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The Wrong Side of Rights
Ed Youngblood, President AMA
May, 1998

Y ou've read a lot in these pages recently about so-called
repeals of mandatory helmet laws that require motorcyclists
to purchase additional insurance for the right to choose.
There are many aspects of this legislation that concern me.
Here are seven of them:

First, this kind of trade-off is based--erroneously--on
the notion that motorcyclists are a public burden; that were
somehow more costly to government-supported medical programs
than other highway users. These bills are therefore
fundamentally and unjustly prejudicial against

Second, there appears to be an organized effort among
certain motorcyclist-rights leaders to introduce these bills
throughout the nation. The first example of such a bill
making it into law was in Texas, and it was not something
introduced by ill-informed legislators or safetycrats. It
was, in fact, introduced and shepherded through the process
by a long-time motorcyclist-rights advocate. A similar bill
has been introduced in Florida, and again, it is being
championed by an individual who purports to be the foremost
motorcyclist-rights activist in his state.

Just recently, such a law was enacted in Kentucky. We
were concerned to learn that the Texas and Florida
individuals mentioned above both attended meetings in
Kentucky prior to activists in that state accepting a
discriminatory insurance amendment to obtain what they have
described as a helmet-repeal bill.

Third, it is clear that this kind of unsubstantiated
acceptance within our own community that we are a burden to
society can result in bizarre and dangerous attacks on
motorcycling like we've not previously seen. One was
described in this magazine last month when New Hampshire,
which doesn't even have a mandatory helmet law, suddenly
tried to adopt legislation to make unhelmeted motorcyclists
buy higher insurance coverage. And there is a legislator in
Illinois who has decided that we are such a threat to the
health of the nation that he wants every motorcyclist in his
state to be forced to sign an organ donor card. This is an
abusive legislative obscenity, and I've got a feeling we may
see worse now that some of our own leaders are embracing the
concept that we are a public burden.

Fourth, this legislation is a perversion of our
fundamental principles. The individuals involved in this
activity seem to have completely forgotten what started the
motorcyclist-rights movement in the first place. It was not
to get rid of helmet laws. It was to reduce the intrusion of
government in our lives. At the time, helmet laws were
simply the most conspicuous manifestation of that intrusion.
Those who would invite the government to place onerous and
discriminatory provisions on motorcyclists for the right to
make a choice about helmets are trading one intrusion for

Fifth, this approach is just too pat for comfort. It
allows legislators to keep some version of their beloved
helmet law, make the powerful insurance industry a little
happier and get those nagging motorcyclists off their backs
in one fell swoop. Activists who are backing this kind of
legislation claim that it will be easy to get the insurance
provisions removed later through subsequent legislation or
litigation. I doubt it.

Sixth, it is an utter deception to tell motorcyclists
that these bills are repealing mandatory helmet laws. These
aren't repeals! These are nothing but a different kind of
helmet law, containing provisions that are far more
insidious than any straight and simple equipment

And finally, the leaders of this movement are so
single-minded in their dedication to this cause that they
appear willing to sacrifice friendships, suppress debate and
deliberately damage other organizations that disagree with
them. Leaders in Texas and Kentucky have expressed fierce
anger toward the AMA because we have criticized this
legislation and have cautioned our members about the dangers
in this approach. They have accused the AMA of threatening
the unity of the motorcyclist-rights movement. One has
threatened to "declare war" against us, while another has
said he will defame the AMA to members of the U.S. House and
Senate. They have ordered us to stay out of their states,
ignoring the fact that the AMA has thousands of members in
each of those states, and an obligation to serve their

In response to this kind of hostility, we should remember
"Letter from a Birmingham Jail," in which Dr. Martin Luther
King Jr. wrote, "I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be
concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice
anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in
an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment
of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all

-- Ed Youngblood

Printed with Permission. © Copyright American Motorcyclist Association 1998. All Rights Reserved.

Ed makes some important points. On 4/6/98 it was announced that Citicorp and Travelers Group would merge. The deal is reported to be worth around $70 billion dollars (yes, billion!). The analysts report that it may take 1 to 2 years before it will be understood how this merger will effect consumers. It was reported that those in the "know" are saying; regardless of whether insurance rates go up or down, this merger seems to be the beginning of similar mergers yet to come.

Does this have anything to do with helmet laws? Perhaps, but I mention the above for point of reference... BEWARE! We must remember that the insurance industry is financially based and already so powerful, that we would be wise to be vigilant and guard against any legislation that gives this industry that wants us off the road any more power than a $70 billion dollar deal might already imply.

Steven Shmerler
Tue, Apr 7, 1998

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