MSF Safety Course and Cycle Endorsement

Maybe it’s the Vespa paraphernalia plastered all over my cubicle at work, or the helmet on my desk, or my close encounters with coworkers in the parking garage. It could even be the fact that I frequently arrive in the morning soaking wet. But everyone at my day job knows I’m way into scooters.

If I come in on Monday with a sunburned nose, they ask if I rode a lot over the weekend. After stopping for gas on the way in, they tell me they were considering a scooter. People I’ve never met stop by to ask for my advice on the feasibility of commuting on two wheels. “I heard you’re the Scooter Girl,” they say in a hushed tone. “Can you hook me up with the 411?”

escI heartily endorse the acquisition of a scooter, and I intersperse every sentence with, “Take the safety course.” If it’s your first scooter, get an automatic. Take the safety course. Parking can be much easier on a scooter. Take the safety course. I’d recommend a 150cc if you live in the ‘burbs. Take the safety course. Oh, and – take the safety course.

One of my coworkers picked up a pair of 50cc Hondas last year on a whim for his wife and him. He now commutes most days on his scooter. He’s a low-key, safe and level-headed guy so I’m sure he’s just fine. He even wears a safety vest and follows all the traffic laws. He stops by every couple of days and we chat about commuting. I recommend rain gear like my favorite purchase ever, the Scooter Skirt.

Today during our chat, he said he saw a girl wipe out on the University bridge. She’d been weaving a bit in traffic, looking unsteady and a little out-of-control. It had just started raining for the first time in weeks, so the roads were slippery. “Slick as snot” was, I believe, the term he used. He lost sight of her, and then the traffic stopped up ahead and people were getting out of their cars. The girl and her brand-spankin’-new scooter had taken a tumble on the bridge grating. She appeared okay; she eventually sat up coherently. Her shiny bike with temporary plates had done a few cartwheels.

Friday I was talking to one of my coworkers who recently picked up a Piaggio Fly 150 for commuting. He takes the ferry. Cycles on the ferry don’t have to wait in line – we go right to the front. So scooters are a blessing for rush hour commuting to the islands. Plus the fare is scads cheaper than a car. I’d been checking in with him every time I saw him, “How’s the Fly treating you? Did you take the safety course yet?”

I was appalled to hear he had been riding with his 6-year-old niece on the back after having the bike for a week. To legally ride a cycle over 50cc’s in Washington, you have to have a motorcycle endorsement on your driver’s license. If you pass the written test at the DOL, you can get a permit which allows you to ride, but sans passengers and not at night. He possessed neither permit nor endorsement.

Then Friday he was telling me how he got into a “little fender bender” last week. Is there such a thing on a scooter? The damn car in front of him stopped short (in the city?! The nerve!) and he rear-ended the guy.

In a related story, I watched a guy on a Mojito with temporary plates whizz past me, riding in the wrong part of the lane. He promptly nailed a pothole and wiped out across two lanes, nearly getting flattened by a bus. He was okay and got to his feet, looking quite embarrassed.

Unendorsed riders out on the streets cause several big problems. It’s not just that they’re endangering their own lives – or even those of their illegal passengers. There’s more to it.

Scooters are a fantastic alternative commute vehicle, and we could make a lot of progress in American cities if their popularity continued to increase. They use less gas, make less noise, reduce congestion in the streets and while parked. Many of them produce less pollution than cars. When ridden safely, they also allow more room for bicycles – another fantastic alternative commute vehicle.

But when most of the stories you hear about scooters involve crashes, accidents and injuries, or illegally parked bikes pissing off legally parked cars, the enthusiasm with which city dwellers embrace this two-wheeled form of transport dwindles, understandably. Scooters become an irritant – cutting off other drivers, parking incorrectly, not following traffic laws and creating unsafe conditions for everyone. People will start to say, “sure, you save gas, but they’re so dangerous!”

I joke about it while riding down Broadway, but I can spot which riders did not even crack open the manual by the way they park. Parallel to the curb, or face-in to the curb, I point at one after another: “Didn’t read the book, didn’t read the book, didn’t read the book.” How to park is one of the first things covered.

These riders are also endangering my life. I don’t want to share a lane with someone who couldn’t be bothered to even consult the first chapter of the cycle safety manual.

What I don’t really get is how dealers can let people ride off the lot without an endorsement. Don’t you have to have a license to drive a car off a lot? Maybe not. I understand everyone is supposed to take responsibility for their own safety and legal status, but a lot of folks I talk to don’t even know about the safety course. Seems dealers could provide a little bit of education. My club often hands out motorcycle safety manuals at events we go to. Couldn’t dealerships do the same?

I was consulting the WA state safety course recently, and noticed that the scooter session – and even most of the motorcycle sessions – were booked solid until late November. So that means many of the new scooters I see on the road each week are operated by riders with no training. One law enforcement official said about 50% of riders he pulls over do not have their endorsement.

The WA Rider Safety Task Force Report features some interesting statistics:

  • One third of fatalities were motorcyclists who did not have a valid motorcycle endorsement
  • 86% of the fatalities had not taken the state’s training course

In the conclusion, the task force says:

DOL should seek a partnership with motorcycle dealers to discourage the practice of allowing unendorsed purchasers to ride a newly purchased bike from their lots.

Seems like a no-brainer to me.