Law enforcement officers are hitting the streets of Pierce County this summer with a series of patrols aimed at reducing fatalities among motorcyclists.
The Tacoma-Pierce County DUI and Traffic Safety Task Force campaign will target risk-taking motorcycle riders who endanger themselves and other drivers. The patrols begin Thurs., July 23, and will run through Sept. 30.
Pierce County has averaged nine motorcycle fatalities per year over the last five years. However, the number of fatalities spiked to 11 in 2008. “We have been able to reduce automobile fatalities in the county significantly over the past five years, but motorcycle riders are over represented in these fatalities,” said Mike Mitchell, chief of the Bonney Lake Police Department and chairman of the Tacoma-Pierce County DUI and Traffic Safety Task Force.”
One suspected reason for the increase in fatalities is motorcycles are becoming more popular: the number of registered motorcycles in Pierce County has increased by nearly 57 percent over the past five years. In addition, motorcycle engines are getting bigger and more powerful, and there are concerns that new or inexperienced riders are not sufficiently ready to handle a larger bike. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently showed that some of these high-speed motorcycles deliver more horsepower per pound than a typical NASCAR race car.
Officers kicking off the patrol on July 23 will be looking for speeding riders as well as those who are impaired by alcohol and drugs. Data gathered by the task force showed that alcohol was involved in fatal motorcycle collisions more frequently than with other types of vehicles.
Some of the patrols will utilize Washington State Patrol aircraft so the motorcyclists traveling at high speed can be safely apprehended with the aid of monitoring from above. Additionally, a DUI enforcement unit, along with officers specially trained to recognize and identify drug impairment, will work with the motorcycle enforcement team.
Vehicles operated by a rider without the proper license, or someone who has not been to an approved rider course or passed a knowledge and riding test, will be impounded, said Sgt. Paul Schneider, Traffic Sergeant, Pierce County Sheriff’s Office.
Targeted roads will include Highways 161, 162, 167, 7, 512, 702, Orting Highway East and Pacific Avenue in Lakewood. A separate speed-reduction project is taking place in the City of Tacoma.
Motorcycle safety is a two-way street. While motorcyclists need to slow down, be visible (including dressing appropriately) and ride sober, automobile drivers also need to pay careful attention to motorcyclists. Drivers who report being startled by motorcycles “coming out of nowhere” probably would have seen the motorcyclists had they checked their blind spots, said Sgt. Schneider. “Use your mirrors to watch for motorcyclists and share the road with them once you spot them.”
Participating in the summer patrols and other scheduled educational activities are the Lakewood and Puyallup Police Departments along with the Washington State Patrol and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department. The project is funded by a grant from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.