Motorcycle fatalities put light on safety rules
Experts say biggest cause of deadly crashes is rider error
Three Idaho motorcyclists died in crashes over the past weekend – the first sunny, warm one of the spring – adding a grim underscore to the message officials are promoting at 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.
In both states, the main cause of fatal motorcycle accidents is rider error, as opposed to car and truck drivers who fail to notice the cyclists. So safety messages are stressing not only awareness for drivers, who may find motorcycles hard to see, but also 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.”
There were 22 fatal motorcycle accidents on Idaho roads in 2012; Washington had 80.
Tonight 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.”
In Idaho last year, 75 percent of motorcycle fatalities were attributable to rider error, Stoy said.
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. About 500 motorcycles are involved in crashes in Idaho every year, Axmaker said.
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, according to the Idaho STAR program, which is operated by the state Division of Professional-Technical Education. The program launched in 1996.
“It takes special skills to manage emergencies,” Axmaker said. “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.
Dan Coon, Washington State Patrol spokesman, said more Washington residents are getting motorcycle endorsements 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.”
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 a 63-year-old Moscow man 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 on a sharp curve.