In their quest to save money by paying less at the gas pump, an increasing number of Idahoans are trading four wheels for two. Motorcycle ridership in Idaho has increased significantly the past year, and so have the number of serious or fatal motorcycle crashes.
Although there may not be a direct correlation, increased ridership is considered a contributing factor in the rising number of crashes.
Motorcycle crashes have claimed 28 riders this year, according to the latest report from ITD’s Office of Highway Safety. That is two more than recorded in all of 2005 and up from 24 fatalities in 2004. Crashes claimed 19 riders in 2001 and 2003 and just 11 in 2002.
Of the fatalities this year, only 11 riders (about 39 percent) were wearing motorcycle helmets; 16 of the victims (57 percent) were not.
Education and on-the-road training can help novice riders become more aware of the risks and to develop the skills necessary to more safely navigate Idaho’s highways.
All motorcycle riders must pass a written exam to earn a motorcycle endorsement, explains Micki Courtney, Division of Motor Vehicles driver’slLicense program specialist. Riders younger than 21 years of age must also take and pass an approved rider safety course, such as the Idaho Skills Training Advantage for Riders (STAR) course that provides practical motorcycle skills training.
Riders 21 years and older must pass a state-administered motorcycle skills test that covers six basic operational skills, Courtney explains. The test consists of four runs and includes a sharp turn, a normal stop, a cone weave, a U-turn, a quick stop and an obstacle swerve.
The skills test is waived for riders who add the motorcycle endorsement to their Idaho driver’s license within one year of passing the STAR course or enter Idaho with a motorcycle endorsement from another state. All riders must take the written exam.
Idaho’s motorcycle skills test is based on a national Motorcycle Operation Skills Test developed by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.
Operators younger than 18 also must wear an approved motorcycle helmet in Idaho. No helmet is required for riders 18 and older.
Perhaps nothing prepares novice motorcycle riders for the challenges of highways better than the STAR program, which is offered through Boise State University under the direction of Ron Shepard.
The program’s success should be self-evident, he suggests.
Since the STAR program began 10 years ago, the number
of fatalities involving motorcycle riders younger than 24 decreased
50 percent when compared to “pre-
Shepard’s research shows riders not only develop better skills by taking the program, they also get more enjoyment from their two-wheeled travel.
“If I had taken a course like this 25 years ago I would have enjoyed riding a lot more and been much safer on the road,” said one participant. “I feel like I can relax and enjoy riding much better now.”
“I had a great time in the class,” responded another graduate. “I had absolutely no knowledge of motorcycles before this class and left feeling really comfortable.”
Still, instilling safe operating skills and reducing crashes and fatalities is the core of the STAR program. Research indicates it is “associated with a 64 percent reduced crash risk. There was also a 69 percent reduction in the risk of a fatal crash.”
The STAR annual report estimates that if the 108 “untrained” fatalities had received STAR training, 75 would not have died. “Training works,” says Shepard. Participants confirm his assertion.
“Honestly, I was taking the class just to save money on my insurance,” wrote one program graduate. “The second night of class, what I learned had saved my life.”
Another wrote: “I’ve been riding for 35 years and have found that I have some bad habits. I appreciate the solid instruction, reinforcing things I’ve learned by experience and bringing to thought things that I haven’t considered.”
Instructors trained a record 2,244 students last year, or nearly 7 percent of the estimated 33,000 registered motorcycle operators in Idaho. Dating to the program’s inception, more than 13,300 riders have taken the course, representing about 40 percent of the registered operators.
The STAR program offers a basic course for novice riders and an experienced course. They are scheduled from March through November and are limited to 12 students; classes usually are full. Students also receive instruction on a training range, usually a parking lot. Helmets are required during the skills training. Riders in experienced or advanced classes may use their own motorcycles or ones provided by the STAR program.
The state owns a pool of nearly 100 motorcycles that trainees may choose to use in the rider education course. Last year, nine of Idaho’s 45 franchised motorcycle dealerships also provided on a “loaner” basis 34 motorcycles for use in skills training.
For information about the STAR program, call 1-888-280-7827 toll-free or visit the organization's Web site at http://idahostar.boisestate.edu/ . For information about the state-required written exam or other motorcycle endorsement requirements, contact Micki Courtney at the Idaho Transportation Department's Division of Motor Vehicles (208) 334-8294.