From MRF, May 23, 1997
INSURANCE & RIDER EDUCATION
REQUIREMENTS ON HELMET LAW REPEALS -
COMPROMISE MOTORCYCLING & FREEDOM
Recent developments in Texas regarding the helmet law repeal efforts have
raised a number of concerns that have the potential to have very damaging
consequences to motorcycling in general and freedom of choice in helmet use
During debate this year on repealing the Texas helmet law for adults several
amendments were attached. In the House an amendment was attached that would
require those wanting to ride without a helmet to have completed a motorcycle
rider education course. In the Senate two more onerous amendments were
attached. One would require those wanting to ride without a helmet to carry
a health insurance plan with a minimum of $10,000 coverage. The other stated
that if a person riding without a helmet received a head injury they would
not be eligible for the Texas catastrophic health care fund.
The strategy of the Texas motorcyclists was to have these amendments stripped
out in conference committee. However, during the conference committee
meetings between May 8th and May 12th that did not happen. Instead, the
conference committee on SB 99 reached an agreement that would require the
following for an individual to ride without a helmet:
1) The individual would have to be 21 years of age or older, and;
2) The individual would be required to have taken a rider education course
or have a health insurance plan that provided a minimum of $ 10,000 coverage.
In addition, a provision was added that would provide for a "special sticker"
that motorcyclists could put on their license plate to show they complied
with the requirements to ride without a helmet.
The conference committee has reported out SB 99 and it is three short steps
away from passage. The bill will be referred to both the House and Senate
for concurrence votes, which only require a simple majority vote. If both
the House and Senate vote for concurrence then SB 99 will be sent to Governor
George W. Bush for his action. He has three options, signing the bill into
law, letting the bill become law without his signature or vetoing the bill.
Should he veto the bill, while the legislature is still in session, a fourth
step would be added where both the House and Senate could override his veto
with a 2/3 majority vote in both bodies. Currently, the Texas Legislature is
scheduled to adjourn on June 2, 1997.
It has been reported to the MRF that all of the organized motorcyclist groups
in Texas working for motorcyclists rights have endorsed this "compromise"
and will be working for passage of the conference agreement on SB 99.
The MRFs biggest concern is that this is the first time that any state or
national motorcyclists rights organization has broken ranks and conceded
that riding a motorcycle is such a "high risk" activity that we inflict an
extraordinary "social burden" on our society and that we must have additional
financial securities above what the rest of society is required to meet for
any other activity. The most damaging issue facing motorcycling, not just
freedom of choice on helmet use but motorcycling itself, is the concept of
motorcyclists being "social burdens." Never before have motorcyclists
rights activists accepted the fact that we are a social burden; the
Motorcycle Riders Foundation still does not acknowledge or accept the premise
that motorcyclists are a "social burden."
The "social burden" concept for motorcyclists comes from the very high risk
assessment assigned to the activity of riding motorcycles, mostly by the
medical and insurance industries, based on assumptions rooted in fear and
emotion rather than fact. Even many motorcyclists tend to make inaccurate
risk assessments because factual information is so overwhelmed by myths. The
infamous "Harborview Medical Center Study" was a perfect example of building
on such misconceptions by portraying the "public burden" of motorcycle
accident victims. Close investigation revealed that the motorcyclists
reliance on public funds was, in fact, below the average for the Harborviews
overall patient population. In addition the 1992 study by the University of
North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center showed that motorcyclists
relied on public assistance less than any other road and non-road trauma
victims. Objective, non-emotional, review of the facts show motorcyclists
are not "social burdens."
As a compassionate society, we will always provide some level of public
assistance to come to the aid of our fellow citizens who suffer misfortune.
To pass judgment on others assessment of some particular level of risk in
their personal "pursuit of happiness" is difficult at best and impossible
when fear and emotion interfere with the factual information on which ones
personal choices are based. A mid-western, suburban shopping center survey
some years ago indicated that the majority of the motorists either feared or
resented motorcyclists they observed on the road. The word for this is
"prejudice" and this, as well, provides impetus to this kind of
In light of these issues, the MRF is concerned that by having any State
Motorcyclists Rights Organizations (SMROs) go on record acknowledging that
motorcycles are "too risky" and motorcyclists are a "social burden" it will
fuel that debate in other state legislatures, and possibly at the national
level as well. The MRF believes there will be grave consequences to
motorcycling and motorcyclists rights if any SMRO allows legislation
requiring special insurance or fees on motorcyclists to compensate for the
supposed "social burden" of motorcyclists to become law.
