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Oregon State Capitol in the Spring

Did you know that in 2013, Portland was ranked as the 10th most traffic-congested metropolitan area in the United States?

Jump ahead two years later, and Portland is now ranked (2015) as the 8th most traffic-congested metropolitan area on a Friday in the United States.

I’m an advocate for motorcycle safety and the passage of laws that improve motorcycle safety with a result of increased motorcycle awareness and driver accountability.  Like many of you, I’ve been riding for a good long while and my perspective comes from years of riding motorcycles across the United States (including in California).

Given the fact that Oregon continues to struggle with funding issues associated with overhauling an aging transportation infrastructure at the same time in which it is coming under increasing strain from population growth you’d think aspects of improving stop-and-go traffic situations would be relatively straightforward.  It’s not!  There is a lot of discussion and hand-wringing in Salem about riding motorcycles, incentivizing motorcycle use in dense urban areas and using less fuel-efficient automobiles, but few actionable plans seem to materialize or get put into motion to address increased traffic congestion.

One could debate if the “let it melt” strategy for ice storms, is being applied to traffic congestion, but instead it would be “watch it get worse.”  I’m still looking for a report out or the glowing “success” memo from ODOT in regards to the near Real-Time Reader Signs on Highway 217 that seldom seem to be accurate.

In fairness, there have been enhancements to various roadways to “ease” some traffic congestion and construction is now happening on Highway 26 to widen the road.  In addition, there is a major enhancement planned to improve traffic conditions and highway operations on I-5 from Highway 99W to I-205.  Part of the Corridor Bottleneck Operations Study, the I-5 project isn’t going to start until early 2018 and hopefully be completed by the fall of 2019.

Below is a quick summary of some key 2017 motorcycle legislation and the current status:

Senate Bill 385Lane Sharing (Highways Only) — Bill would have made lane splitting legal, but has died in the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The Governor’s Advisory Committee on Motorcycle Safety (GAC-MS) discussed, debated and identified merits and problems with this legislation, and decided at its February 16, 2017 meeting to oppose SB 385 by a 5-2 vote in the name of motorcyclist and motorist safety.  ODOT opposed passage of SB 385 citing that Oregonians don’t support this motorcycle riding practice and that the safety of motorcyclists across the state of Oregon will be compromised.  The AAA and the Oregon Trucking Association also testified against the bill.

The next legislative session opportunity is now in 2019.

You might recall that there was an identical bill which failed two years ago — SB 694.  Interestingly this bill received initial support from the GAC-MS.  The group provided written and verbal testimony in support of the bill which made it out of committee (unanimously) and passed the full Senate with a 2/3 bipartisan majority before failing in the House.  The GAC-MS changed its position after SB 694 passed the Senate and then opposed the bill at the House Committee on Transportation and Economic Development.  It’s unclear why the Committee’s position switched or the mixed messages on the riding practice.

What is the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Motorcycle Safety (GAC-MS) you ask?

It’s an influential group comprised of eight volunteer citizens who advise the Governor and the Governor’s Highway Safety Representative on motorcycle safety issues and legislation. The GAC-MS reviews legislation that could or might affect motorcycle safety in Oregon.  The Committee consider’s input from Oregon Confederation of Clubs, Abate of Oregon, BIKEPAC of Oregon, Law Enforcement, ODOT, AAA, Trucking Association to name a few and from motorcyclists and organizations in support of motorcycle legislation.

House Bill 2665Lane Sharing (Lanes and Shoulders) — Allows operators of motorcycles and mopeds to travel on the shoulder of highway during traffic jams or slowdowns.  The Governor’s Advisory Committee on Motorcycle Safety Committee voted to oppose 7-0.

Senate Bill 680Lane Sharing (All Roads) — Allows operators of motorcycles and mopeds to travel between lanes of traffic or between adjacent lines or rows of vehicles during traffic jams or slowdowns.  The Governor’s Advisory Committee on Motorcycle Safety voted to oppose 7-0 in a previous meeting.

