Still, Stewart said the factors involved in most of these fatal wrecks
continue to be speed, alcohol use and lane errors, typically riders
losing control on curves. In March, the Washington Traffic Safety
Commission’s research and data center reported that between 1998 and
2007, 46 percent of the 591 motorcyclists killed were driving under the
influence of drugs or alcohol at the time, speeding was a factor in
almost 50 percent of the fatal wrecks and lane errors were to blame in
43 percent of the cases.

State Patrol Lt. Mike Turcott, who reviews every single accident report
involving a motorcycle, said that out of 53 fatal accident reports he
reviewed for 2009, just five listed an automobile driver at fault. In
one instance, both the motorcyclist and a car driver were equally at
fault.

“That is huge,” Turcott said. “The pendulum is really swinging away from
the other guy being at fault in these crashes.”

This is one reason that for years state officials and traffic safety
advocates have been promoting rider safety courses, which cost $125 for
a course subsidized by the state. In recent years, interest in the
classes has boomed, particularly when gas prices soared to almost $4 a
gallon. But just as gas prices pushed people into riding, so now has the
economy kept some from taking the courses.

“The endorsements have continued to rise,” Stewart said. “Although,
rider education is off approximately 26 percent on the western side of
the state and 41 percent in the eastern part of the state.”

Bret Tkacs, who with his wife, Chrisie, is co-owner of Puget Sound
Safety, one of the largest motorcycle riding schools in the state,
agreed that fewer people are taking the courses.

“This is the first year we’ve ever really cancelled classes,” Tkacs
said. “We haven’t had the growth we’ve had in years past and I’m sure
the economy has a lot to do with that.”
His enrollment is down only slightly, but other smaller schools around
the state have seen enrollment drop by more than half.

Still, Tkacs and others continue trying to reach out to current riders
and those who expect to take up the sport. As an example, he said,
because so many motorcycle accidents involve riders losing control on
curves, the school offers a course just on what’s known as cornering.

“Cornering is a big deal, so we have a lot of classes that are cornering
classes,” Tkacs said.
Not surprisingly, Tkacs is always looking for ways to get new students
into his programs, even offering a two-hour course for riders with some
experience who simply want to pass the state’s exams. The hope, he said,
is that these students will see the benefit of additional training, even
for experienced riders, and take other courses.

“On the road, I enjoy a spirited ride, but I’m not interested in
crashing or dying,” he said.
One other inducement for motorcyclists — anyone successfully passing a
complete rider safety course can obtain an endorsement without having to
take the state Department of Licensing exams.

And not having an endorsement can mean the end of a ride for a
motorcyclist–a 2007 state law permits officers who stop motorcyclists
to impound the vehicle if the operator does not have a motorcycle
endorsement.

“That’s the equivalent of driving without a driver’s license,” Turcott
said.

Since the law took effect in July 2007, state troopers have impounded
618 motorcycles.

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