May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month and we welcome motorcyclists from across the country to Washington for “Bikers Inside the Beltway” week. During this week, Congress should be reminded that effective motorcycle safety can help keep all of us safer on the road, but efforts to expand a government program that arbitrarily roadblocks law-abiding motorcyclists are a misguided, ineffective use of taxpayer funds.
As the transportation conference committee meets to hash out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the highway bill, I urge the conferees to reject funding for motorcycle-only checkpoints and focus on critical crash prevention and rider education that can help save lives.
The Department of Transportation has awarded grants to a few states to implement motorcycle-only checkpoint programs. Proponents of MOCs argue they are important for improving traffic safety and reducing the number of motorcycle accidents.
Law enforcement officials across America already work hard to enforce our traffic laws to keep all riders and drivers safe — cracking down on speeding, reckless driving and driving while intoxicated. MOCs, on the other hand, force law enforcement officials to play “nanny state” to all riders rather than focusing on those who are endangering themselves and others on the road. In New York’s pilot program, a wide majority of those pulled over and detained were ticketed for infractions that do not prevent motorcycle crashes. Of the 104 traffic tickets issued, the police issued 41 tickets for operating with an unapproved helmet and 7 tickets for an illegal exhaust.
Motorcycle safety should be a priority, but the government’s efforts should focus on policies that can make our roads safer and stop crashes before they happen. The current trend to expand MOCs across the country — a government-mandated, one-size-fits-all approach — will not address the primary causes of accidents, but it will unnecessarily infringe on law-abiding motorcyclists’ rights.
What then, are the primary causes of crashes and how can we prevent these factors from causing accidents and claiming more lives on the road?
According to the American Motorcyclist Association, the majority of fatal motorcycle crashes involve another vehicle. One-half of those crashes resulted when the driver of the other vehicle failed to yield to a motorcyclist. Motorist awareness campaigns can address the primary cause of fatal motorcycle crashes and help make our roads safer for riders, drivers, and pedestrians.
Also, according to the AMA, about 25 percent of the motorcycle operators involved in fatal crashes were operating with an invalid license. Motorcycle safety programs that include licensing and testing can also reduce crashes before even getting on the road.
At every level of government, budgets are under significant strain as many valuable programs and services vie for limited resources. Funding for the MOCs would be better spent on addressing the factors that endanger the lives of motorcyclists and other drivers on the road, like proper licensing, rider awareness and education.
Rather than applying for MOC grants, states should be allowed to apply for voluntary motorcycle training courses and programs that highlight the importance of proper licensing. These efforts will do more to save the lives of motorcyclists without pre-empting state laws and creating one-size-fits-all programs out of Washington.
Additionally, any safety efforts should take into consideration the concerns and needs of the rider groups. Motorcyclists and rider groups overwhelming reject checkpoints because this policy ignores their underlying concerns about crash prevention. Efforts to concentrate on awareness of motorcycles and crash prevention have the full support of the American Motorcyclist Association, the Motorcycle Riders Foundation and local rider groups across the country.
I authored H.R. 904, legislation that would prevent the Department of Transportation from wasting taxpayer funds to create MOCs. This bill has bipartisan support and a number of Members on the Transportation Committee have already co-sponsored it.
I hope my colleagues affirm our nation’s commitment to both motorcycle safety and efficient use of taxpayer funds by including the language of H.R. 904 in the conference report. Congress does not need to create another government program just for the sake of expanding government. Instead, we can concentrate efforts that will protect riders and make the roads safer for all of us.
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) is a senior member of the Judiciary Committee.