House Bill 2598Vehicular Assault of Motorcycle Riders (Enhanced Penalties) or often called the “Driver Responsibility Bill” — Expands offense of vehicular assault to include contact with motorcycle, motorcycle operator or motorcycle passenger.  Specifically adds motorcyclists (and/or their passengers) to a current Oregon law that provides those who operate another vehicle recklessly resulting in contact with and injury to a motorcyclist and/or their passenger to be possibly charged with the crime of “vehicular assault” and its associated penalties.  There is no specific provisions to protect motorcyclists from reckless drivers and there is no specific accountability for drivers that injure a motorcyclist as opposed to a pedestrian or a bicyclist, and motorcyclists are not on the vulnerable users list.

The bill has moved thru the House committee with a “pass” recommendation and is headed for House Floor vote.  The Governor’s Advisory Committee on Motorcycle Safety voted to oppose 4-3 the bill and is determining how best to communicate the Committee’s position to the legislation.

House Bill 2599Helmet Choice — Requires only persons under 21 years of age to wear motorcycle helmet while riding on or operating motorcycle or moped.  This is an emergency bill and would take immediate effect upon passage. Topics discussed included: individual choice, what happens when a rider doesn’t have health insurance and needs long-term care, the efficacy of the age requirement, the inability to see or hear as well when wearing a helmet.

The Governor’s Advisory Committee on Motorcycle Safety voted to oppose the bill.

Senate Bill 36Three Wheel Motorcycle Skills TestingWaiver — This bill eliminates the requirement that DMV conduct a skills test prior to issuance of a restricted three-wheel motorcycle endorsement. Individuals applying for the three-wheel motorcycle endorsement would still take the motorcycle knowledge test.  There are approximately 45 tests offered per year at five DMV field offices for the restrictive three-wheel motorcycle user.  The DMV is not currently granting waivers to three-wheel cycle users and that users who want a three-wheel motorcycle only endorsement still have to take knowledge and skills tests and receive a unique endorsement.

The Governor’s Advisory Committee on Motorcycle Safety voted to support the bill.

I’ll continue to update this blog post as I learn about any bill updates during the 2017 legislative session.

Photo courtesy of State of Oregon

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novelty-helmetOn Saturday Andrew Barns, 26, died when a car pulled out in front of him on his motorcycle at 185th and Farmington Road shortly before 7 p.m.  According to Sheriff reports he was wearing a novelty helmet and the medical examiner will determine if the novelty helmet contributed to his fatal injuries.  No citations were issued (at this time) to the driver.

I didn’t know Mr. Barns, but would like to offer my condolences to his family and friends.  It’s a sad day for all motorcycle enthusiasts and one to reflect on our choices.

Freedom and choice vs. safety

We’ve all heard the debate or been involved in a compelling argument on both sides of the helmet laws.  There are some motorcyclists who do, but most don’t wear a novelty helmet as a symbol of resistance “against the man” i.e. protesting lesgislators that require bikers to wear certified helmets.  Full Disclosure: I rode double digit years with a novelty helmet and even paid $2 for the DOT sticker to minimize chances of getting pulled over by law enforcement.

I don’t recall the exact moment, but I decided a few years ago that if I have to wear a helmet it might as well be one that offers some degree of protection and elected to switch to a certified helmet.   Those of you who visit this blog regularly know there are a lot of freedom of choice posts and it was MY choice to purchase a DOT certified helmet.  This may not reflect your thinking and that is your choice.

This post is about reflecting on our choices.

Clearly Mr. Barns accident was the auto drivers fault and I’m not trying to pile on to his tragedy, but it’s important to note that more than 800,000 novelty helmets are sold in the U.S. every year!   That’s about the same number of motorcycles that were registered in the state of California in 2011.

