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Officials urge licenses, training to reduce motorcycle deaths

Saying that increased traffic congestion and a lack of training can be a deadly combination for motorcyclists, state officials are urging riders to get instruction and required licenses before taking to the roads.

“Training prior to licensing is very important,” said Alberto Gutier, director of the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. “There needs to be mutual respect between motorcyclists and (automobile) drivers.”

Arizona had 157 motorcycle-related fatalities in 2011, up from 99 deaths in 2010, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation. The 2012 total, which isn’t yet available, will exceed 125, officials said.

“That increase tells us that we need to try to do some things to turn that trend around,” ADOT spokesman Doug Nintzel said.

In her State of the State address, Gov. Jan Brewer called for ADOT and Gutier’s office to develop strategies for reducing motorcycle fatalities with an update of the Arizona Strategic Highway Safety Plan.

Nintzel said a key part of the response will be recommending that motorcyclists receive formal training.

“There are added risks with riding a motorcycle, particularly from a standpoint of visibility and not having a vehicle compartment around you,” he said. “It also requires balance, and that’s the key reason to take training classes.”

Arizona requires motorcyclists to obtain special licenses or be endorsed for motorcycle riding on the back of a standard driver’s license. To obtain a motorcycle license, a rider must pass a riding test and written exam, either through the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division or a third-party training center.

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William Seltzer, marketing director for TEAM Arizona motorcycle training center in Gilbert, said the skills required for licensing and the training offered by third parties makes a difference. But he said he’s noticed a resistance to training among Arizona motorcyclists.

“In other places, it’s a badge of honor to show what kind of training you’ve had, but here the culture kind of says you’re a sissy if you take rider training and that can’t be farther from the truth,” he said.

TEAM Arizona provides entry-level and advanced training classes in which students first learn fundamentals in the classroom and then practice on outdoor training ranges.

After getting in trouble with the law for being an unlicensed rider himself, Seltzer said he took training classes from TEAM Arizona before working there.

“I fell in love with it because my riding grew to a whole other level, my skill level really grew,” he said. “As a rider, we need coaches to help point out what we’re doing wrong, how to improve and how to be safer on the road.”

Twenty-four-year-old Krista Zavatta said she was comfortable riding her motorcycle on the road after two weeks of taking a basic rider course at the center.

“I feel more confident in a car on top of being more comfortable on a bike,” she said.

Zavatta said she is planning to continue training with her husband who has been riding for 15 years.

“We all have one common mission here, and that’s to reduce motorcycle crashes, reduce motorcycle fatalities and to have better trained, safer riders on the roadway,” Seltzer said. “It’s that simple.”

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TEAM Arizona

A motorcyclist negotiates a training course at TEAM Arizona in Gilbert.

Arizona motorcycle fatalities

  • 2007 – 147
  • 2008 – 161
  • 2009 – 132
  • 2010 – 99
  • 2011 – 157
  • 2012 – (estimated) At least 125

Source: Arizona Department of Transportation