September 8, 2008 in City

Motorcyclists increasingly at fault

Thomas Clouse
 
Dan Pelle photo

Motorcyclists head south on Hamilton Street last week near the Gonzaga campus.
(Full-size photo)

Washington officials say they have noticed a troubling trend regarding the causes of motorcycle crashes.

“Eighty percent of fatal motorcycle collisions are now the fault of the rider,” State Patrol Chief John Batiste said in a news release. “Half of fatal collisions don’t even involve a second vehicle.”

Couple those numbers with the increase in motorcycle ridership overall, and the instances of rider-caused crashes could grow, Spokane police Officer Teresa Fuller said.

“With the increase in gas prices a lot more people are buying motorcycles but not getting the motorcycle endorsements,” she said. “As a result, we have a lot of inexperienced riders out there.”

So far this year, 48 riders have died on Washington roads, compared with 43 for the same period in 2007.

In Spokane, officers have investigated 44 motorcycle crashes this year. Of those, 23 have been the fault of the motorcyclist, Fuller said.

Officers continue to investigate the motorcycle crash that occurred Aug. 31 on Hamilton Street just south of Trent Avenue.

A 51-year-old rider, who has not been identified by police, remained in critical condition late last week, Fuller said. Officers still are trying to determine who was at fault.

Witnesses at the scene said the injured man was riding with another motorcyclist south on Hamilton when they encountered an SUV. The driver of the SUV had stopped in the roadway to pick something up that had fallen out of his vehicle. One motorcyclist was able to avoid the SUV, but the other rider crashed into the rear of the stopped vehicle.

Fuller said the crash has not been included in the 23 believed to be caused by riders.

According to the state, most motorcycle fatalities involve very young riders on racing-style bikes.

“About half the riders who die don’t have a motorcycle endorsement for their license,” said Liz Luce, director of the state Department of Licensing. “We believe a little more knowledge might have saved their lives.”

Here’s another reason to get the endorsement: troopers, deputies and officers will hand over a $124 ticket if offending riders get caught.

Cause for celebration

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner will be on hand Tuesday at 1 p.m. at the corner of Ash Street and Boone Avenue to celebrate the completion of three years of work to reconstruct Maple and Ash from the bridge to just north of Francis Avenue, city streets spokeswoman Ann Deasy said.

Lights, camera, action

This week crews will start installing photo-red cameras at the intersections of Division Street and Francis Avenue, Browne Street and Sprague Avenue, and Hamilton Street at Mission Avenue, Deasy said.

“They are installing the cameras. I don’t know what traffic impacts it will have on motorists, but there will be some,” Deasy said.

Earlier this year, Spokane City Council approved a contract with American Traffic Solutions, of Arizona, for cameras to catch drivers who run red lights. Offenders will be charged $124 per incident.

The city also approved spending $67,000 to hire a police officer to run the program.

Under the contract, ATS will charge $4,600 a month for each camera that photographs one approach to an intersection. If the cameras don’t catch enough violators to pay for the program, the city will not have to make up the difference.

The city estimates it will net about $190,000 a year, though some predict the amount will be much higher.

Fuller, of Spokane police, said crews will start at Sprague and Browne. Fuller said state law requires the city to give offenders a 30-day grace period before the real citations come in the mail. That grace period likely will begin in late September or early October, she said.

During that period, “drivers will only get warnings in the mail with a picture showing them running the red light. After that, they will start to receive citations for $124,” she said.

Phoning it in

An informal poll among law enforcement officers indicates most Washington drivers took heed of the new law making it a secondary infraction to drive with cell phones to their ears. However, Fuller said she’s seen several drivers who have gone back to their old habits.

“I am definitely seeing more hands-free devices,” she said. “In the first week after the law came into effect, I saw no one on cell phones. But it seems people are getting more comfortable, and they are going back to using their cell phones again.”

One of the city’s first citations under the new law came when a driver in an SUV blew past the unmarked Chevy Tahoe driven by Officer Brad Moon, Fuller said. Moon clocked the driver at 74 mph on Interstate 90.

“As (the driver was) changing lanes to pull over, he’s still talking on his cell phone and looking over his right shoulder to check if the lanes are clear,” Fuller said.

Fuller also heard of another driver ticketed for cell phone use after he answered the ringing phone while being pulled over for a speeding violation.

Washington State Patrol Trooper Mark Baker said drivers apparently got the message, for the most part.

“I am hearing from troopers that they are writing a few tickets here and there,” he said. “Most people are cooperating. They know it’s not safe to be traveling down the road being distracted.”

Road work woes

Work will continue this week on Third Avenue along Interstate 90.

As a result, eastbound Interstate 90 on- and off-ramps at Altamont Street will be closed until Thursday. That date is, of course, weather permitting, Deasy said.

Regal Street from Third to Fifth avenues also will be closed and detours are in place.

The Freya/Thor exit will remain the preferred detour for commuters to get around the work to grind and re-lay asphalt on Third, Deasy said.

Speaking of grinding, city crews should be done on Hamilton Street near Mission and Sharp avenues and moving this week to Cedar Street between 10th and 12th avenues.

That grinding work should last two weeks and detours will be in place.

Also this week, crews will begin water and sewer work at the new YMCA building at 1000 N. Monroe St. Northbound traffic on Monroe will be reduced to one lane for two days. Crews also will be doing sewer work at night that will cause lane restrictions.

But for now, southbound lanes of Monroe should not be affected by the water work, Deasy said.


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