After a winter of rain and a spring of quarantine, the lure of a clear day and open roads is almost irresistible to many motorcyclists.
For some riders in Washington, though, that has led to preventable fatal crashes, according to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC) and the Washington State Patrol.
According to the traffic commission, 12 of the state’s 25 motorcycle deaths on Washington roads so far this year occurred in April. And while motorcycle deaths typically make up less than 20% of annual traffic deaths in Washington, they accounted for 53% of the state’s traffic deaths last month.
“We haven’t seen this many motorcycle rider deaths in the month of April since 2006,” WTSC spokeswoman Shelly Baldwin said.
This month, too, has been unusually deadly so far: Just in the week spanning May 3-10, eight motorcycle riders died, including three in separate crashes on a single day.
“If we follow the trends for the last 10 years, we may lose three to five more riders on Memorial Day weekend,” Baldwin said, citing stats reported by the state Department of Licensing.
Speeding, lack of experience, losing control in corners and curves, and riding under the influence of intoxicants are the main contributing factors in these crashes, according to the safety commission and State Patrol. Other drivers played a role in six of the deaths, one-fourth of the total, according to the WTSC.
“We are concerned about the death of so many motorcyclists in 2020 with the traditional riding season still to come,” said Pam Pannkuk, acting director of the WTSC. “We hope to prevent further carnage by working with (the state Department of Licensing) to promote rider training and education.”
The fatal crashes, which mostly occurred on dry days, were reported throughout the state’s counties, with five deaths in Pierce, four each in Snohomish and Clark, two each in King and Kitsap, and one each in Chelan, Ferry, Franklin, Island, Spokane, Thurston and Whatcom, according to WTSC.
The ages of the fatally injured riders ranged from 19 to 66 years old; 22 were men and 2 were women, one of whom was a passenger.
This early spike in motorcycle rider deaths this year comes after an already alarming 13% increase in Washington motorcycle rider deaths from 2018 to 2019, according to WTSC. By contrast, nationwide stats for that same time period showed motorcycle deaths down 1%, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission.
“Operating a motorcycle at high speeds often has deadly consequences,” said Chris Johnson, owner and trainer at Washington Motorcycle Safety Training. “Speed, depth perception, cornering and braking are very different on a motorcycle than in a car.”
Trooper Darren Wright, a spokesman for the State Patrol and a motorcycle rider himself, said troopers across the state are catching car drivers and motorcyclists in significantly more high-speed violations because of the open roads.
Speeds in the mid- to upper-100 mph have been observed, with one vehicle traveling 192 mph, he said in a statement. At these speeds, the chances of being involved in a collision increase dramatically, and the collision is often deadly.
“The weather’s nice, the roads are open, and some of the motorcycles are really opening it up on those open roads. And it’s leading to tragedy,” Wright said. “But you don’t have to be speeding to enjoy the scenery and the curves. You can still get the joy of the motorcycle leaning into the curves at the speed limit.”
Seattle Times staff reporter Elise Takahama contributed to this report.