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2013 Ride to Work Day

2013 Ride to Work Day

Back in the day when a cowboy joined an outfit he threw down his bedroll in a chuck wagon.  When he does that, he gives his loyalty 100% to the outfit.  It’s a cowboy thing.  If you don’t like the way an outfit is run, you grab your bedroll, pony and ride on down the trail.

It was a code established by the rugged pioneers and is just as relevant in today’s world as back then, but I’ve gotten off topic.

I’m talking about riding for the “motorcycle” brand.

Huh?

Yesterday marked the 21st Annual Ride to Work Day—it’s a day when thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts across the U.S. ride their motorcycles to work in a show of mutual support and solidarity. Originally created by Motorcycle Consumer News columnist Bob Carpenter in 1992, the event has served as a way to promote motorcycles and rider safety; combining the ride with numerous activities around the country, including charitable events.

Many riders don’t need another incentive to ride, but the Ride to Work Day is not just something to talk about, but to participate in.  I count myself as one of the thousands of motorcycle riders and enthusiasts across the U.S., so I was up early and headed to the ‘plant’ which in of itself is a rare occurrence since I work remote most days.

Sure, I exposed myself to the situation where someone doesn’t obey the rules of the road… like that beat up Toyota mini-van which made an abrupt 2-lane change as they entered onto Highway 217.  The cars were slamming on brakes which was a little concerning, but not nearly as bad as the dude in the well-worn Ford Escape that cut me off on Highway 26.  His NO SIGNAL lane-change was so close that I thought about asking if he’d check my front tire pressure!  Or how about on the way home the lady in the Red Mazda – yeah you – with heavily tinted windows so preoccupied with her cell phone texting that she nearly rear-ended the car in front of her.

I’ve blogged at length about distracted driving in Oregon and how it’s the norm rather than exception and can honestly say that after being on the road in rush hour traffic I was not inspired, but if nothing else I was there in a “show of force” saying I rode to work today!  It was not only an opportunity to raise awareness about motorcycles, but it also provided me a chance to talk about road safety.

And speaking of transportation, one disappointment from yesterday’s Ride To Work event is the seemingly lack of visible support or promotion of two-wheel transportation by John Kitzhaber, Oregon Governor or the legislators.  You might recall that Governor Kitzhaber met recently with and challenged the Oregon Transportation Commission to create a 21st century transportation system that best serves Oregonians.  And, I’m quoting here… “A transportation system that will attract and grow business, provide mobility, reduce the carbon impacts of transportation and transition into a truly multimodal and efficient transportation system for the state of Oregon.”

I would think that two-wheel transportation is part of that “system” and the absence of visible support is odd given Oregon’s home-grown, Brammo that manufactures electric motorcycles in Ashland, and it’s perplexing given that Senators Ron Wyden and Representative Greg Walden worked to get a tax credit extension for Brammo.

One has to ask if we have the right group of individuals at the transportation table at the beginning of the process to define the problem and solution together?

Photo of author.

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Yesterday, President Obama returned to Portland, OR to try and fire up the Democrats or rekindle some political magic.  There was an enthusiastic crowd estimated near 10,000 which packed the convention center and listened as the president stumped for John Kitzhaber, who is locked in a tight race for his old job as governor.

Sadly, the visit occurred in the middle of rush-hour traffic and triggered an accident on I-84 when eastbound traffic slowed to watch Obama’s motorcade traveling west from the Portland Air National Guard Base.

At about 6pm, a northeast Portland man (Peter Kendall Gunderson, age 59) was eastbound when he may have failed to see traffic ahead of him was slowing as police were closing down the westbound lanes for the upcoming presidential motorcade to travel in.  Gunderson lost control as he braked for the slowing eastbound traffic.  The motorcycle skidded then fell onto its side, sliding uncontrolled in the left eastbound lane until it hit underneath a stopped 2010 Chevrolet Camaro. The motorcycle came to rest near the center concrete barrier and quickly caught fire.  Some witnesses pulled Mr. Gunderson away from the burning motorcycle to the far right eastbound lane.  Mr. Gunderson was transported by AMR ambulance to Legacy Emanuel Hospital with critical injuries, but died this morning.  The full OSP report is HERE.  It’s unclear if police had enough lead time to plan a safer route in Portland.

Peter Gunderson Accident

I did a quick search and it turns out that there are many deaths across the U.S. just so the president or a dignitary doesn’t need to sit in traffic. Many are motorcycle officers, but some are similar to Mr. Gunderson being caught up in the police route.

For example, in 2006, a Honolulu officer died when he and two other motorcycle officers crashed while part of a presidential motorcade. In 2007, a police officer died after crashing his motorcycle while riding in a motorcade with President Bush.  In 2008, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s only campaign swing through North Texas was cut short after a police officer in her motorcade died in a crash on the way to a rally.  Also in 2008, an Albuquerque, N.M., police officer in President Bush’s motorcade died in a motorcycle crash.

I’m not blaming Obama – just pointing out that presidential motorcades aren’t safe for everyone!  My condolences to Mr. Gunderson’s family.

No word if President Obama or anyone in his administration has tried to reach out to Mr. Gunderson’s family.

Photo courtesy of Oregonian and OSP.

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The history of mandatory Helmet Laws in Oregon is a convoluted yet interesting journey back in time.

The year was 1966 and the Interstate Highway System was under construction with massive amounts of federal funds from gasoline taxes.  Each state had to pony up only 10% in matching funds to participate in this huge construction project and all the jobs it created.

