OLYMPIA — Motorcyclists in Washington state lost their exemption from the state’s requirement that vehicle owners carry liability insurance when a new law took effect July 28.
House Bill 1014, passed and signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee this April, removed the exemption. Drivers of motor scooters, mopeds, and specially licensed horseless carriages at least 40 years old will still be exempt from the requirement.
Minimum coverage required is $25,000 for injury or death of one person, $50,000 for injury or death of two or more people, and $10,000 for property damage. According to Nationwide insurance, Washington was, as of 2017, one of only four states (along with Florida, New Hampshire and Montana) to exempt motorcyclists from insurance requirements.
The vote in the State House of Representatives was 70-26 in favor of bill 1014. Nineteenth District representatives split their vote, with Brian Blake, (D-Aberdeen), voting in favor, and Jim Walsh (R-Aberdeen) opposing. In the Senate, the vote was 42-1 in favor of the bill. The 19th District’s Dean Takko, a Democrat from Aberdeen, voted in favor.
Powerful political force
Motorcyclist advocacy groups can be a powerful political force and show a libertarian streak but appear to have sat out the legislative battle over 1014.
Throughout the country these groups have pushed back against efforts at bicycle helmet mandates and helped create motorcycle awareness months and other campaigns urging car drivers to pay attention to motorcyclists. Other goals include laws affecting rules of the road, such as allowing lane-sharing, which is legal in California. A bill proposed in this past legislative session, and on several other occasions in recent years, would have partly legalized lane sharing in Washington. A proposal to legalize helmetless motorcycle riding also stalled.
Motorcycle groups demonstrated their clout in helping pass a “vulnerable users bill,” Senate Bill 5723, this past session. The bill, supported by the whole 19th District delegation, increases fines for negligent driving that kills a motorcyclist, bicyclist or pedestrian.
Opposition not a priority
But the liability insurance bill was not a priority for the motorcycle lobby. Takko indicated that while he heard from some voters who opposed the insurance mandate, there was little organized opposition.
“There wasn’t a lot; it’s dampened down some,” Takko said. “There was a lot more buzz in the past on the issue.”
The July newsletter of ABATE (A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments) of Washington, a motorcyclist lobbying organization, noted merely that 1014 was not an ABATE-sponsored bill.
For Takko, the motorcycle liability insurance bill is linked to the helmet law debate.
“[Bill 1014] was kind of a no-brainer for me. There’s been so much in the press about brain injuries.... It’s tied together with the helmet issue,” as a debate pitting freedom against safety and “who’s going to pay for it” if someone ends up severely injured.
The longstanding law requiring four-wheel vehicle drivers to carry liability insurance is only partially effective.
According to an Insurance Research Council study, Washington had the seventh highest uninsured motorist rate in the country at 17.4 percent as of 2015. Nationwide, an estimated one in eight drivers are without the required insurance, according to the same study.