Three Idaho motorcyclists died in crashes over the weekend – the first sunny, warm one of the spring – adding a grim underscore to the message officials are promoting at a series of Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month events kicking off this week.
Washington lost one motorcyclist over the same weekend, an Oregon resident who died in a crash in the Tri-Cities area. “Unfortunately, we normally see around one or two fatalities at this time of year on these weekends, so we’re going right along as to what we expect,” said Dan Coon, Washington State Patrol spokesman.
In both states, the main cause of fatal motorcycle accidents is rider error, as opposed to motorists in cars or trucks who fail to notice the cyclists. So safety messages are stressing not only awareness for motorists, who may find motorcycles hard to see, but preparation and safety for motorcycle riders themselves.
“Three in one weekend – it’s attention-grabbing, it’s tragic, it’s terrible for those riders and their families,” said Stacey “Ax” Axmaker, director of the Idaho STAR Motorcycle Safety Program. “But that kind of thing does happen.” Idaho saw 22 fatal motorcycle accidents in 2012; Washington had 80.
Tuesday night at Coeur d’Alene’s Fire Station No. 3, 1500 N. 15th St., Will Stoy, an Idaho STAR instructor and motorcycle officer for the Meridian Police Department, will join local law enforcement officials to offer a free public session on “How to avoid a ticket and survive a crash, taught by your local motor officers.” It runs from 6-8 p.m.
Stoy said in Idaho in 2012, 75 percent of motorcycle fatalities were attributable to rider error. Other numbers that might surprise people: 68 percent were riders over 40 years old, and 72 percent were on cruisers or large touring motorcycles. A third – 33 percent – involved impaired riders.
The Idaho STAR program, which is operated by the state Division of Professional-Technical Education, has examined crash data since the program started in 1996, and found that completing motorcycle skills training courses is associated with a 79 percent reduced risk of crashing, and an 89 percent reduced risk of dying in a crash.
Idaho STAR offers skills training courses to motorcyclists of all ability levels at 12 training locations around the state; there’s more information at idahostar.org or by calling (888) 280-7827.
“Keep practicing and learning skills,” Axmaker advised. “It takes special skills to manage emergencies. And we know from the reports that about 500 motorcycle crashes are reported every year in Idaho. We encourage riders: Dress to have a crash, in riding gear, head to toe. You don’t know what part of your body is going to hit the pavement.”
Unlike Washington, Idaho doesn’t require helmets for motorcycle riders 18 or older. But, Axmaker said, “There’s no law against wearing a helmet or jacket or pants or boots or gloves. So every rider is free to gear up.”
Although both states saw increased motorcycle fatalities in 2012, Coon said Washington has seen more residents getting motorcycle endorsements in recent years even as accident and fatality rates have remained relatively flat. That’s in part because of the tough stance Washington takes on requiring motorcycle endorsements, which carry a requirement for skills training.
“There is a bite to that law,” Coon said. “If an officer, a trooper or a local county sheriff stops someone and if they don’t have an endorsement, the bike is impounded. … We’ve seen a significant increase over the last couple of years of people getting motorcycle licenses.”
In Idaho, riding without an endorsement is an infraction that carries a $90 fine. Those under 21 are required to take a skills course to get a motorcycle endorsement, but people 21 or older can pass a skills test instead. However, the Idaho STAR program strongly encourages Idaho motorcyclists to take the courses; successful completion of a course will give the rider an automatic waiver of the skills test.
On Saturday, motorcycle groups around Idaho are partnering with the Idaho STAR program on safety awareness rallies at four locations across the state; they include a ride down Sherman Avenue in Coeur d’Alene, with riders meeting at 9:30 a.m. at the Kootenai County Courthouse.
The three fatal motorcycle crashes in Idaho over the weekend included the death of 63-year-old Moscow resident Richard Nagy on Friday near Worley, when his motorcycle crashed into the back of a cargo van that was turning left around 1 p.m. A 51-year-old Boise man died just after 8 p.m. Friday when his motorcycle went off state Highway 21 and hit a boulder; he wasn’t wearing a helmet and died instantly of head injuries. On Saturday, a man in his early 20s was thrown from his motorcycle and killed in Boise when he and another motorcyclist crashed while entering a sharp curve on Warm Springs Avenue.