There are many different things that draw people to motorcycling.  For some, it is the sense of freedom.  For others, it is a source of relaxation.  It can also be a source of exhilaration.  If you are like me, it is to some degree all of the above.  That being said, it is the ride that we crave regardless of what each of us gets from it.  This time of year the roads are packed with motorcyclists who are sitting back (or forward) and just enjoying the ride.  That begs the question: Can we as avid motorcyclists afford to do that?

The following is a list of legal issues that may affect our ability to enjoy the ride:

  • Working to prevent motorcyclists from being excluded from public parking lots, roads, and parking garages.
  • Working to eliminate roadside checkpoints aimed only at motorcyclists.
  • Working to address the ever-growing problem of distracted driving.
  • Working to prohibit the use of higher ethanol blends at the pump until the effects on motorcycle engines can be further studied.
  • Working for legislation allowing motorcyclists to safely and reasonably proceed when they are stuck at a traffic light that will not recognize them.
  • Working to prevent legislation which arbitrarily sets age restrictions for passengers on motorcycles.
  • Working with state and local governments to promote sensible motorcycle awareness campaigns.

All of these are real issues being faced by real riders.  What would riding be like if there were no one addressing these issues on behalf of motorcyclists?   The answer was chilling.  It is easy to sit back, enjoy the ride, and count on everything being all right.  But can we afford to do that?  If we all did, we may soon find no ride left to sit back and enjoy.

So what can you do to protect yourself and the activity that we all love and cherish?  Take some simple steps to become involved in protecting the rights of fellow motorcyclists.  You can get involved locally.  Start paying attention to the positions that your local, state and federal legislators take regarding issues affecting motorcyclists.  Share your thoughts in letters and emails.  Write letters to the editor of your local paper.  Go to City Council or County Board meetings.  Join a motorcycle rights organization and attend their lobby day, where motorcyclists go to the State Capitol to discuss issues important to us with elected officials.

There are numerous ways to protect your rights as a motorcyclist.  The ways are limitless, bound only by your passion and imagination.  There is, however, a wrong way and that is to count on someone else to do it.  That someone else may be sitting back, enjoying the ride, and counting on you.

Below is an ongoing list of legislative issues pertinent to motorcyclists. If you have any questions or comments concerning your rights as a motorcyclist, please feel free to contact me at 1-800-321-8968 or at matt@motorcyclelawgroup.com.

2016

Motorcycle Conspicuity Study

The Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF) has reported that there are plans on the federal level to conduct a study aimed at addressing motorcycle crash prevention.  The reported study will apparently examine the impact of high-visibility clothing and how such clothing effects motorcycle crashes.  Being that the study is in the infant stages, there is not enough information to either endorse or oppose the study.  That being said, it is good to see our friends in Washington looking at ways to prevent motorcycle crashes rather than focusing solely on surviving them.

Motorcycles & the Environmental Protection Agency

The Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF) has recently reported that members of both houses of Congress have introduced legislation that would protect the rights of United States residents to modify their motor vehicles for racing purposes. The Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports Act of 2016 (RPA) would ensure that converting any motor vehicle (including street motorcycles) into a competition-only vehicle remains legal. This proposed legislation became necessary after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), under the guise of maintaining emissions as outlined by the Clean Air Act, announced plans to regulate the conversion of street motorcycles and other motor vehicles into race vehicles.

This attempt is reminiscent of the EPA’s efforts back in 2003 to regulate motorcycling through unrelated regulations aimed at heavy equipment, steam engines and diesel engines. That legislation would have prohibited owners from modifying anything on their motorcycles except for paint color and/or chrome. The MRF was successful in separating motorcycles from the EPA’s regulations, and created exemptions to protect the custom and aftermarket industries, as well as motorcyclists who wished to take advantage of those industries.

In response to the recently introduced legislation, the EPA has announced that it would cease its attempts to use the Clean Air Act to regulate competition vehicles. The MRF asks all riders to contact their U.S. representative and senators and ask them to support H.R. 4715 and S. 2659, the Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports Act of 2016. The passage of this legislation would send a clear message to the EPA that motorcyclists will continue to actively protect their rights.

2015

House Sub-Committee Seeks to Improve Motorcycle Safety

The Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF) has reported that the Federal Highway Bill which went to the House of Representatives from the United States Senate has retained the language which would end federal funding for motorcycle-only roadside checkpoints. The bill was referred to the House Science Committee, Subcommittee on Research and Technology.

