Written by Dave Christy, Bikers’ Rights Advocate, Colorado
Life and living encompass many choices. As much as we would like to be, we are not personally in total control of how we live. We live with (and under) rules and regulations (laws) to co-exist peacefully among the population, and along the way develop (hopefully) our internal moral compass to help steer us as we move through life. The essence of Freedom is the possession of choices, to live as we see fit without the bringing of harm onto others. Webster’s Dictionary defines freedom (in part) as “1. the state or quality of being free; esp., a) exemption or liberation from the control of some other person or some arbitrary power; liberty; independence; b) exemption from arbitrary restrictions on a specified civil right; civil or political liberty…” Always remember: this is not granted by government; on the contrary–men are “…endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” (as validated in our Declaration of Independence.)
Most of us have a daily routine and working life; some may consider it a “grind.” Our culture and free-market/capitalistic system dictate we need to earn an income to meet financial obligations. In addition, what you want materially is a choice you make, and you pay for it. So we commute, work, and perhaps stress. And when it’s time to take a break or vacation, lots of us swing a leg over our motorcycles for a day ride or overnighter, maybe a couple of weeks out on the open road to distance ourselves from conflict, clear the mind, refresh the spirit, and experience ‘just being.’ The Freedom of Choice again comes into play–you claim it because it is yours, you decide–where to go, when to do it, what to see/experience, why you want to, and how you want to do it–on two wheels. Perfect. I can think of no better expression of personal freedom. The Freedom of movement, Freedom of the road. Concerns? OK: next tank of gas, what to eat, maybe where to sleep. All this while, and in your own good time, you’re minding your own business and making no demands of anyone (except for other drivers’ obligation to pay attention and see you, maybe?) In return, no demands are being made of you, right? Wrong. More on that in a bit…
You have a legally-owned, titled, licensed, and insured motorcycle. In addition, you have your license, endorsement, and operator skill and experience. I believe these are fair expectations and requirements of the system we all live with and the same obligations you would expect from anyone else among the spectrum of all highway users. We’re all in the traffic mix and rely, with an x-factor of trust, on each other to do the proper things. In spite of that reliance, vehicle operators commit ‘fouls’ on other roadway users, and/or themselves, to the tune of millions of collisions, crashes, and “accidents” every year in the U.S.A., resulting in 40,000-plus fatalities every year, to include an escalating percentage of motorcyclists in that figure. It’s a sad fact. What must be understood is that 95% of all accidents are due to human causation factors!
About forty years ago, a federal regulatory agency was created by act of Congress to address highway safety and promulgate vehicle design standards upon the manufacturers and industries. This agency is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), typically headed-up and staffed by epidemiologists and researchers that subscribe to a passive approach, i.e., that the vehicle and its’ equipment should reduce injuries and help save lives, removing drivers more from the equation because the thinking is that vehicle operators can’t be educated and depended upon enough to prevent the accidents that cause injury and death:
NHTSA has essentially remained inflexible and adhered to this mindset, even though the desired fatality outcomes have not dropped so dramatically and the U.S.A.’s transportation safety record has fallen in comparison to other countries in the world. It needs to be understood that advances in vehicle technology have indeed provided survivability to scale not experienced prior to our time, but you have to ask yourself: should crashes be considered inevitable, therefore acceptable? The fact is, the more the vehicles assume ‘control’, the more responsibility and skill-set is removed from the driver, with the inverse effect being the evermore dumbing-down and awareness-deficient operator on the roadway. Who wants to share the road with people like that? These days, not only are accident violations accepted as an everyday inevitable occurrence, but also in sheer numbers (it appears) tolerated by a justice system in that prosecutorial and judicial disposition of traffic offenses is generally rapid via the plea bargain and forgiven too easily, minimizing the gravity of accountability that should be placed upon the driver, and ultimately shoveling it over to insurance and dollar figures.
The battleground comes down to accident prevention vs. safer crashing and motorcyclists have a tremendous stake in the issue. We are exposed on the roads and understand that “going down” stands to have a dire outcome. The astute motorcyclist will understand this completely, be aware, skilled and educated constantly, and manage his/her risk accordingly. What about education and skill set for the everyday driver? NHTSA, as well as most state DOT Motor Vehicle divisions, places very little effort in further education of the mass of drivers. While there is movement afoot to require tiered training, licensing, and “life-long” learning of motorcyclists, I have not seen nor heard of any parallel effort being proposed for drivers anywhere, nor any type of evaluation at license renewal time. Get a license “once upon a time” and good-to-go for a lifetime? I think not. But ask anyone with a driver’s license, “How’s your driving?” The response? “Oh yeah, I think I’m a good driver…” I never heard anyone say “No, I suck and need more work.” Ironic, isn’t it, that our government’s leaders bang the drum on the value of formal education, that’s it’s the best tool and avenue we have to advance ourselves and our individual and collective futures here and in the world, and that it’s continually publicly funded. Except for vehicle operation, where lives are at stake.
