1/24/05 news article from Houston Chronicle... -By JEFFREY GILBERT
Motorcyclists have Capitol idea -
Riders lobby for changes to law on helmet wear, insurance coverage
AUSTIN - The roar of motorcycles outside the Texas Capitol on Monday was matched by the cheers of hundreds of leather-clad riders inside. The bikers, who stood and yelled loud and long when they were introduced to House members, were in town to push for several changes to current laws involving motorcyclists. "We elected these officials," said Bill Walker, a rider from Irving. "We came down to make sure they know that they are working for us. We sent them here."
The riders came to Austin to urge lawmakers to repeal provisions in Texas' current helmet law that say riders over age 21 are not required to wear a helmet as long as they have a $10,000 insurance policy or have taken a rider safety training course. Opponents complain that police officers and judges across the state don't know the law, resulting in riders who meet those requirements getting tickets anyway.
"We have been working on getting this changed for years," said Sputnik, chair of the Texas Motorcycle Rights Association, who does not use a last name. Sputnik said it is especially a problem in smaller towns, where the laws are not as well-known. He said if the amendments are not repealed this session, riders will start filing civil lawsuits against the state claiming infringement on their civil rights. "They can't be giving us tickets when we are legal," he said. Other riders said the choice to wear a helmet should be entirely up to each rider and the legislators shouldn't have anything to say about it. "Helmets can be dangerous, too," said Adolf Aguirre, a rider from Austin. "You can't hear. You can get whiplash." Several of the riders said the insurance requirement is pointless because after an accident, many insurance companies refuse to pay because riding a motorcycle is considered a "hazardous act." "If we get drunk and pile up our cars, insurance is going to cover us even though it is illegal to drink and drive," said Wesley Brown, a rider in Austin. "But they won't cover us." Sputnik said his group also wants to get a bill passed to force insurance companies to cover motorcycle riders. He said the association has not found a legislator to sponsor that yet.
"Last session, we tried this and couldn't even get a committee hearing," he said. "So we want to work with the head of the insurance committee to cover all of our bases first." The riders also are lobbying for a "failure to yield" law. The current fine is anywhere from $25 to $100 if a driver fails to yield the right of way and causes a wreck that results in serious bodily injury to another driver. Riders claim motorcyclists get hurt more in such situations and that drivers often leave the scene. Sputnik said his association is asking for the fine to be increased to $500, with the money going into a safety and awareness fund. Also, the group wants a 90-day driver's license suspension for the first offense and a one-year suspension for the second offense. Riders in several Texas cities also are fighting to get motorcycle crossing signs put up on streets and highways. "They put up signs for ducks and deer but not for bikers," said Bert Brown, a rider from San Antonio. "They even have them for turtles, but not for us."
1/25/05 news article from KXAN...
Bikers Propose Law Changes
Texas lawmakers will be back under the dome Monday, and thousands of bikers will greet them as they reconvene. They're lobbying in an effort to change some driving laws that effect everyone in the commute.
Together, these bikers have more than 100 years of riding experience. Some have even travelled all over the world on a motorcycle. However, certain laws in Texas have them roaring mad.
"We want a clean bill that says, 'If you're over the age of 21, you ride without a helmet,'" "Sputnik," biker, said. They argue the current helmet law has too many stipulations that leads to harrassment by law enforcement. "I am a registered voter, an American citizen, so I should have the right to decide whether or not I want to wear the helmet, not get pulled over and harrassed," Lupita Macias, biker from El Paso, said.
They also want to do away with the Patriot Act. "The Patriot Act has taken so many individual's rights away, that the terrorists will win because they're changing our freedom," J.C. Prince, (Big Kid) biker from Fort Worth, said. The group also calls for change in driving laws. They propose stiffer penalties for those who fail to yield on highways resulting in wrecks, sometimes death. "We're constantly getting killed. I mean, they run through a stop sign, 'I didn't see him' or they'll even stop and then pull out, 'I didn't see him.' 'I didn't see him.' It's always, 'I didn't see him,'" "Sputnik" said. However, soon they will be seen by lawmakers. "Yeah, they will see us, and they will hear us," Macias said. Bikers by the thousands ride to the capitol in hopes of changing state laws. "Brothers and sisters, if you've never done this before, I promise you, you are about to have the most fun that you have ever had on a motorcycle," "Sputnik" said. The House of Representatives convenes Monday at 10:30 a.m., and of course they will be greeted by thousands of bikers from all over Texas.
1/25/05 article from News8 Austin by Associated Press ....