In my view, the vendor/marketers of novelty helmets are like big tobacco–unapologetic, dismissing safety concerns, squelching debate and claiming they simply are accommodating consumer demand.   Most all are made in China or India and even those Carbon Fiber/Kevlar versions are outright fakes.  Sure it’s legal to make and sell novelty helmets as long as they aren’t falsely represented as meeting federal standards, but talk about a poster-child for proliferating cheap ineffective Chinese products as motorcycle crash deaths mount.

And I’m intrigued by the contradiction… Harley-Davidson motorcyclists complain about the cheap China made Harley trinkets or 3rd party chrome parts which they want no part of, but think nothing about buying a $29 “Made In China” novelty helmet believing that ‘something is better than nothing’ regarding its protection.  But, I’ve digressed.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration agency has estimated that as many as 754 people die each year in states with mandatory helmet laws because they were wearing novelty helmets instead of certified headgear, which amounts to nearly 1 in 6 rider fatalities.

According to this study based on head trauma vs. non-head trauma deaths, head trauma deaths account for 34% of motorcyclist deaths.  Many would agree that an approved/certified safety helmet is by far more protective and would overwhelmingly prevent serious injuries as opposed to a novelty helmet, but I would also like to see a correlation and follow-up on motorcycle licensing, training and education.

I am sure there are a fair number of riders out there who won’t appreciate this blog post.  They will see my post as advocacy for the U.S. becoming a more repressed, intolerant and regimented place.  More government intervention.  Most blogs just don’t want to touch the topic.  But, novelty helmets just don’t share the same distinguishing characteristics as certified helmets.

If we’re being intellectually honest as a group/industry, its important to spotlight helmet considerations in the ongoing debate over motorcycle safety.

The Barns tragedy compelled me to urge motorcyclists to think different–if you’re going to wear a helmet, why not consider or make it a certified one?

Photo courtesy of Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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Rowena Crest - Mayer State Park

Rowena Crest – Mayer State Park

“I want to work in a cube behind a desk while my friends are out exploring the world on motorcycles this summer!”

…Said no one ever.

It sounds crazy when it’s phrased that way.  I know this might surprise you, but being a motorcycle blogger has nothing to do with sitting in a dimly lit room hunched over a laptop slowly developing carpal tunnel while eating Cheetos and drinking Diet Coke.  I know… Shocking.

Bikers For Christ Meeting

Bikers For Christ Meeting

It’s about capturing those wind in the face moments from the road.

We’ve had a truly incredible run of good weather here in the Northwest.  Summertime is in full swing and these warm, sunny days have the roads filled with bikers.  It’s possibly record setting for the number of days without rain in July and last Saturday I had the chance to put on 200+ miles riding to Tygh Valley and around Mt. Hood.  Some buddies were headed to Run 21 for a couple of days and I was doing a ride along for the day to get some “seat miles” before I set out on another longer trip to Utah/Nevada in a few days.

Hwy 197 heading toward Tygh Valley

Hwy 197 heading toward Tygh Valley

Run 21 is put on by the SE Portland Chapter ABATE of Oregon.  The event is an old-school biker rally and has been held annually for 14 consecutive years.  There is a great outdoor concert venue nestled in Tygh Valley and according to the rally flyer there was a good line up of music this year.

Our group headed out east on I-84 mid-morning and there was a strikingly white Mt. Hood in the distance against bright blue sunny skies.  We stopped for lunch in Hood River, and as we departed you could take in the scent of peach and pear trees in the warm fresh air.  At Mosier we took the Highway 30 scenic road up to Mayer State Park and the Rowena Crest.  From this vantage you can soak in the wide-angle views of the Columbia River and the Gorge.  There happen to be a “Bikers For Christ” meeting at the crest with 30+ riders in attendance.

Mt. Hood from Hwy 197 looking West

Mt. Hood from Hwy 197 looking West

We headed south at the junction of I-84 and Highway 197.  We stopped in the small farming town of Dufur for some refreshments and walked through the historic Balch Hotel lobby.  Nice B&B if you’re ever in need of a laid back weekend.