Besides approving the ban on motorcycle-only roadside checkpoints, the sub-committee approved language assigning a study to the National Academy of Sciences to determine the best methods of preventing motorcycle crashes. According to the MRF, the sponsor of the amendment, Representative Randy Hultgren (R-IL) was quoted as saying “If the federal government is providing grants to improve motorcycle safety, these grants should be focused on ways that actually improve the safety of motorcycle riders.” A federal study which focuses on crash avoidance is welcoming news to those of us in the motorcycle safety community who believe that crash avoidance should be the central aim of any motorcycle safety strategy. Learning to avoid an accident is superior to the “crash survival” strategy favored by many in Washington, which assumes from the outset that a crash will occur. The only safe motorcycle crash is the one that does not occur.

A second amendment to the bill, also sponsored by Representative Hultgren, would prohibit the Federal Department of Transportation from lobbying for actions at the federal, state and local levels of government. Currently the lobby ban is only applicable at the state level. This amendment represents an effort to shield motorcycle safety programs from the often devastating effects of unnecessary federal mandates upon states and localities. Currently states and localities are generally free to address the issues they deem to be important. This strategy has proven effective in the last decade. Since 2005, motorcycle fatalities per 100,000 registered motorcycles have steadily declined.

As the bill moves through the House of Representatives we will continue to report on its progress. Members of the MRF will also be monitoring it and working with legislators to make sure that the interests of motorcyclists are protected.

Highway Bill Passes the US Senate with Language De-Funding Motorcycle-Only Checkpoints

The United States Senate passed a six-year highway bill today with strong bi-partisan support. The bill includes language that would end federal funding for motorcycle-only roadside checkpoints. The bill also contains language defining three-wheeled automobiles, which are currently classified as motorcycles under federal law, as their own class of vehicle. These amendments were included in the final version of the bill due to the tireless efforts of the Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF).

Most motorcyclists have no objection with safety checkpoints as a whole. However, we should have an objection to the practice of stopping only motorcycles at roadside checkpoints. There is simply no justification for this practice, and motorcycle-only checkpoints tend not to be fruitful. We need only to look at the large checkpoint that was set up during Rolling Thunder a few years ago to see that. Those conducting the motorcycle-only checkpoint stopped 579 motorcycles over a period of seven hours and managed to write only 11 tickets; only four of which constituted a safety violation.

The discriminatory nature of these checkpoints has led states such as California, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, and Virginia to prohibit these checkpoints within their borders. Both New Hampshire and Illinois have passed laws prohibiting federal funds from being used to conduct motorcycle-only checkpoints. However, being that motorcyclists travel across state lines on a regular basis, this legislation is important to all motorcyclists regardless of what their particular state does.

From a personal standpoint I support safety checkpoints for all vehicles. If I am on my bike and there is a safety checkpoint stopping all motorists I will gladly cooperate and subject myself to the brief detention connected with such a stop. What I object to is being singled out from the motoring population as a whole due to the fact that I ride a motorcycle.

The language defining three wheeled automobiles as their own class of vehicle is also of great importance to motorcyclists. The MRF worked to include this language in the final bill in order to prevent these vehicles, which are growing in popularity, from being included in motorcycle crash data. Including motor vehicles which are not actually motorcycles in the corresponding crash data unfairly skews the data. Some states have addressed this issue in their state code. However, until it is addressed on the federal level we will continue seeing these three-wheeled automobiles included in federal motorcycle crash data.

The bill now moves to the House of Representatives which will take it up in the fall. The MRF will continue to work on this bill as it moves through the House.

Federal Legislation Would Ensure That Three-Wheeled Automobiles Are Not Classified As Motorcycles

Last week the Motorcycle Riders Foundation announced the introduction of federal legislation that would create a new classification of motor vehicle.  This legislation is aimed at three-wheeled automobiles such as the Polaris Slingshot and the Campagna T-Rex, which are currently defined as motorcycles under federal guidelines.

Many motorcycle rights organizations are currently addressing this situation on the state level.  Last year, Virginia created a new classification of motor vehicle called an autocycle.  Under Virginia law an autocycle is defined as follows:

“Autocycle means a three-wheeled motor vehicle that has a steering wheel and seating that does not require the operator to straddle or sit astride and is manufactured to comply with federal safety requirements for motorcycles. Except as otherwise provided, an autocycle shall not be deemed to be a motorcycle.”

The reason that state motorcycle rights organizations are addressing this issue is to prevent these vehicles, which are growing in popularity, from being included in motorcycle crash data.  Including motor vehicles which are not actually motorcycles in the corresponding crash data unfairly skews the data.  On the flip side, manufacturers of these vehicles want to be considered motorcycles since it allows them to avoid having to meet federal automotive safety standards; this allows them to manufacture these vehicles at a lower cost than if they were forced to meet the safety standards.

While addressing this issue on the state level helps, until it is addressed on the federal level we will continue seeing these three-wheeled automobiles included in federal motorcycle crash data.

