By ALEXANDER SMITH
Capital News Service
LANSING — Unendorsed motorcyclists face higher fines next February in the state’s latest effort to create safer riders.
To legally ride on Michigan’s roads, motorcyclists need an endorsement on their license. It shows that a rider has passed the state’s written exam and an on-cycle skill test. But it’s not needed to register a motorcycle so some riders never bother with the course, the test and the endorsement.
“I think it’s simply because people think they won’t get caught,” said Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which recently approved the law. “People just think, ‘Hey, I can go out on this thing and have fun.’”
If they are caught, unendorsed riders face a misdemeanor charge and a fine of up to $100 and possible jail time. The new law, which goes into effect next year, will raise the fine to $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for another. It was cosponsored by Rep. John Kivela, D-Marquette.
It’s a new fix for an old problem. Nearly 40 percent of motorcyclists killed over the past decade were not licensed to ride, according to the Office of Highway Safety Planning. That’s an average of 43 unendorsed riders killed each year.
Of the 136 riders killed from 2014 to 2015, 42 did not have a motorcycle endorsement.
Passing a motorcycle safety course waives the state’s on-cycle skill test. Courses cost up to $50 and usually last two days. Riders learn clutch control, safe braking, low-speed maneuvering and, most importantly, accident avoidance, said Alcona County Undersheriff Matthew Perkins.
“I’ve spoken to some older people who rode all their life and then took the course,” Perkins said. “They recommended going through it because they all learned something.”
Unendorsed riders don’t fit neatly into a single age group, said Sgt. Harold Terry of the State Police post in Houghton Lake.
“It’s all over the place,” Terry said. “We’re seeing it from teenagers to adults in their 40s or 50s.”
Most motorcyclists know they need an endorsement, but some might not care enough to go through the training, Terry said. The higher fine would be a good motivator, he said.
“Some are never going to care about the cost, but some will see that price and that’ll make them change their thinking,” Terry said.
Getting riders educated and endorsed is the most effective way to lower the fatality rate, according to American Bikers Aiming Toward Education, which supports the new law.
Helmet laws and high-visibility jackets aren’t the answer — safer riders are, said Jim Rhoades, legislative officer of ABATE’s Michigan chapter, which fought successfully to repeal the helmet requirement. “That’s what’s going to reduce fatalities, not all that other drivel.”
Motorcycle riders aren’t the only focus, Rhoades said. Drivers of other vehicles are, too. ABATE supports legislation requiring three hours of driver’s education training dedicated to safe driving around motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians. Those bills are through the Senate but have yet to be passed by the House.
By ALEXANDER SMITH