2020 Washington Motrorcycle Safety Program changes and realities

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The truth about Washington's new motorcycle endorsement law

Rumors, assumptions, fake news, etc. It seems they're circulating all over the state about the changes to WA's motorcycle licensing and training laws. Here's the straight story.

In October of 2017 all of the motorcycle school owners across the state met with the Washington Motorcycle Safety Program (Dept. of Licensing) to discuss ways to meet the Governor's goal of reaching Target Zero (zero traffic fatalities) by 2030. Despite the fact that the Swede who came up with the concept, Claes Tingvall, very clearly stated (originally) that motorcycles are incompatible with the vision put forth in Target Zero; none-the-less, the powers that be in the state government wanted to make every effort to reduce the number of motorcycle crashes and fatalities. That meeting in October of 2017 became the first in a series of monthly meetings between the WMSP and the schools that went on for over a year. Everything imaginable was proposed, examined, researched and in some cases, scratched and more proposals then went through the same rigorous process.

The program and the school owners were mostly in agreement that our state's motorcycle endorsement testing, which is very similar to most other states in the country, was insufficient to truly prove that someone has the necessary skills in handling a motorcycle to keep themselves even marginally safe on the streets. Several proposals were considered. Lots of field testing was done of different testing methods. There were disagreements, but eventually a majority of those at the meetings came to an understanding.

There was also quite a bit of discussion regarding the DoL's new electronic reporting requirements, as well as what the motorcycle safety program would look like going forward. Bottom line: the system we were all using at that point was outdated and needed to be changed if the motorcycle schools were going to remain financially viable.

In the end, a bill was crafted and put before the 2019 legislative session to revamp the WMSP, including: how subsidies for class students would be structured, removing the artificial caps on what the schools could charge and be reimbursed for when conducting training, what courses would be considered suitable for at least getting someone a permit, how long permits would last, what it would take to get a full endorsement, and what role the WMSP and the schools would play in all of this. Perhaps not surprisingly, despite multiple efforts being made to publicize the fact that these things were all being considered, very few WA residents showed up at the legislative hearings or even provided their legislators with comments regarding the proposed changes. The bill was passed towards the end of the legislative session and signed into law, with an effective date of January 1, 2020.

Once that bill was signed into law, the WMSP almost immediately had brochures and flyers printed, which were then distributed all over the state. Locations that were given this information included: every dealership, the training schools, motorcycle clubs and organizations and motorcycle rights groups. It was a massive effort to get the word out about the forthcoming changes. Apparently, the word didn't reach many people. The brochures were discovered under the front counter at several dealerships. Clubs were contacted to see how they had disseminated the information and it was found that many of them hadn't even opened the box. Most of the training schools made them available to their students and anyone showing up just for testing, but it appears that the information simply didn't circulate very widely.


The new law set up two different levels of testing for 2-wheel motorcycles. A written and a skills (riding) test for a 2W permit. These tests are unchanged from what was used prior to Jan. 1st to get a full endorsement. And second level tests, both written and skills, to get a full motorcycle endorsement. These second level tests are more challenging, and the skills tests are performed at slightly higher speeds than the permit level tests. Although all 4 tests could be done on the same day, some of the schools have decided to split them up, offering only the permit level tests at the completion of a Basic motorcycle class, forcing the person seeking a full endorsement to return at a later date to complete the endorsement level tests.

2W Motorcycle permits are now good for 180 days, which is double what the previous limit was. A permit can still be extended once, for an additional 180 days. This was done to allow permit holders to improve their skills sufficiently to be able to pass the endorsement level tests since none of the Basic motorcycle courses truly address the skills necessary to pass the endorsement level testing. Many people will find it necessary to take additional training, beyond a basic class, in order to develop the skills needed to pass the endorsement level tests. Some of the schools are offering package deals with endorsement level testing included in the price of an advanced 2W training class.