2014

Federal Bill of Interest to Motorcyclists

The Motorcycle Riders Foundation reports that the United States House of Representatives has passed a bill that would end a federal subsidy for biofuel blender pumps in rural areas. The measure passed by a vote of 251-166.  The Senate is expected to vote on the matter next week and there is little that those in support of the subsidies can do to reinstate the money. President Obama is expected to sign the legislation into law.

Putting an end to these subsidies will likely result in less biofuel blender pumps in the marketplace and therefore less E-15 fuel.  As most of you know, E-15 is gasoline that is blended with 15% ethanol.  Obviously, that is a 50% increase in ethanol over the standard E-10 that most of us are used to seeing and using.  There are questions regarding how E-15 will affect engines, especially smaller ones.  The Motorcycle Industry Counsel claims that E-15 could affect engine durability and deterioration.  Further, if your motorcycle is damaged by E-15, you have no legal recourse.   Passage of this bill should be welcome news to all motorcycle riders.

Motorcycle Checkpoint Bill Introduced in U.S. Senate

The United States Senate is the latest venue in the battle to end the unfair practice of federally funded motorcycle-only roadside checkpoints.  The Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF) has reported that Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) has introduced legislation which would prohibit the federal government from funding mandatory motorcycle-only roadside checkpoints. Joining her as the lead republican on the bill is Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI).  Also joining as original co-sponsors are Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH).

The federal government funded motorcycle-only checkpoints through a $70,000 grant in 2011. Georgia state police conducted two mandatory motorcycle-only checkpoints which were timed with Daytona Bike Week to maximize motorcycle traffic.  The police set up on the southbound lanes of I-75 and I-95 on the same day that Daytona bike week began. They conducted the same setup during the closing day of bike week in the northbound lanes. Police have also conducted motorcycle-only checkpoints in New York, and in Virginia during Rolling Thunder.

Senator Shaheen explained why she introduced this legislation.  “Motorcycles are an important part of New Hampshire’s identity and economy,” Shaheen said. “These checkpoints unfairly target motorcycle riders who already have their vehicles inspected and registered just like all motorists. We don’t have checkpoints that stop cars to check their tire pressure and we shouldn’t for motorcycles either.”

Senator Johnson said that “Wisconsin can boast of hundreds of thousands of responsible and law-abiding motorcycle riders on America’s roads.  To them, safety is as important as scenery, so I’m deeply concerned that the establishment of these checkpoints unfairly, and perhaps unconstitutionally, violates their personal freedoms and rights.  The NHTSA grant program in question is a one-size-fits-all approach that will not address the primary causes of motorcycle accidents and should be stopped.”

In explaining his support for the measure, Senator Manchin stated that “[r]equiring bikers to drive through motorcycle-only checkpoints is not only an ineffective use of taxpayer dollars, but it also raises legitimate questions about discrimination against motorcyclists. In West Virginia, bikers travel near and far to drive on our winding roads and enjoy the beautiful scenery, which attracts tourism and helps boost both our local and state economies.  As a Harley owner myself, I am pleased to work with my colleagues on this bipartisan legislation that simply would prohibit yet another senseless and unreasonable federal regulation which could harm states’ economies.”

“Motorcyclists shouldn’t be pulled over simply because they’re driving a motorcycle and not a car,” Senator Ayotte said. “It doesn’t make sense to use federal money to pay for discriminatory motorcycle-only checkpoints, and I’m pleased to see bipartisan support for the rights of motorcyclists.”

Some states have addressed this issue on the state level.  Missouri, Virginia, California, and North Carolina have passed legislation prohibiting motorcycle-only checkpoints.  New Hampshire and Illinois prohibit state use of federal dollars for motorcycle-only checkpoints.

2013

More on E-15 Gasoline

I wanted to send out some additional information on a topic that we have touched on in the past.  That is the EPA’s recent approval of E-15 gasoline.  E-15, it is gasoline that is blended with 15% ethanol.  As many have pointed out, that is a 50% increase in ethanol over the standard E-10 that most of us are used to seeing and using.  The EPA and DOT are both moving from E-10 to E-15.  This is a controversial issue in that there are questions regarding how E-15 will affect engines, especially smaller ones.  The Motorcycle Industry Counsel claims that E-15 could affect engine durability and deterioration.  Further, if your motorcycle is damaged by E-15, you have no legal recourse.

Lenny Holcomb, a good friend of mine with ABATE of Maryland, obtained the following documents from the EPA concerning E-15.  The first is an EPA FAQ.  You will see that even the EPA says that E-15 should not be used in motorcycles.  You can read the FAQ at the following link:

http://www.epa.gov/otaq/regs/fuels/additive/e15/e15-faq.htm

The other document from the EPA concerns the EPA’s plans for preventing mis-fueling at pumps that dispense both E-15 and E-10 fuel.  You can read that at the following link:

http://www.epa.gov/otaq/regs/fuels/additive/e15/e15-mmp.htm

As an aside, a recent motorcycle trip out west took me through Nebraska.  I found myself at a pump that sold E-10, E-15 and E-85.