We continued on toward Tygh Valley where the rest of the group planned to exit for the camp ground.  Unfortunately at the junction of Highway 197 (The Dalles-California Hwy) and Tygh Valley Road (map HERE) there were two motorcycles involved in an accident.

Tygh Valley Motorcycle Accident

Tygh Valley Motorcycle Accident

It was about 3pm and according to the Wasco County Sheriff department the two riders were side-by-side and somehow got hooked up and went down.  No automobile was involved and no citations were issued.  One rider was taken by ambulance to Mid-Columbia in The Dalles and the other rider was taken by Life flight to Emmanuel Hospital in Portland.  No names or additional information about the riders conditions were reported.  Hopefully all goes well for these riders.

On Highway 26 and Mt. Hood

On Highway 26 and Mt. Hood

I had to backtrack a little around the accident on old US Hwy 197 (Tygh Valley Rd) and then headed west on Highway 216 (Wapinitia Hwy).   This is a nice two-lane road that skirts through a short section of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation and into the forest boundary.  I intersected with Highway 26 and headed up over Government Camp and then back into Portland.

It’s an awesome time to be outdoors on a motorcycle, and I hope you’re taking the opportunity to put some serious miles on your bike.

Photos taken by author.

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UO Football Helmet

UO Football Helmet — Go Ducks!

Different helmets do different things. There are hard hats on construction and heavy-industry heads; football helmets on athletes’ heads, Kevlar® caps on military heads and DOT certified helmets on motorcyclist heads.

None are interchangeable.  However, the motorcyclist in this photo might disagree.

On the weekend I was driving on Highway 217 and came upon this motorcyclist flashing some new reflectivity protective head gear – a University of Oregon football helmet!

I’m not sure if this “learning moment” is one where we ridicule his fashion faux pas or criticize the multiple color combinations of motorcycle, helmet, shirt, pants, socks and shoes, and how they’ll never pass the Nike-design standard.  But, most concerning is the specific amount of retroreflective material on the helmet and how it may well exceed state standards!

Huh?

Yep, a number of states have exact information on the location and number of square inches of retroreflective material required on motorcycle helmets.  I’m currently researching this fun fact and will report an update when I learn if Oregon has such a requirement embedded in the helmet law.

Motorcycle helmets are very sophisticated and specialized for an activity. They’ve been developed carefully and scientifically over the years and wearing a DOT helmet properly strapped on your head is mandatory in the state of Oregon.  If you want to read more about Oregon helmet laws go HERE.  If you’re interested in helmet standards go HERE.  The NHTSA is proposing to amend several aspects of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 218, Motorcycle Helmets HERE.

But, this is all a moot point, because this “safety-minded motorcyclist” just planted another seed of doubt in the minds of non-riders – some who already question the rationale of motorcycle ownership in general – that wearing a football helmet means motorcyclists are not responsible people; we don’t take ourselves and motorcycling serious and no matter what the law says, it’s about projecting an attitude…

We’ve heard this tune before.  Many call it stupid and other’s will call it living.

Photo taken by author. 

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Watch For Motorcycles!

Many of you already know that May is motorcycle awareness month.

The self-appointed “wise men” and policy elites down in Salem, OR declared it (.PDF) – so it must be true!  They’ve also piled on and proclaimed it to be Transportation Safety Month, further relegating the motorcycle to the “end of the line” as they blah, blah, blah, espouse the virtues of raising awareness on motorcycle safety.  Why not pile on with farm tractor safety month and stop texting month too?!  Why limit the pile on?

The real story is that with warmer weather approaching motorcyclists are hungry to get out on the roads and this is a good opportunity to remind riders to realize that our fellow ‘cagers’ might have forgot over the long and wet winter that they share the roads with motorcycles and to ride defensively.

Speaking of riding defensively, did you know that Oregon back in 2005 was named by the NHTSA as having the top motorcycle safety program in the nation?  Either did I, yet it’s true.