The motorcycling community is relentlessly pounded upon by NHTSA, and more so in the last few years due to the increase of motorcyclist fatalities as a percentage of the yearly highway total. The news media are fed the stats, latch on and stoke the flames through inference among the general public, who view us riders as a careless liability, damn-near miscreants who ride “donor-cycles” and deserve what we get because motorcycles are ‘dangerous.’ And you have to wear a helmet. If you don’t wear a helmet you brought it on yourself. Well, first of all I’ve never seen a dangerous motorcycle (I’ve seen some “rat bikes” I wouldn’t care to ride but that’s another story.) Secondly, if anyone were to approach a motorcyclist and ask them what their biggest concern is, I think almost invariably the response would be “other drivers on the road.” Thirdly, motorcycles have every equal right and entitlement to the roads and highways as any other vehicle. We don’t deserve disdain, nor airs of expendability. Fourth, we know we’re not perfect, and we admit it.
It’s been said the most fundamental and important function of government is to ensure the safety of its citizens. This is true but only to an extent and is not open-ended in the U.S.A. The function extends to protecting borders, providing defense of the Homeland, public safety from predators, scam artists, much more, etc., etc.–in other words, relief and protection from harm that others, or outside influences, would bring upon your being. It does not include imposition of laws upon your physical being, where you bring no harm to others in the course of going about your business. You and your body are private and personal property. “…Each person owns himself or herself, by right and without question; a right that is prior to and above any government or social organization.”–Donald Beezley. I certainly hope that you agree with the above; if not, then perhaps it’s too esoteric for those except for the most freedom-loving among us. With that stated, I’m going to talk freedom of choice as it concerns helmets. It’s a known fact that NHTSA and other ‘safety’ organizations have lobbied for years to have legislatures implement laws concerning mandatory use of helmets upon motorcyclists’ bodies. You must be “protected.” (crash survival–remember the passive approach.) The newest ‘player’ in the fray is the National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB), who has been unquestionably, deliberately, and non-transparently recruited into the mix to advocate among the federal and state governments for total motorcycle helmet laws, despite having little or no experience and expertise in the motorcycle safety arena:
They do, however, possess credibility among legislators simply because of what they are, which is the perception of being all-knowing authorities on the issue–Elitists, if you will. The push for helmet laws is historically relentless and will always be so until they get what they want and as long as they have taxpayer dollars to spend–its’ part of what the regulators’ and bureaucrats’ agenda is. While these agencies and their people, and organizations similar in scope, are free to speak and recommend, what you need to understand is that none of them are under any obligation to reconcile your freedoms as an American in the course of their agenda. Their end justifies their means. The debate here is not about helmets themselves–they can, and do, provide protection and reduce injury:
They also can, and do, cause injury. Seat belts do the same thing. Fact is, these aren’t a 100% ‘Silver Bullet’ for protection–not even close. You might question why states are immunized by laws against liability suits in cases where helmets and belts either didn’t save lives, didn’t prevent injuries, or caused them. You should decide to use them according to advisements and educational materials provided, and not be penalized and have your money extracted because they weren’t worn on your body. A question that an activist friend of mine likes to pose is: “Who, or What, are you trying to protect me from?” A question I like to ask is, “What is government’s compelling interest in requiring me to have a helmet on my head?” About the best response I can think of is to “save lives.” Well, that’s noble enough but I can make that decision for myself. I think its nobler and higher ground to have my freedoms defended and respected. It’s time to resurrect the mantra, speak loudly–Get Your Laws Off My Body! This is not a request!
I truly believe that no one, nor entity, is more concerned with motorcyclists’ safety outside of motorcyclists themselves. That is why motorcyclists crafted the language in the massive federal transportation (TEA-LU) funding bill to include motorcycle safety grant monies and funding for a new, comprehensive, and independent study of motorcycle crash causation factors–the first since the 1980 year Hurt Report. The Oklahoma Transportation Center will undertake the new study at the Oklahoma State University and it should begin soon, taking about two years. With that in mind, I have to question the “urgency” proffered to implement laws on bodies as the panacea for motorcycle crashes by NHTSA, NTSB, et al–when all the causation factors haven’t been established, therefore not addressed:
Could it be found out the dogma they’ve adhered to for so many years might be so flawed as to be a national embarrassment? Will they attempt to influence the outcome of an “independent” study? The study must remain independent with a lot of ‘sunshine’ on the methodology and demographic.
“Without helmets, we all pay” says NHTSA, as they create polarity in the public realm and influence opinion, deliberately against motorcyclists–attempting to establish motorcyclists as a disproportionate drain of injury and medical dollar consumption. This is called the Public, or Social Burden theory. Guess what folks, we all pay for everything, everyday. Think about that for awhile–I’ll take that up and debunk it in Part 2, next month. Until then: “Freedom also demands that we refrain from interfering in others’ enjoyment of their unalienable rights. Freedom encompasses not simply the opportunity to make choices but the responsibility for those choices. Just because one choice seems wiser or safer doesn’t justify using the force of government to require everyone to make the same choice. Likewise, government shouldn’t protect those who make irresponsible choices from the consequences of their actions, or worse yet, make someone else bear the cost.”–Mark Hillman
Written by Dave Christy (email: firstname.lastname@example.org )
Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!