Helmets, Really? Time to Refocus

HelmetWe all know the arguments and the people behind the push both in favor and against mandatory helmet laws for motorcyclists. The interesting play in the political world can be entertaining if it were not for the fact that the consequences are so dire for riders. Democrat or Republican does not make much of a difference – motorcyclists are of every political stripe, the riding binds us, not our voting record.

However, when it comes to the constant push and pull over helmet ordinances around the United States, it seems that many of us will align for one solitary purpose – get rid of them! Fighting for what many call a ‘freedom’ is all fine and good and we have had some success at this in many states, but failures in others. In reality, the laws seem to come and go like a metronome of public opinion in some areas, while they are practically written into the Constitution of other states.

Helmet laws around the U.S.

The problem is that when we motorcyclists become targets of other prejudiced legislation, we don’t seem to get the same group-dynamic energy for the pro-motorcycle legal effort. This must change, if it does not we will begin to become less and less a part of our modern transportation system. The public may suddenly decide that we riders need not use the same roads anymore unless we follow their rules – rules which could seriously limit our sport to the point of choking it off.

It may sound like Cassandra or Chicken Little, but all you must do is look at three current issues as examples to see why this is so important:

  • California, New York City, Denver, and others have all enacted laws which prevent a motorcycle owner from using anything but the very expensive OEM exhaust system – even if you can’t buy one.
  • The recent outlawing of motorcycles built specifically for young riders due to unintended consequences from a new law known as CPSIA, which was meant to protect children.
  • NHTSA offering large grants to police departments for employing motorcycle-only checkpoints in cities all over the nation – simple discrimination.Troy Lee pushes son's new ride at Malcolm Smith's Dealership - Defying CPSIA

Those are only the beginning of what is sure to come in the next few years. This is not an issue about conservative or liberal – it is an issue of education and understanding. Legislators tend to go with the people who pay for their campaigns; when they come across an issue that has no affiliated donor, they usually follow public opinion. Since motorcycle owners (which includes people who rarely ride if ever) make up around 2~3% of Americans at most, we do not have much political impact compared to a group like Wall Street bankers. To get anything done, we need every single rider we can muster to work for our cause.

One important way to get involved is to work with the most powerful bike-focused lobbying group in the world, the American Motorcyclist Association. Or, you may get in touch with and sign up with a local ABATE chapter to support their training efforts (ABATE spends too much time on the helmet issue, but they also support funding for motorcycle safety training and advocate motorcycle awareness for motorists). Just becoming a member of the AMA – for the low, low price of only US$39 per annum – means that you are sending money to an organization which will work tirelessly for your riding rights, and has the organizational structure to keep up the pressure. Join up with one of these groups, both are non-profit, to take the first big step to being a responsible and helpful motorcyclist.

Former Gov Schwarzenegger astride Zero - AMA Motorcyclist of the Year for a bad reason...Another very helpful step would be to become politically active. Even if you have no strong opinions about who should run your state or the nation, you can at least be sure to cast your vote for someone who understands your unique needs as a rider. The AMA can help you with his as well; they produced their first Voter Guide in 2010 and they have a special Action page where any rider can quickly contact their local legislators about issues which matter to riders. ABATE provides differing levels of similar support depending on the state organization. The goal is to let the people who represent you in government know that motorcyclists are Americans too.

Whichever steps you see as a viable and realistic for you, it is important that we start working together on more than the old standard fight about helmet laws. Our world is changing quickly – look at how far motorcycle technology has come in the last decade – and motorcyclists could easily be left behind as the various governments around the nation begin planning for the future of transport without us. Get yourself active, get yourself involved and don’t let the cagers write the rules we who are free must live by!

Courtesy of AllAboutBikes.com

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