Then in 1967, to increase motorcycle helmet use, the federal government required the states to enact helmet use laws in order to qualify for certain federal safety programs and the above highway construction funds.  The federal incentives or rather the threat of a reduction in construction funds worked!  State after state fell to the federal “blackmail” threat.  In Oregon the legislature first instated helmet use laws on January 1, 1968 where they remained in place until 1977.

As an aside, in 1971 the Easyriders Magazine Editor, Lou Kimsey started A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments (ABATE).  The acronym fit at the time as unelected federal bureaucrats were in fact using coercion on state legislators to have specific laws enacted within the states.

In 1976, states successfully lobbied Congress to stop the Department of Transportation from assessing financial penalties on states without helmet laws and shortly thereafter began a pattern of repeal, reenactment, and amendment of motorcycle helmet laws.  Specifically in Oregon, on October 4, 1977 the helmet law was repealed for age 18 and over.

Then twelve years later on June 16, 1989 the mandatory helmet law in Oregon was reinstated for all motorcyclists by voter referendum.   By all accounts this was one of the lowest turnout elections in Oregon history and it had become a fairly common trend in the state,  where-in off-season election years — which typically had low voter turnout — legislators worked to jam through bond measures, tax increases and other unpopular measures on residents.

Then in 1997 the federal government (NHTSA) reported that although helmets were the principal countermeasure for reducing crash-related head injuries and the leading cause of death among unhelmeted riders, motorcyclist deaths were at a record all time low.  Along the way a funny thing happened — any federal funding tied to state motorcycle helmet laws seemed to evaporate.

In the same year along came Oregon House Bill 2454 and the first real opportunity to change helmet laws.  The intent of HB 2454 was to repeal mandatory motorcycle and moped helmet requirements for operators and passengers over 21 years of age.  The measure required the Director of the Department of Consumer and Business Services to investigate whether the elimination of the helmet requirement for those 21 years and older increases the need for and feasibility of personal injury protection insurance for motorcyclists.  There was concern based on the cost of the Oregon Health Plan system that medical expenses would rise for un-helmeted motorcycle accidents and the state would foot the bill.  At the time failure to wear a motorcycle helmet was a Class D traffic infraction.  The violation was reduced from a Class C traffic infraction back in the 1995 legislature.

The House and Senate unanimously passed the HB 2454 bill, yet then Governor John Kitzhaber (D) on the last day (15 August 1997) before it would have automatically become law vetoed the adult pro-choice bill under the guise of it being a “threat to the health and safety of Oregonians.”  Below is the Governor’s Veto Message:

I am returning herewith HB 2454, unsigned and disapproved.

The bill would repeal the motorcycle helmet law for riders 21 years of age and older. While I respect motorcycle riders’ desire to choose whether to wear helmets, maintaining the current law is clearly in the best interests of the citizens of Oregon. This is consistent with the public position I have held on this issue for almost 20 years. I am vetoing this bill, based not only on my experience as an emergency room physician, but also because the research clearly demonstrates that motorcycle helmet laws save lives, prevent injuries, and save public dollars.

Helmeted riders have 28-73% lower death rates than un-helmeted riders and helmet usage reduces the incidence of severe head injury by 46-85%. States with helmet laws have death rates 20-40% lower than states without such laws. Helmet usage is 90-98% in states with mandatory laws, and only about 50% in those without. Un-helmeted riders have higher medical care costs

than helmeted riders in crashes, and the majority of the costs are paid by the public rather than by the injured motorcyclist. If our helmet law were to be repealed, Oregon Medical Assistance Program estimates an increased expenditure of over $6 million of public funds per biennium to pay for additional health care costs.

In addition, Oregonians showed strong support for mandatory motorcycle helmets when they overwhelmingly approved the 1988 referendum by a 2 – 1 margin. The measure passed in every county. A recent poll conducted by an independent research firm has shown that the people of this state continue to support the helmet law by a wide margin.

I will continue to oppose repealing the motorcycle helmet law based on my concern for the health of Oregon motorcyclists and my commitment to the judicious use of public funds. As I have stated in the past, the only way I would consider signing such a measure into law would be if those who are advocating freedom of choice for adult riders would also ensure that those exercising such a freedom also accept the full economic responsibility for their actions.

Now after seven years of being out of politics John Kitzhaber (62) wants a do-over and says he’ll be a better governor…this time.  I’m betting not for motorcyclists.  Disregard that as an emergency room physician he just knows what’s best for the people of the state.  Never mind that he voted so many times for higher taxes that it earned him the nickname “Taxhaber” or that he vetoed so many Republican bills that they called him “Dr. No” or that in his last term he publically announced in frustration that the state was “ungovernable.”  He was right.  He couldn’t.

In fairness, the ex-Gov. Kitzhaber did sign on June 11, 2001, the HB 3885 bill where motorcyclists won the right to pump their own gasoline.  Oregon and New Jersey are the only two states that prohibit self-serve gas pumps and after going into law motorcycles were the only class of vehicle allowed to dispense fuel into their tanks.  Prior to this law going into effect on January 1, 2002 it was an arm wrestling match with the local high-school pump jockey about who was the fuel expert for your specific brand of motorcycle.

There you have it.  The helmet law history in Oregon.

Full Disclosure:  I support the choice to wear a motorcycle helmet and do. However, I also have opinions on government intrusion in my personal freedom and my right as an adult to choose and make bad choices.

Sources: The Motorcycle Riders Foundation; Insurance Institute For Highway Safety; Oregon State Legislature; Oregon Catalyst; NHTSA; Oregon Watchdog

Photo’s courtesy of Internet.

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