Essentially, the 2W endorsement level skills tests require the testee to demonstrate better cornering and braking skills than what is done in the permit level test. For instance: the braking test for a permit requires that the testee perform a safe stop from 12-18 mph using a .5G stop as the standard for measuring stopping distance. The endorsement level braking test is done at 20-25 mph and requires a .65G stop. The 2W endorsement level skills tests are all "pass/fail", with no points scoring like the permit level skills tests are. In other words, if you show up unprepared for the endorsement level skills testing, you may be in for some disappointment very quickly. Since the tests are "pass/fail", if you were to fail the first of the second level skills test runs, there would be no point in having you perform any of the other second level runs as you already failed.

There were also rumors circulating that the insurance company that most of the training schools use would not insure the more challenging 2W endorsement level testing. This isn't true. The insurance company will insure whatever tests the state deems necessary. The premiums for the insurance may be a little higher, but the schools are insured.


One of the biggest areas of concern for everyone involved in making the changes was how would the class pricing structure look going forward. Prior to Jan. 1st, if there was subsidy money available from the WMSP (note: there's never enough to allow for everyone who wants training to get a subsidized price), a WA resident or active duty military stationed in WA, would pay only $125 for a Basic or Intermediate training class, and the WMSP would pay the rest of the actual price to the school. Unfortunately, the actual price of the class was also capped (limited), and those prices hadn't changed in over 10 years. So the schools were in a position where their rent for the training facility was increasing year after year, the cost of training motorcycles was increasing, the cost of insurance was increasing, etc.; but what the schools were allowed to charge was stagnant and had been for over 10 years.

With the new law that went into effect on Jan. 1st, the artificial cap was removed and the schools can now actually charge a fee that allows them to make enough money to stay in business. There will be some changes coming to how the WMSP pays subsidy to the schools, which will affect what a student will pay even for a subsidized class. However, those changes won't go into effect until July 1, 2020 at the earliest; and may not go into effect until July 1, 2021. We will update exactly how those changes will affect students and when as the information becomes available.

Other changes in training included the ability for the schools to use whatever curriculum they felt best suited their needs and business structure. However, if the class would include permit level testing the curriculum had to be reviewed and approved by the WMSP. This ability to offer different curriculums has actually been available for a few years, but it wasn't until 2018 that any of the schools received approval from the WMSP to use a 2W curriculum other than the already accepted MSF Basic RiderCourse and the state's Intermediate Rider Training course. At least 3 different schools are now using the "Learn to Ride" suite of curriculums for basic and intermediate level training, which includes permit level testing. This new course has advantages for the schools in that it doesn't require the riding area to be anywhere near as big as the MSF curriculums do, and they don't require painted lines for the class exercises. However, painted lines are still required for most of the runs in both the permit and endorsement level testing.

A few schools are reportedly looking at a third possible 2W training curriculum, but nothing has been submitted for approval as of this writing.

3W Training

3-wheel motorcycle testing remained the same - with only two tests, a written and a skills test. Although there are some minor changes coming to the 3W skills test, a date for those changes hasn't yet been determined. If you're interested in training for a 3W motorcycle, many schools across the state are now participating in the Can-Am Rider Education Program. What this means is that: 1) If your local training school is offering 3W training and participating in the Can-Am REP, you will be able to use a Can-Am Ryker provided by the manufacturer (BRP) in the class [note: some schools also have Spyders available], and 2) BRP is heavily subsidizing the classes so that you only pay $99 (as of this writing) to take a class that is normally $325 or more. BRP will pay the training school directly for the difference. These classes aren't limited to just Can-Am vehicles. Riders of standard trikes and sidecar outfits are also included in the training.

The Basic 3W training class is 2 full days long. There is an approved 1-day "Advanced" 3W training class, but those classes aren't offered very often and only in select locations. This is due to the very low demand for the Advanced 3W class.

There is a 1-day Basic 3W curriculum being developed, but it hasn't yet been submitted for approval to the WMSP. The anticipated implementation date of that new course isn't until 2021 as of this writing.

Dave Wendell/February 2020

Dave Wendell is currently a 2W Mentor Instructor, 3W Chief Instructor Trainer and the President of the Sidecar Safety Program.

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