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Originally published June 4, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 4, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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Motorcycle ridership grows; rider death rate grows faster

Most people who go through what Maslow Magnotti experienced are dead. The Central Washington University student crashed his motorcycle at...

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

Motorcycle safety and licensing information


State Department of Licensing's motorcycle page : www.dol.wa.gov/driverslicense/motorcycles.html (Includes information on endorsements and safety classes.)

www.endorseyoursport.com (Also includes the state Motorcycle Rider Safety Task Force 2006 report.)

Two ways to get a motorcycle endorsement


1. Pass a Department of Licensing written test, which allows a rider to get an instruction permit. Then pass a riding test.

2. Complete an approved course at one of 25 motorcycle training schools in the state. Take the completion card to any driver-licensing office within 180 days; the written and riding tests will be waived and the endorsement issued.

Information on the courses, including costs and schedules, is available at licensing offices and on the Internet at the Web sites listed above. Some courses, subsidized by the state, cost $100, which will rise to $125 after July 22. Unsubsidized classes charge about $200 but may not have waiting lists like the subsidized courses often do.

Source: Washington Department of Licensing

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Most people who go through what Maslow Magnotti experienced are dead.

The Central Washington University student crashed his motorcycle at 70 mph on Interstate 90 near Snoqualmie last month, receiving fractures to both arms and one leg. He's now on the mend, but his body is covered with cuts and stitches from surgery.

He had bought the bike — his first — that same day. "I'm lucky to be alive," Magnotti, 21, said from his bed at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle a few days after the accident.

But he also said he had learned something: "If I were to take a motorcycle safety course, I wouldn't have crashed that day."

Magnotti hadn't obtained a required state motorcycle endorsement on his driver's license, which riders get only after they demonstrate they know how to ride. One-third of the 425 motorcyclists involved in fatal crashes on Washington roads between 1993 and 2003 also didn't have endorsements, according to a state report.

Now the state, in a bid to curb climbing motorcycle fatality numbers, is moving to beef up its motorcycle-safety efforts. A new law that will take effect July 22 allows law-enforcement officers to impound the motorcycles of riders they stop who don't have the endorsement.

Stepped-up enforcement and expanded safety programs also may be in the works.

Motorcycle safety and licensing information


State Department of Licensing's motorcycle page : www.dol.wa.gov/driverslicense/motorcycles.html (Includes information on endorsements and safety classes.)

www.endorseyoursport.com (Also includes the state Motorcycle Rider Safety Task Force 2006 report.)

"The intent is to increase rider education," said Steve Stewart, program manager for the Motorcycle Safety Program at the state Department of Licensing. "Let's face it: Motorcycles are inherently dangerous. Maybe that's part of their appeal."

Bike ownership grows

The number of motorcycles registered in Washington increased more than 70 percent between 1997 and 2005 — from 94,000 to 163,000. There has been a big jump in middle-aged riders, who may finally have enough disposable income to buy the bike they've coveted since they were kids, said Monty Lish, motorcycle-safety program manager with the nonprofit Evergreen Safety Council.

Rising gas prices also figure into the surge. "We're getting more students saying they can get 60 miles a gallon on a motorcycle while they get 20 or 30 in a car," Lish added.

But state motorcycle fatalities have increased even faster than motorcycle registrations. They nearly tripled between 1997 and 2006, from 28 to a record 82 last year.

Two ways to get a motorcycle endorsement


1. Pass a Department of Licensing written test, which allows a rider to get an instruction permit. Then pass a riding test.

2. Complete an approved course at one of 25 motorcycle training schools in the state. Take the completion card to any driver-licensing office within 180 days; the written and riding tests will be waived and the endorsement issued.

Information on the courses, including costs and schedules, is available at licensing offices and on the Internet at the Web sites listed above. Some courses, subsidized by the state, cost $100, which will rise to $125 after July 22. Unsubsidized classes charge about $200 but may not have waiting lists like the subsidized courses often do.

Source: Washington Department of Licensing

The state's new motorcycle-safety measures emerged from a 16-member motorcycle-safety task force established in 2005. It included representatives of the Washington State Patrol, the Department of Licensing, the motorcycle industry and user groups.

In a report issued last June, the group found that most fatal accidents occurred during the day, in dry weather.

More than 80 percent took place between April and September, prime riding weather.

Half involved just one motorcycle and no other vehicles.

And the most common causes were inability to stay in the lane of travel, speeding, alcohol and inattention. The task-force report also estimated that 30,000 drivers are riding motorcycles in the state without endorsements.

The group set a goal of reducing motorcycle fatalities by 10 each year. Its recommendations included improving rider education, clarifying laws, running a public-awareness campaign and stepping up enforcement.

Not as easy as it seemed

Magnotti, now home from the hospital, said he didn't realize how dangerous riding can be.

He said he bought a motorcycle because he wanted to start traveling more between his Ellensburg home and Seattle, where his girlfriend lives, while saving money on gas.

He found a bike in Everett. He and his girlfriend drove there to buy it May 14. "My original intention was to go to a big parking area and ride it around a lot," said Magnotti, who had ridden motorcycles before but never owned one.

But by the time the sale closed it was getting late, and Magnotti didn't want to ride home in the dark.

Besides, he thought he knew what he was doing.

"When I drove it, it came natural to me," he said. "I thought, 'Wow!' At 40, it felt like I was going 20. I thought this was pretty easy to ride."

He headed east on I-90, with his girlfriend following in their car.

Magnotti was going about 70 in the left lane near Snoqualmie when "a sharp right-hand turn came, so I leaned," he said.

"And it turned a little bit, but it didn't turn enough. I tried to lean more and it didn't quite turn enough. I was almost off the left side. When I got really close to the grade, I tried to brake really slowly. Either the bike wobbled, or I hit a storm drain, or something.

"I knew it was going over. I tried to lay it down, with the bike sliding in front of me."

Magnotti's motorcycle hit a tree, the State Patrol reported. Magnotti was thrown off with enough force that he was knocked out of both shoes. His girlfriend arrived in time to see pieces of motorcycle flying into the air.

Magnotti thinks a heavy jacket and helmet that he bought with the bike saved his life. He admits his inexperience caused the crash.

"The bike seemed like it was easy to ride," he said, "but at a sharp curve at 65, 70, it wasn't so easy."

Impound threat coming

Magnotti said he wasn't aware of the requirement for a motorcycle endorsement.

The new law allowing officers to impound the bikes of riders without endorsements was one of the task force's recommendations. The Legislature approved it in April.

Under the old law, a rider who was stopped and found not to have an endorsement probably would have received a $112 ticket and been allowed to drive away, said Trooper Jeff Merrill, State Patrol public-information officer.

Just the threat of impoundment could push more riders to comply with the endorsement requirement, he added: "I don't think there's anything more sacred than impounding someone's motorcycle."

Another new law scheduled to take effect in July increases the cost of a state-subsidized motorcycle-safety education class from $100 to $125, to provide funding to expand the program. One goal of the new laws is to increase the number of riders going through training from 12,000 students a year now to 30,000 by 2010.

The State Patrol also is looking at increased enforcement efforts, Merrill said.

Magnotti's injuries are expected to heal in about a month. He says he will consider riding a motorcycle again.

"I'd do it again — if I take a safety course," he said.

Peyton Whitely: 206-464-2259 or pwhitely@seattletimes.com

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