In Oregon non-DOT motorcycle helmets are ALLOWED by definition under ORS 801.366. See page #59 (HERE).
Independent of your views on the usage of these helmets, many riders would agree that motorcycle-ONLY safety checkpoints are inappropriate. Yet in spite of the activism and involvement from the motorcycle community to stop or prohibit federal funds for motorcycle-ONLY checkpoints the progress hasn’t always been favorable.
Case in point is the Court of Appeals for the New York Second Circuit which backed roadblocks for the purpose of issuing motorcycle citations.
The back story is that in 2007, the New York State Police began using federal taxpayer grant money to target these motorcyclists with the stated objective “to detect motorcycle safety violations and ensure proper registration and operator compliance with New York State’s motorcycle license requirements. The first roadblock was set up on October 7, 2007 to hit participants returning from a motorcycle rally nearby in Connecticut. Signs were posted on Interstate 84 ordering motorcycle riders to “exit ahead” while a uniformed police officer directed traffic into a rest area. From there, a total of 280 motorcyclists were detained and forced to undergo “full-blown inspections” that generated 104 traffic tickets. The most common citation was for improper helmet.
In 2008, a total of 17 roadblocks were held, detaining 2278 motorcyclists who were issued 600 tickets for infractions that had nothing to do with safety. Another 365 citations were issued for use of an unapproved helmet. Several detained bikers sued the state police after they were detained 45 minutes or more.
In U.S. District Court Judge Gary L. Sharpe rejected the motorcyclists’ argument that the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures applied to this case. To get around the constitutional need for individualized suspicion of wrongdoing before a seizure, courts have created a “special needs” doctrine that allows roadblock programs serving a particular government need.
In this situation, the state produced statistics that showed motorcycle fatalities dropped 17 percent in the same year that motorcycle helmet ticketing increased 2175 percent, and Judge Sharpe agreed this was proof that the roadblock’s primary purpose was safety. The courts then must balance whether the government need to enhance safety is greater than the interference with individual liberty.
The appellate judges agreed with the lower court’s analysis that it was: “Applying this balancing test, we conclude that the well catalogued public interest in highway safety is well served by the safety checkpoint program and outweighs the interference with individual liberty in this case,” the second circuit ruled in a brief, summary opinion. “Accordingly, the district court did not err in concluding that there was no constitutional violation.” A copy of the summary order of November 29, 2012 is at: Wagner v. Sprague (US Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, 11/29/2012).
I choose to wear a DOT approved helmet, but I dislike discriminatory checkpoints. Have you been to the Laughlin River Run lately and rode out to Oatman, Arizona on the Oatman-Topock Highway? How about return to the hotel from a concert at the Buffalo Chip during Sturgis week? Random LEO check points are the norm. Officers invade your personal space to check for alcohol.
Could Oregon be next to implement similar “safety” initiatives? Hopefully not, but you might recall that at an ABATE rally in Olympia, WA a few years ago it become a photo op for “profiling” riders and law enforcement writing down license plate information (video HERE). In 2011, Governor Chris Gregoire signed Senate Bill 5242 which outlaws profiling of motorcyclists and earlier this year, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law California Bill AB 1047 which outlaws motorcycle only checkpoints.
If motorcycle only checkpoints raise your blood pressure then write or ride to the Oregon capitol in February and talk to your state legislators. Explain to them that there is no reason why anybody in any state should be profiling any particular group including motorcyclists and you want them to stop it.
Photo courtesy Doug Chanco. The 2012 Biker Rally at the Capitol HERE.
UPDATE: Added the link to Oregon helmet law history HERE.