And since I’m talking about defensive riding you might be interested to know what a couple of our poster child riders are up to – which serve to reinforce the public’s viewpoint of motorcyclists.  Let’s highlight Mr. Richard Boedigheimer (33) who showcases “driving safe” during motorcycle awareness month: He was pulled over on Oregon 22 west of Mill City after being clocked at 140 MPH.  He told the Marion County deputy that he was “just having fun” with his new girlfriend of one week who was a passenger at the time.  No word on the girlfriend status after the arrest.  Need more examples?  How about Mr. Nicholas Houck (20), who attempted to elude state police on a H-D motorcycle without a helmet at speeds exceeding 100 MPH.  First you draw attention to yourself for not wearing a helmet, in a state that requires it, then more troubling decide to elude. Mr. Houck also had a suspended license…

Notwithstanding the above poor judgment… the good news is the number of motorcycle crash fatalities in Oregon have dropped to their lowest level since 2004; the bad news is that 38 people lost their lives in motorcycle crashes in 2010 according to preliminary data from the Oregon Department of Transportation.

report released (.PDF) this week by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) reveals that nationwide motorcycle fatalities declined in 2010 by at least 2 percent. Based upon preliminary data, GHSA projects that motorcycle fatalities declined from 4,465 in 2009 to 4,376 or less in 2010. The projection is based upon data from 50 states and the District of Columbia. The decline comes on the heels of a dramatic 16 percent drop in 2009, which followed 11 straight years of steady increases in motorcycle deaths.

The new report—the first state-by-state look at motorcycle fatalities in 2010—was completed by Dr. James Hedlund of Highway Safety North. GHSA is projecting declines in approximately half of the states and for Oregon they are projected to be down 27 percent.  The Oregon GHSA Vice Chairman Troy Costales credits the state’s progress to a strong training program and a new law strengthening penalties for riders who do not have a motorcycle-specific license as well as working with motorcycle clubs, who are advocates for riding safe and sober.

The disturbing news which comes with deeper analysis of the data reveals that there are some areas for concern. First, 2010’s decrease of at least 2 percent is far less than 2009’s dramatic 16 percent decrease. Second, the 2010 decrease was concentrated in the early months of the year, with fatalities actually increasing by about 3 percent in the third quarter compared with the same quarter in 2009. Additionally, with the improving economy and surging gas prices, motorcycle travel is expected to increase, thus increasing exposure to risk. Finally, motorcycle helmet use dropped from 67 percent in 2009 to 54 percent in 2010.  In addition, motorcycle registrations continue to rise as the baby boom generation rediscovers riding a motorcycle.

In Oregon, the laws focus on safety and training.  The 2009 Oregon Legislature passed several motorcycle safety related laws in an effort to improve safety. In 2010, the penalty for riding without a motorcycle endorsement changed from a Class B (minimum $360) to a Class A (minimum $720) violation. Changes were also made to Oregon’s motorcycle training requirements, requiring new motorcycle riders to complete an ODOT-approved training course. The law has a five year phase-in period based on the age of the rider. As of January 2011, new riders age 30 and under must complete a basic or intermediate rider training course. Additional age groups will be phased-in each year until 2015 when all new riders must take training.

Oregon has made significant progress in motorcycle safety, but I’d argue that an awareness campaign once a year is not nearly enough.  Remember the rants and blog posts about those ODOT message boards?  No, I’m not bitter…

Photo courtesy of NHTSA.

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Motorcycle enthusiasts in any given year will lobby and go to the mat on legislation issues that affect their hobby in the Northwest.

In Washington state one such bill was SB 5242  —  known as the biker profiling bill – it recently passed into law.   The bill prohibits singling out bikers for police stops without a legitimate reason. Motorcycle profiling is defined as when law enforcement officers single out people who ride motorcycles or wear biker “clothing,” stopping, questioning, searching or arresting them without legal grounds.

Motorcycle clubs who feel they have been singled out over the years see this as a major victory.  However, it’s a win for all motorcyclists in a way that the media isn’t really talking much about. Let me explain.

