My Editorial Rant Before Congress Joins the Fray Over Motorcycle Only Checkpoints

Though clearly unconstitutional in the best sense of the word, the motorcycle-only safety checkpoint continues to crank up controversy among lawmakers who say the inspections are simply another example of intrusive federal policies.

And they are undoubtedly that and more.

But now a measure inserted into the House transportation bill would bar the U.S. Department of Transportation from providing grants to local or state governments for those inspections, and that is a step in the right direction for motorcyclists – and America at large.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some kind of tub-thumping anti-government type, but this practice as it now stands of pulling motorcyclist off the road simply because they’re riding motorcycles is an example of the worst kind of intrusion government can make into the lives of the people. I believe that ‘checkpoints’ in general are unwarranted and ineffective, and any legislation which results in those two outcomes should be halted and removed immediately.

This time around the furor was caused by checkpoints set up in Georgia last year (and slated again for this year) using funds from a $70,000 federal traffic safety grant. Motorcycle-only checkpoints operate much like their universally popular, but equally intrusive and ineffective,  drunk-driving checkpoints. The coppers set up shop by the side of the road, wave motorcyclists over and then conduct ‘safety inspections” to check for such heinous violations as the condition of the motorcycle and whether or not riders are properly licensed and complying with various state helmet laws.

These stops are, in a word, harassment. And they’re directed at a single segment of the motoring population, and that makes them wrong-headed and sets a dangerous and unnecessary precedent for future efforts and legislation.

Never fear, though, some legislators are in your corner and have your back on this breach of the public trust. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), is leading a pack of  bipartisan lawmakers is now slamming motorcycle-only checkpoints as “an intrusive governmental overreach.”

Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.), is also on board to stop the madness.

“Motorcycle riders are right to be outraged at being singled out for safety inspections,” Petri said.

Not everyone agrees on the issue.

The President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Jackie Gillan, stands up to represent the worst the Nanny State has to offer on the issue.

“What you see are the fingerprints of the anti-helmet people,” Gillan says. “We’re fighting efforts in state legislatures to repeal rider helmet laws. Now, what they’re doing is attacking, in those states that require helmets, the ability of law enforcement to enforce the law.”

A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration spokesman said that the agency’s administrator David Strickland is concerned about the increasing proportion of fatalities among motorcyclists.

The facts are thus. Approximately 27,000 motorcyclists passed through the checkpoints last year, and authorities say 2,500 were stopped for closer inspection. Among those detained,  380 were ticketed for an illegal helmet (not riding without a helmet, but riding with what was deemed an illegal helmet), six were arrested on suspicion of drunk driving, and 49 were ticketed for operating a motorcycle without the proper license class. That’s a total of 1,665 tickets issued.

All this happened in the face of evidence that riders are safer and more conscientious than they may have been in the past. Back in 2009, 4,462 motorcyclists died on the highways and byways of America, and that’s a decrease of 16% from the previous year says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The AMA (American Motorcyclist Association) takes a much more reasonable stance on safety and say they believe “strategies to promote motorcycle safety must be rooted in motorcycle crash prevention, and don’t include arbitrarily pulling over riders and randomly subjecting them to roadside inspections.”

Hear, hear…

If you think the roads are appreciably safer as a result of these checkpoints, and that the checkpoints are effective, consider this; the AMA took note of the fact that of the 225 motorcyclists inspected at one New York checkpoint, 11% were found to have unsafe tires, and 36%were not wearing helmets meeting state law. Thankfully, officials spent a considerable wad of tax dollars to capture these scofflaws and bring them to justice.

Both chambers of Congress are expected to consider versions of the transportation bill next week, and we as riders can only hope they all consider the utter stupidity of the checkpoint system and set things right. Motorcyclists have a huge stake in safety when they ride – they want to get home alive and well – and each individual rider is entirely capable of judging what is necessary to make that happen.

Thanks, government, but please butt out and find something better to do with your time…


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