Virginia Motorcycle Legislative Wrap

Even though the General Assembly has not officially adjourned, all of the bills which we have been tracking have either passed or failed.  The most significant piece of legislation for motorcyclists is SB 1038 which, among other things, changes the licensing structure for motorcyclists in the Commonwealth.  The bills which have passed will become law as of July 1st this year.  Let’s take a look at how all of these bills faired.

HB 1476

This is the bill that was introduced by Delegate Ed Scott at the request of Harley Davidson.  It has passed with an amendment which was worked out between Harley-Davidson, VCOM and the DMV.  It changes the criteria for the types of motorcycles which may be used in the Virginia Rider Training Program.  The criteria will now mirror the MSF standards; this being what most states use.  However, as amended and passed, this bill gives the program authority to reject a motorcycle that meets the criteria but is deemed to be an unsafe motorcycle for training purposes.  Being that motorcycle safety begins with training and education, we feel that giving the program greater authority over which types of motorcycles may be used to train new riders is a smart move.  You can view the bill here.

HB 1865

This bill was introduced by Delegate Roxanne Robinson at the request of VCOM and made a part of HB 1476 above.  It clarifies that the criteria for training program motorcycles apply to every motorcycle used and not just a single motorcycle.

SB 1038

This bill, which for the most part was aimed at mopeds, was introduced by Senator Newman, Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.  It was passed even though HB 1984, which was a mirror bill in the House, failed.

This bill provides for the titling and registration of mopeds and distinctive license plates for low-speed vehicles. It also requires a moped operator to carry government-issued photo identification and wear a face shield, safety glasses, or goggles if his moped is not equipped with safety glass or a windshield. It further requires moped riders to wear helmets.

As for its application to motorcycles, this bill changes the current licensing structure and adopts three classes of motorcycle licenses which will be M3, M2, and M.  M3 will be restricted to the operation of a three-wheeled motorcycle and will be issued to those who test on a three-wheeler or take the trike/sidecar course. M2 will be restricted to the operation of two-wheeled motorcycles and issued to those who test on a two-wheeled motorcycle or take the basic rider course. M will allow riders to operate either a two-wheeled motorcycle or a three-wheeled motorcycle.  If a rider currently holds an M classification then they WILL NOT have to take a new exam or get re-licensed.  Current holders of an M endorsement are grandfathered.  The new law only affects those who obtain a license after the law goes into effect on July 1st of this year.  However, when you renew your license, you will be asked to self-certify whether you have experience on two wheels, three wheels or both.  Let your conscience be your guide.  You can view the bill here.

DB 1218

This bill, which has passed, concerns DMV customer service and impacts motorcycles in two ways.  The first thing that this bill does concerns temporary motorcycle endorsements. Under current law, if you take the DMV-approved course or, while stationed outside of the Commonwealth, take a motorcycle course approved by the United States Armed Services, your completion card is your motorcycle endorsement for 30 days in order to give you time to get a permanent license at DMV. No further testing is required.  In part, this bill amends the Code to allow for the certificate of completion from any course approved by the United States Armed Services, be it within or without the Commonwealth, to do the same. You must be a military member, spouse or dependent.

The second thing that this bill does, while not specifically aimed at the military, is correct an issue which impacts many military members. Under current law, if you want to stop your motor vehicle insurance while not using your vehicle, you need to cancel your registration and turn in your tag to DMV. If you don’t, your license will be suspended for having a non-insured motor vehicle. Additionally, when you get new insurance it will most likely be high-risk. In order to re-register your motor vehicle, you need to go back to the DMV and have it registered. Imagine what a pain that is for a military member who is being deployed long-term and does not wish to continue paying insurance.

As of July 1 of this year, you will now have a method to deactivate your registration. This will be able to be done online. When you wish to re-activate you simply pay a $10.00 fee. It is also envisioned that this will be able to be done online. Now if you are deployed you can simply go online and deactivate your registration. You can then cancel your insurance. When you return, you re-activate. This will also be helpful to those motorcyclists who do not ride during the winter (You know who you are).  You can view the bill here: http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?131+ful+SB1218ER

HB 2010

This bill would have allowed motorcycle riders in Virginia to choose whether or not to wear a helmet.  Currently, 31 states give adult riders that choice.  There were enough votes in both the House and Senate to pass this bill.  That being said, there is a difference between having enough votes and having the right votes.  The bill was sent to an unfriendly committee and an even more unfriendly sub-committee where it was “laid on the table” and left in sub-committee with no further action being taken.  That effectively kills the bill for this year.