You might recall that I blogged about the NHTSA who recently made funds available to state, county and local law enforcement agencies to run “motorcycle only” checkpoints. The funds were recently applied for and granted in Florida, and as you can imagine during Daytona Bike Week there was a motorcycle only checkpoint in operation and the bikers-as well as the AMA- went ballistic.

Under the new Washington State law this supposedly cannot happen. Washington State Police (WSP) has stated that although they would not have applied for the funds regardless, that would not have stopped sheriffs and city law enforcement from applying. However, under the new bill they cannot … until someone decides to run county or city legislation to override the state law…

UPDATE: May 16, 2011 – Interesting and well articulated alternative viewpoint from Brian O’Neill (LEO) on how SB 5242 targets the wrong folks (police officer training) and this will get in the way of disrupting gang activity in Washington state.

Photo courtesy of Photobucket

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Dave Zien

Florida’s warm breezes welcomed the motorcycle community to what most consider the grand opening of the east coast motorcycle season.

I’ve been to Daytona Beach for the Daytona 500, but unfortunately never able to visit during Bike week.  Something to add to my ‘bucket list’ I suppose as Bruce Rossmeyers Harley Davidson at Destination Daytona and New Smyrna Harley Davidson play host to tens of thousands of bikers from around the world.   There are a number of biker venues like, Main Street’s Boothill Saloon, Iron Horse Saloon, Cabbage Patch, Gilly’s Pub 44, Broken Spoke Saloon, and Froggys to keep a person occupied.

The official stats have yet to be released, but antidotal media reports suggest that attendance is a bit mixed.  Some merchants blamed the economy and/or high gas prices for a less than spectacular attendance record this year..  One attendee interviewed by the local paper said:

“People just don’t have as much discretionary money to spend on a bike. And let’s face it, this is a frivolous vacation,” said Phil McAllister, pausing before adding, “But it’s still a lot of fun.”

I’m not sure if this is a predictor of the 2011 riding/rally season across the U.S. or not.  What do you think?  Will you be attending more, same or fewer motorcycle rallies than last year?  I’ll be attending fewer this year due to scheduling issues.

But, there were a couple of other notable items that will mark this years Bike week in the history books.  One was a sonic boom as the space shuttle Discovery began its rapid descent over the Atlantic Ocean and skillful final landing. After 39 missions, the space shuttle Discovery landed for the last time March 10th at Kennedy Space Center, about an hour from Daytona Beach.  The other and one that is most unfortunate was former Wisconsin state Sen. Dave Zien and AMA Motorcycle Hall of Famer was seriously injured on Sunday in a motorcycle accident in Florida.

The accident occurred at 6:15 a.m. Sunday on eastbound Interstate 10 near Marianna in Jackson County.  Mr. Zien was driving in the inside lane when a Ford SUV crossed over from the right lane and into the median. The driver lost control of the vehicle and it rolled, flipping onto its side on the interstate facing north.

Zien attempted to avoid the crash scene but was unable to, clipping the back of the SUV. Zien was thrown from his 2009 Harley-Davidson bike where he was reported to have lost part of his left leg, and was airlifted to Tallahassee Memorial Medical Center, where at last report he was in stable condition.

Mr. Zien is best known as an AMA Hall of Famer, for defending motorcyclists’ rights while serving in the Wisconsin Legislature and true to his words he was not wearing a helmet in this accident.  Mr. Zien served as vice president of the Wisconsin Better Bikers Association and was known for riding around on his Harley-Davidson with a full-size American and Wisconsin flags on his bike. In addition, back in 2005, Zien was the main author of the Wisconsin RURA (Roadway Users Responsibility Act) 466.  That bill provides for increased penalties for vehicle operators who violate the right-of-way of other roadway users.  And in my opinion I hope there is a similar law in Florida because the driver of the SUV, Ryan G. Matheny of Marietta, OH., was charged with failure to maintain lane and driving with a suspended license.

Here’s hoping Mr. Zien a speedy recovery.

Photo courtesy of AMA.

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