Ever Wanted to Fight the Law and Win? PART 1

Ever Wanted to Fight the Law and Win? PART 1

I don't mean going all Edward G. Robinson and holing up in a desert
shack with your gangster moll and a .45 shouting "you'll never take
me alive, coppers!"

WORDS: Marc Danziger

I don't mean going all Edward G. Robinson and holing up in a desert shack with your gangster moll and a .45 shouting "you’ll never take me alive, coppers!" It's more like the guy who – when he got a ticket for wearing foam earplugs after the law had changed to permit them – complained and got the officer to come to his office, tear the ticket up and apologize. You just know that felt good…

It happened because a couple of us got together and changed the earplug law here in California back in 2003. By the time you’re reading this, I'm hoping we'll have done it again and changed the laws to help save motorcylists' lives. This is my "trip report," written in the hopes that - like all good road stories – it'll encourage a bunch of you to go out on your own journeys to change things at City Hall, the State House, or dare I say – dare! dare! – in Washington D.C.

I know, I know, we're all big bad motorcyclists who don't care about the law. But we live in a world where law and regulation have more and more to do with what we ride, where, and how. We can just accept that we're subject to those laws, like King Canute proved he was subject to the tides, or we can help make the laws.

Last year, State Senator Debra Bowen (D-Redondo Beach) introduced SB1021, which changes the California Vehicle Code to implement portions of the AMA's "Motorcyclists Matter" agenda. As I write this, we've been through a bruising negotiation, and a bill that gave us much – but not all – that we hoped to get went smoothly through the State Assembly, and then on the last day possible, was signed by Gov. Schwartzenegger. In January, it'll be the law.

The bill got its start when, after the passage of the law legalizing foam earplugs here in California – a law that Sen. Bowen introduced – she got a ton of emails and letters from motorcyclists thanking her. Here's a disclaimer – Sen. Bowen is not only my state Senator, but someone I've personally known for a long time. And I worked in Sacramento a long time ago. So I obviously have a leg up in getting access to her and knowing the game.

We talked after she'd received the emails and letters, and I asked her if – since she'd gotten good feedback for doing something small for the motorcycle community - she'd consider doing something bigger, and maybe more important. She said "Sure! What about something about motorcycle safety?"

The friends I ride with know me as "the Safety *** so I rose to the bait. The people from the AMA, the MSF, and Cal-ABATE were all happy to step forward and work together to craft something that we all thought would be a first step in making the roads safer for riders (and bicyclists, pedestrians, and drivers) by penalizing drivers who violate others' right of way and injure someone.

After a few months of discussion, we collectively agreed on a version of the "Motoryclists Matter" agenda from the AMA. This is based on the simple fact that when a cager runs a stop sign and injures someone, the authorities can only charge them with running a stop sign and causing an accident. The core idea is to add another level of penalty that law enforcement can use above the simple traffic violation, and below serious criminality.

Some states have passed versions of MM that call for large fines – up to $1,000 – and even the option of jail time.

When we initially sat down on a conference call with Sen. Bowen's staff and discussed it we decided pretty quickly that jail time and massive fines were Right Out. We as motorcyclists agreed that we just don’t have the clout to make that large a change in the way things are run. If we could turn out a few hundred people a dozen times for hearings, if we were good about mobilizing voters and raising money for candidates – in other words, if we were better than we are at playing the political game – we could reach further. But we aren't, and reality is what reality is.

We should be, and that’s a topic for another day.

To be continued ...