On a philosophic note, MRF is concerned about the issue of not compromising
freedom for adult motorcyclists. Do you really gain freedom when a series of
conditions, that some may not be able to comply with, must be met to qualify
for freedom? What happens to a motorcyclist who is from a state that does
not offer rider education and can not get health insurance because of other
health problems? Or, what about a handicapped motorcyclist resident of that
state, who because he or she can only ride a trike or bike with a sidecar,
for which there is no rider education program, and because of his or her
handicap can not get the required health insurance? And, what happens when
the insurance industry or employers (i.e. Sturm, Ruger and Co.) stop
providing coverage for those injured while not wearing a helmet?
Another issue that should be taken under consideration is: The effect this
action will have on the efforts in the other states to gain or maintain
freedom of choice. Though this is state legislation that on the surface only
affects one state, it actually goes far beyond the borders of one state. We
live in the United States of America. What happens with legislation in one
state does effect what legislation is introduced and enacted in other states.
If this type of legislation is enacted in one state, it is very likely that
insurance requirement amendments will start being offered in every other
state that is trying to repeal their helmet law. And, their legs will have
been kicked out from under them, because the sponsors of this amendment will
say: "Well, the bikers in other states have agreed with this so it must be
O.K. for motorcyclists, why are you opposed to it?"
Motorcyclists in states considering these types of insurance requirements or
special fees in order to gain freedom of choice should also consider what
effect this will have in the states that do not have helmet laws. One of the
reasons that we are having success in moving forward helmet law repeal
efforts in so many states is that since 1983, 25 states have maintained
freedom of choice. If those 25 states had collapsed and allowed helmet laws
to be enacted during the four years of federal penalties, from 1991 to 1995,
we would still have federal penalties and there would be no realistic chance
for any state to repeal their helmet laws. The states working to repeal
helmet laws owe a debt to the 25 states that have kept freedom alive for the
last 14 years and should not take actions that undermine or compromise those
states' efforts to maintain their own freedom.
If this type of insurance requirement is enacted MRF is confident that we
will see it introduced not only in states with helmet laws but in states
without helmet laws as well. We say this because just a few weeks ago we had
staff of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety tell MRF that they were
very closely following the Texas insurance amendment on the helmet law
legislation because they found it very interesting!
As for the provision for "special stickers," the MRF believes this provision
shows the discriminatory and inappropriate nature of the requirements being
imposed by this type of legislation. In the United States of America one of
our most important judicial protections is that we are presumed innocent
until proven guilty. In this case motorcyclists are being asked to prove
their innocence ahead of time. Additionally, most of us thought the practice
of labeling classes of people, like was done in Europe in the 1930s and
1940s, with "special labels" was ended in 1945.
In regards to the rider education amendment there are several reasons, in
addition to believing we should not qualify freedom for adults, the
Motorcycle Riders Foundation opposes a mandatory rider education requirement.
First, trading off one mandate for another is not gaining freedom. Second,
rider education works well, in large part, because people who attend it want
to be there and produce a positive learning environment. If someone is there
only to meet a requirement to ride without a helmet in many cases they will
be there with a negative attitude, which will detract from everyone elses
learning experience. Another concern is the inability of the state to
provide training to the large influx of new students that will result from
the passage of this legislation.
In light of these concerns and the need for the motorcyclists rights
movement to stand united on the fact that motorcyclists are not "social
burdens" and that motorcycling is not extremely risky, the Motorcycle Riders
Foundation requests all SMROs to oppose legislation that would require
motorcyclists to have extra medical insurance or pay special fees that are
not required by the rest of the population. In addition, the MRF requests
all SMROs to oppose requirements for mandatory rider education for riders in
order to be able to ride without a helmet. And lastly, the MRF requests all
SMROs to oppose the discriminatory practice of "special labeling" of
motorcyclists. The MRF believes these are critical issues on which the
motorcyclists rights movement must stay united in order to maintain freedom
of choice on helmet use and to protect our right to ride motorcycles in the
MOTORCYCLE RIDERS FOUNDATION
P.O. Box 1808, Washington, D.C. 20013-1808
202-546-0983 (voice) 202-546-0986 (fax)
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