Does this sound familiar? It’s the summer after graduation from high school. Buddies are hanging out on long summer nights, enjoying (for many) the last days of youth. Cars have been conquered, so, being invincible, it is time to tackle motorcycles.
Learning to successfully and safely ride a motorcycle cross country or in urban traffic is a little more serious today. And so is riding. That’s one of the reasons I decided to refresh my skills and knowledge this summer through a course through the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center (MMSC). Though I had raced motocross as a teenager and owned a couple of street bikes, it had been a while since I had ridden a motorcycle on a regular basis.
Licensure courses span three days. The first night is 5:30 to 9:30 and then you’re back at the class site by 8:00 am for two more days on the practice pavement. They even invite class members to arrive early on the second day for extra practice time. Sure enough, at 7:30 am, others from my class of 12 had chosen to take advantage of that offer.
Passing the course means 100 percent attendance, as well as passing the written knowledge test and on-cycle skills test.
Whether obtaining a two-wheeled vehicle endorsement on your state driver’s license or signing up for a refresher course (also offered by the MMSC), participants gain valuable, usable knowledge from qualified, no-nonsense instructors. (One instructor had over 100,000 miles on his BMW–and owned 3 bikes!) The instructors are comfortable talking about group riding, braking and swerving, carrying passengers and a host of other facets of riding that makes most any participant a better rider.
No one is too cool or too able a rider for this course. Mine was comprised mostly of women and all of us were between the ages of 20 and 60. Experience ranged from none to a few who, like me, had not ridden regularly in the past few years.
This course requires use of a helmet when on the practice course. While the instructors spell out Minnesota’s helmet law in a clear fashion, I would like to remind readers and riders about legal and financial consequences that may arise for a non-helmeted rider involved in an accident.
In Minnesota, if expert testimony can conclude that by wearing a helmet a victim’s motorcycle accident injuries would not have occurred or would have been less severe, then a jury may choose to reduce the accident victim’s damages to the extent certain injuries could have been prevented or reduced with a helmet.
This state law was upheld in the 1988 case Leonard v. Parrish: A rider and passenger on a motorcycle collided with a car as they made a left hand turn. The passenger ‘was thrown from the cycle, over the vehicle and struck her head and body on the surface of Rice Street.’ She sustained a skull fracture, a frontal lobe contusion, a swollen eye and lots of scrapes. When the case was heard in court, she had a permanent loss of her sense of smell, and subsequently taste and also suffered from dizziness, headaches, blurred vision and nausea. She had not worn a helmet that night.
The expert witnesses who represented the parties she was suing went to work to determine whether a helmet would have prevented most of the injuries to her head.
In turn, her expert witnesses declared they could not have been prevented. The jury reduced her monetary damage award based on the testimony provided by the defense’s experts. That award was upheld by the Minnesota Court of Appeals and the law allowing a jury to reduce such awards was reaffirmed as constitutional.
Even though in this case the passenger was the true victim and suffered real pain, she is subject to Minnesota laws that reduced her award against the at-fault driver.
It was this course’s common sense approach to safety that made it invaluable to me. I am aware of and can anticipate and react to many more situations than I thought possible. The $120 course fee may seem rich, but consider that you will recoup it quickly through reduced insurance premiums and knowing how to avoid the jerk who cuts you off or fails to signal a turn.
Richard Schroeder is an attorney with Michaelson, Schroeder & Mandel. Licensed in Minnesota and Wisconsin, Mr. Schroeder handles cases involving motorcycle and auto accidents, personal injury, insurance disputes, and product liability.
This column is intended to provide general information and is not to be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on any certain facts or circumstances. Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly encourages readers to consult legal counsel on any specific legal questions or matters.