Do you know the laws impacting motorcyclists in the Evergreen State?
Although the rainy state of Washington isn't known for its motorcycle-friendly weather conditions, there are still more than 220,000 registered motorcycles in the Evergreen State—that amounts to roughly 1 motorcycle for every 33 residents.
Unfortunately, motorcyclists are far more likely than passenger-vehicle drivers to die or become seriously injured in a crash.
In this article, we'll take a look at Washington motorcycle accidents, including the laws motorcyclists should know, how liability is established after a motorcycle accident, and what damages can typically be recovered.
Motorcycle accident causes and statistics
Although motorcycles comprise only about 3% of all motor vehicles on Washington roads, they account for roughly 15% of all fatal collisions and 19% of all serious-injury collisions in the Evergreen State.
According to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC), speeding, lack of experience, losing control in corners and curves, and riding under the influence of alcohol and other drugs are the main contributing factors in motorcycle crashes.
Washington motorcycle crash statistics
86% of motorcycle fatalities on sport bikes were caused by the rider
57% of motorcycle fatalities involve rider impaired by drugs &/or alcohol
51% of motorcycle fatalities involve a rider speeding
91% of motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes are male
Motorcycle rules of the road in Washington
Just like other road users, motorcyclists must follow the rules of the road.
For example, motorcyclists must obey all traffic signals and posted speed limits. What's more, motorcyclists, like all other road users, must exercise "reasonable care" to avoid harming others on the road.
In addition, there are some motorcycle-specific laws that riders in Washington must follow.
Washington motorcycle laws
All of Washington's motorcycle laws can be found in Title 46 of the Revised Code of Washington, but here are a few of the highlights riders should keep in mind:
- All motorcycle operators and passengers must wear USDOT-certified helmets
- All motorcycles must be equipped with a windshield unless the operator is wearing glasses, goggles, or a face shield
- Motorcyclists must not carry passengers unless the motorcycle is designed to carry the passenger
- Motorcycle handlebars may not be higher than 30 inches above the seat
- Lane splitting is strictly prohibited on Washington roads
- All motorcycles are entitled to full use of a lane and no motor vehicle shall be driven in such a manner as to deprive any motorcycle of the full use of a lane
- Motorcycles shall not be operated more than 2 abreast in a single lane
- A person under the age of 5 may not ride on a motorcycle
Motorcycle license and insurance requirements in Washington
A license endorsement is required in Washington to ride a motorcycle. To apply for an endorsement, you must:
- Be at least 16 years old (if you're under 18, you must pass an approved 2W motorcycle safety course)
- Have a valid Washington driver license
- Pass the 2W permit motorcycle operation and riding skill tests
Once you've completed the steps listed above, you can apply for your endorsement online.
The Revised Code of Washington § 46.30 requires anyone who drives a motorcycle in the state to carry liability insurance with the following minimums:
- $25,000 for injuries or death to another person
- $50,000 for injuries or death to all other people
- $10,000 for damage to another person's property
Washington requires motorcyclists to provide proof of insurance upon request from a law enforcement officer. Riders who do not have insurance are subject to a fine of up to $550. What's more, riders may have their license suspended.
The most severe consequence of operating a motorcycle without insurance, however, is that uninsured riders who cause an accident are personally liable for all of the damages that result.
Establishing liability after a motorcycle accident
Motorcyclists and motor vehicle drivers have a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid harming others on the road. If a motorcyclist or motor vehicle driver breaches this duty and an accident results, the at-fault party can be held liable.
The legal theory most often used to hold the at-fault party liable is negligence and it requires the plaintiff to establish 3 elements:
- The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty,
- The defendant breached their duty of care, and
- The breach was the legal cause of the plaintiff's injuries.
The motorcycle skidded and struck the right passenger side of her vehicle.
"It appears the driver of the truck failed to yield the right of way," said Deputy Brian King.
Sharon was pronounced dead at the scene. Michael was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle with severe injuries.
Though motorcycle accidents are usually caused by a motorcyclist or a motor vehicle driver, that's not always the case. There are a couple of other parties who may be liable for your accident:
- Property owners. Premises liability laws require property owners to maintain their property free of dangerous conditions. If a motorcyclist is injured as a result of a dangerous condition on someone's property, the property owner may be held liable.
- Manufacturers. Product liability laws require that manufacturers avoid letting defective products hit the marketplace. If a motorcyclist crashes as a result of a defective product (such as a defective brake system), the manufacturer of the product may be held liable.
Types of damages available in a motorcycle accident case
Washington law allows motorcycle accident victims to recover the following damages:
- Economic damages represent the monetary losses caused by your accident (e.g., medical expenses, lost wages, property damage).
- Non-economic damages represent the non-monetary losses caused by your accident (e.g., pain and suffering, loss of consortium).
Motorcycle accident frequently asked questions
Still have questions about motorcycle accidents in Washington?
Let's see if we can answer some of them:
Q: How long do I have to file a motorcycle crash lawsuit?
All states limit the amount of time crash victims have to file a lawsuit (this time limit is called the statute of limitations). In Washington, crash victims have 3 years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit. If crash victims fail to file their lawsuit within this time period, their case will be forever barred (with a few narrow exceptions).
Q: Will insurance cover my motorcycle accident?
All drivers are required to carry liability insurance. If you get into an accident and the accident is some other driver's fault, their liability insurance will typically cover your injuries up to the policy limits. If your injuries exceed the policy limits, then you'll need to sue the driver for the excess damages.
If you get into a motorcycle accident that's your fault, your liability insurance won't cover your injuries. However, certain optional coverage may cover your injuries.
Q: Can I sue for a motorcycle accident in small claims court?
In Washington, small claims courts limit the amount of damages you can seek to recover to $10,000. In other words, if your damages are $10,000 or less, you can sue in small claims court. If your damages are more than $10,000, you'll need to sue in superior court.
Q: What if I'm partially at fault for my motorcycle accident?
In some cases, motorcyclists may be partially at fault for their accident (for example, when a motorcyclist driving without headlights at night is hit by a driver who ran a stop sign).
Washington follows the pure comparative fault rule, meaning a plaintiff's damages are reduced by their percentage of fault.
Q: Where can I find an attorney to help with my motorcycle accident case?
You can find an experienced Washington motorcycle injury attorney near you using our free online directory. Most initial consultations are free.
If you think you qualify for free or reduced-cost legal services, contact the Washington State Bar.
A personal injury lawyer helps individuals who have sustained injuries in accidents to recover financial compensation. These funds are often needed to pay for medical treatment, make up for lost wages and provide compensation for injuries suffered. Sometimes a case that seems simple at first may become more complicated. In these cases, consider hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer. Read more