8 Ball In The Wind

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Are Washington Roads Killing Bikers?

Over the past decade or so several pieces of legislation have been introduced in the Washington State Legislature that have been opposed by both the Washington State Patrol, and the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.  Each time the same basic argument was brought forward; it was "dangerous", it would "cause more accidents", it would be "difficult to enforce".  Of the bills that passed from the legislature and were signed by the Governors in office at the time, none of those things have yet to come to pass.  It has long bothered me that the government of Washington State has a long held duality towards motorcyclists and the motorcycles we ride.  While clinging to the claims of increased risk to the lives of motorcyclists as reasons to oppose these efforts, the state has done little if nothing to mitigate a very significant risk placed on motorcyclists, the design of the roadways and "safety" features.

For more than 40 years, researchers from around the world have been looking at this same issue.  All seem to come to the same basic conclusion; the basic design of highways and highway safety equipment can be dangerous to motorcyclists.  Many factors in the basic design of roadways can be a key factor in motorcycle crashes, as has been shown previously.  Add to this the findings that many of the safety devices designed to keep other motor vehicles on the roadway and safe in the event of a crash, are a significant factor in serious injury and fatality among motorcyclists during a crash.

The Governor has set his 'Target Zero' and the bureaucracies of Washington State have set out to reach the goal of zero traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030.  Yet it seems the only way the bureaucrats can envision this happening is by creating new laws and regulations.  Many of which seem aimed more at restricting the motoring public's choices while promoting the use of public transportation, than actually making the roadways safer.  Highway design features such as; rumble strips, recessed reflectors, grooved pavement, and even the types of paving on a roadway can all lead to loss of stability and control leading to a crash for a motorcycle.  Yet they all continue to be used to this day, and touted as 'safety features'.  Even cable barriers, and guardrails have been shown to contribute directly to serious injuries and fatalities for motorcyclists involved in collisions with these "safety features".

In 2006 Norway actually banned all cable barriers from their roadway systems.  Simply because of the danger they have been shown to expose motorcyclists to during collisions with the barriers.  All across Europe and even in Australia and New Zealand, efforts are being made to reduce the risk of serious or fatal injuries due to collisions with the classic "W Beam" guardrails and especially their posts.  These efforts have now been going on for a couple of decades, and have been shown to be effective.  Yet here in America, and most definitely in Washington State, the evolution of highway pavement design as well as that of safety barriers has changed little since the 1960's.  

With the House proposed Transportation Budget for Highway Maintenance of $471,595,000 for the 2017-2019 biennium, it does not appear that Washington State's highways will be evolving into safer highways in the foreseeable future.  While that may seem a great deal of money for road maintenance; and it is, that amount is only a small fraction of the billions of dollars in the Transportation budget proposed by the Washington State House of Representatives.  More money is going to the ferry budget, which serves predominantly the Puget Sound region, than to highway maintenance across the entire state ($512,839,000 proposed for ferries versus the $471,595,000 for highway maintenance).  While these are not the final budget figures, there isn't much of a likelihood of great drastic changes.

It is high time that the members of the legislature, and those leading the transportation bureaucracies in Washington State, begin to put their money where their political mouths have been for years on saving motorcyclists lives.  Stop worrying about legislation that might put riders at risk; and do something about what has repeatedly to actually contribute to the deaths of motorcyclists in Washington State, poor roads and outdated safety barriers.  Then watch the fatality numbers fall, and feel proud you actually practice what you preach.

Catch you on the road sometime...


  1. It's not the roads! It's the riders themselves! People are not getting enough training! They are not slowing for the corners and they are not making good choices when it comes to alcohol and drug use. DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE LACK OF TRAINING. INCREASE THE REQUIREMENTS IN WHAT IT TAKES TO GET AN ENDORSEMENT AND HAVE MORE CONSEQUENCES WHEN IT COMES TO ALCOHOL AND DRUG USE! PUT THE MONEY WHERE IT'S NEEDED!

  2. ^^^ A Cager weighing in on a biker issue? As a biker, I don't drink and ride, I don't use drugs and ride. It is fuckers out there in cages who choose to break the law, attempt to ride into a pack of bikes, which it is illegal to enter a bikes space. The road conditions are terrible and everything mentioned in this blog are accurate and correct. Mr./Ms. Unknown poster above, have you ever ridden on grooved pavement on a motorcycle? It's rather obvious you haven't. STFU!

    1. I appreciate your comment. At least I know someone is fact checking my data. Much appreciated.

  3. The words of someone not even willing to leave a name might be more effective if they actually looked at the information, and not allow their obvious bias to show through. I would assume from your words that automobile occupants DO get enough training, that they DO slow down for corners, and they DO make good choices when it comes to alcohol and drug use. Since the accident rates involving speed and alcohol are leading factors in automobile crashes I would not consider your statement that it's "the riders" to be worthy of arguing over. I would like to ask "Unknown" if they have ever tried to make a left turn on a highway and had the rumble strip catch the front wheel and turn it the other way? Or have you ever laid the bike down on wet curved road surface that had just changed to grooved pavement? Or have you ever watched a close friend die after a tire blew on a sharp corner and he slid into the guardrail post and was fatally injured? Yes, more people on the road need to get endorsed, more people ride too fast (but both are also very true in cars as well), but the way roads are designed is with cars and larger vehicles in mind, not motorcycles. What is a safety feature for cars, can easily be a stability destroying feature leading to crashes. Also, when it comes to 'safety barriers' they are designed to prevent cars from crossing into oncoming traffic, and do so reasonably well. However the car body with its crumple zones does not exist on a motorcycle. That is why such a high percentage of fatalities involving 'safety barriers' or motorcyclists.