Spike in Wash. motorcycle deaths prompts new tests

SEATTLE -- The number of deaths from motorcycle accidents is the highest it's been in seven years in our state.

So far this year, crashes have killed 60 riders. To cut that number and the number of serious injury accidents, the state analyzed causes.

Right after speed, it determined that more than half of all motorcycle crashes are caused by riders making mistakes in curves. So the state created a new test that adds a number of skills for new riders to get their endorsement.

"What we want is a test that reflects someone's ability to operate a motorcycle in a variety of conditions. The test that we had was a good test but we thought it could be improved based on some things were seeing happening in accident statistics," said Brad Benfield with the state Department of Licensing.

The state even created videos it posted online to show what's expected.

For instance, riders are timed through a curve to demonstrate speed while staying within the lines. A total of five online videos demonstrate all of the different areas of the skills test.

"This is really about trying to give the riders themselves the skills they need to operate motorcycles successfully," Benfield said.

The new testing, which started August 1 and includes a new written test, is proving to be more difficult.

According to David Wendell at Pacific Northwest Motorcycle Safety, their pass rate fell from 93 percent to 85 percent since the state put the new testing in place.

Kenneth Bow -- a rider for more than 40 years now -- said he's totally in favor of stringent testing.

"Number one, it's a safety factor for the person driving," he said. "And secondly, I don't think it's an infringement on the person's rights to have to prove their capability to prove they can ride a motorcycle."

This new testing system only applies to those getting their endorsement for the first time.

The top three causes of fatal motorcycle accidents in Washington are speed, lane errors and driving while impaired, typically involving alcohol.