Bikers lobby legislators
The Texas Legislature got off to a thundering start Monday after a week off as a parade of motorcyclists roared down Congress Avenue toward the Capitol. The smell of well-worn leather wafted through the Capitol corridors when thousands of motorcyclists clad in black jackets with a myriad bright-colored patches, do-rags and dark shades descended on the rotunda to lobby lawmakers on helmet laws, insurance reform and penalties for failing to yield. Democrat Rep. Norma Chavez of El Paso sported her own black leather vest with “Legislative Warrior'' emblazoned on the back. The Texas Motorcycle Rights Association gave it to her. She presented the motorcyclists in the House. “I'm proud to introduce and acknowledge the presence of a group of freedom fighters, defenders of the Texas Constitution and the U.S. Constitution. These great citizens are Texas motorcycle enthusiasts,'' she said. In December, Chavez became the first Texas legislator to be issued a state official license plate for her Harley Davidson Sportster.
1/25/05 news article from Austin/American Statesman ....
- paragraph taken from article titled Capitol Roundup under Comings & Goings
Bikers descend on Capitol
Hundreds of motorcycle riders from across Texas rode up Congress Avenue and descended on the Capitol on Monday as part of an annual lobbying drive. At midday, thousands of motorcyclists clad in black jackets with bright patches, do-rags and dark shades descended on the Rotunda to lobby lawmakers on helmet laws, insurance reform and penalties for failing to yield. Rep. Norma Chavez, D-El Paso, sported her own black leather vest with "Legislative Warrior" emblazoned on the back. It was given to her by the Texas Motorcycle Rights Association. Chavez presented the motorcyclists in the House. In December, she became the first Texas legislator to be issued a state-official license plate for her Harley-Davidson Sportster.
1/28/05 news article from Waco Tribune-Herald... -Rowland Nethaway, Senior editor
Bikers Get Too Hard-Headed
For years, waves of motorcycles roared into Austin in a noisy attempt to convince lawmakers to overturn Texas' helmet law. These Texas bikers were rewarded in 1997 when Texas' 8-year-old helmet law was struck down. Lawmakers don't like competition when it comes to gaseous auditory dissonance.
This year, in a surprising turn of events, many of the same bikers were back at the state Capitol, blipping their throttles and yelling from the visitors gallery in the House chamber. Now the bikers want lawmakers to repeal the lingering provisions of the 1997 law that allows motorcyclists to ride without a helmet if they have a $10,000 insurance policy or have taken a rider safety training course. They should have quit while they were ahead. As my grandfather used to say, "When you hit oil, stop digging." As a motorcyclist who chooses to wear a helmet, there is no question in my mind that helmets are an extremely important piece of safety gear. Nevertheless, I supported the effort to repeal Texas' helmet law. If an argument can be made that women have the right to choose what they do with their own bodies, the same freedom of choice should be extended to adult motorcyclists. A few motorcyclists argue that helmets can be dangerous. They claim that helmets can limit peripheral vision, reduce hearing or cause whiplash. If helmets were that dangerous, then motorcycle racers would race with bandannas tied to their heads.
——Experts support helmet safety——
Having spent a considerable amount of money attending high-performance motorcycle schools at race tracks around the nation, I have never met any instructor, racer or student who thought properly fitted, industry-approved helmets were a safety hazard. The question for me and many other motorcycle riders is not whether helmets improve safety but whether the government should impose a law that punishes adults who choose to accept the risk of riding without a helmet. The issue is personal freedom versus punitive government laws designed to protect people from themselves. When Texas joined most states west of the Mississippi River in repealing its helmet law, lawmakers threw a bone to the mandatory-helmet crowd by requiring that motorcyclists older than 21 show they have a paid-up $10,000 insurance policy or proof that they completed a state-approved motorcycle training course. The bikers now complain that small-town cops in particular don't know the law and continue to give them tickets for violating the helmet law. Therefore, the Texas bikers want the remaining helmet restrictions lifted. A way to improve safety and still allow adults the freedom to risk their bodies if they choose would be to require that riders pass a thorough motorcycle training course before qualifying to take a comprehensive riding examination to earn a motorcycle license. The state would conduct the written and riding tests and would approve the private riding schools. As it is now, it's easy for youngsters and geezers to walk into motorcycle showrooms and ride off on machines that can outrun $250,000 sports cars without demonstrating they have the skills to handle their purchases. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has figures that show the annual number of motorcycle fatalities among 40-plus riders tripled over the past decade. Boomers with disposable income are buying powerful motorcycles as a hobby, but they don't have the training or skills to handle their machines. *I love motorcycles. I am not picking on motorcyclists. I think the requirements to get a driver license for automobiles and trucks should be much tougher as well. Poking around the block and parallel parking does not make a competent automobile driver. We don't hand out pilot licenses like bingo cards. Neither should we do so for motorcycles and cars.
Rowland Nethaway's columns appear on Wednesday and Friday. E-mail: RNethaway@wacotrib.com