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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  Specifically in Oregon, on October 4, 1977 the helmet law was repealed for age 18 and over.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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Keith Wandell Resignation Letter

The news was expected.

Harley-Davidson CEO Keith Wandell, citing the pressure of obtaining a motorcycle endorsement and regularly commuting with “cagers”, today announced he is retiring at the relative young age of 60.

It’s through my privileged relations with some of the major actors of the motorcycle industry that allow this blog to offer you an exclusive first look of the resignation letter below:

Date: April 1, 2010
To: Harley-Davidson Employees
From: Office of the President and CEO, Mr. Keith Wandell
Subject: A Letter To My Colleagues

This morning I am announcing my intention to retire by the time of our next board meeting.

It has become clear that in light of the continuing leadership doubt, and the unprecedented level of negative attention about my compensation package, the company – and each of you – has had to endure, that the best thing I can do for you, our dealer network and our shareholders is to retire.

Some of you have done an extraordinary job serving our customers despite the almost daily media distraction.  I feel strongly that the attacks about my riding experience and eight month compensation package of $6.4 million are unjustified, but unfortunately, they show no signs of abating. A simple reality check tells me that people are spending more time reading about the acrimony and not enough time buying our motorcycles from the newly reduced product line up.

What matters is not what happens to me, but it’s really about the remaining employees of Harley-Davidson, our employed customers and our shareholders. The whole is greater than the sum of any 2 parts and clearly more important than me “feeling good about where we are” as a company.   Even in the midst of the first quarterly loss in 16 years, the HDFS liquidity freeze, the India expansion, the Buell distractions, the union worker delinquencies in PA., and the MV Augusta sell-off strategy… my main regret in this short, but well paid, tenure, is that I will not be here to realize the potential of this bold strategy to return the company to a “new” normal.

I will retire when my successor is appointed. The Board has begun a high profile and expensive search for a new CEO, led by the head of the Board’s Compensation, Management Development and Succession Committee. I, of course, will do everything I can to assist in this transition. I will make sure that the company firmly “stays the course” until my successor is chosen.

Let me say that it will not be easy for me to leave. I take enormous pride in obtaining my motorcycle endorsement and I’ve met a bunch of new lunch-time riding buddies.  It’s been said that the true test of a leader is the performance of the company he leaves behind. On that score, I feel my short, but well paid legacy and public record are available for all to read.  The Board has asked me to assure you of their full support as we go through the transition and into the future.

To some of you, I offer my heartfelt thanks for the extraordinary opportunity to work with and lead you during this short tenure that I’ve been in Milwaukee. Of course I will continue to see some of you in the H-D Brewers suite and have enormous faith that the best of Harley-Davidson will be lived in the days ahead.

Sincerely,
Keith “Scooter” Wandell
President and CEO, Harley-Davidson

Happy April Fool’s! Enjoy the day even with all the faux news.

Photo is courtesy of H-D.

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RTW_SignMany of you may know, but just incase it’s slipped your memory, this coming Monday (15th) is the annual Ride to Work Day.  In its 18th year of advocating and supporting the use of motorcycles for transportation and everyday utility the organization hopes to draw significant attention on the number of motorcyclists to the general public and to politicians.

In the U.S. the average driver travels 29 miles per day and a total of 55 minutes on the road.  Motorcycle riders are a minority.  Commuting and transportation riders are a minority within a minority.  So, in the semi-famous words of Ben Stiller and the “Do It” guy of Starsky & Hutch…  “No, seriously come on. Do it.  Do it.”

Photo courtesy of RTW.

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If you’re considering a switch to a two-wheeler – even if to augment your vehicle inventory – apparently you are not alone.

The Motorcycle Industry Council recently reported that sales of scooters and economical motorcycles are at their highest levels in 20 years.  Name-brand scooters in the first quarter of 2008 were up 24 percent over a year earlier, and sales of small and medium-size motorcycles rose 7.5 percent. Sales of “heavy-weights” or large cruiser bikes were down 11 percent.

A couple days ago I received a scooter flyer in the mail evangelizing the “greenness” and fuel efficiency of the 2009 Yamaha C3 (available in October).  It look all too familiar and then I realized….hey, Harley did one of these back in the early ‘60s.  The “Coker” (period-correct) tires even finished off the copy design.

And speaking of green that flyer would have done Al Gore proud with planet friendly subtle shades of green color background intermixed with black ink displayed on 80% post-processed recycle paper…if they’d have made it smell like kiwi fruit I would have just ate the advertisement to save the land fill!

Before you bust me about my recycled paper eating habits, let’s review this Yamaha bad boy (Cubed 3) features.

  • Harley-Davidson retro “box” design scooter appeals to the “Boomer” generation.
  • C3 name accentuates “chunky” cubic space
  • High-function features include big bob tires on cast aluminum wheels, a motorcycle-type fork and handlebar.
  • Side-hinged, locking storage compartment swallows up to nine gallons of gear.
  • The C3 achieves fuel economy up to an estimated 115 mpg with a fuel tank that holds 1.2 gallons of gas.
  • Liquid-cooled three-valve, four-stroke engine is powerful, quiet and low-maintenance.
  • Electronic fuel injection: a 19mm Mikuni throttle body provides optimal mixture in all conditions.
  • Fully automatic, V-belt transmission provides easy, twist-the-throttle-and-go operation.
  • Pushbutton electric starting (with backup kick-starter) for ease of operation.
  • The air-induction system and exhaust catalyst technology reduce air pollution.

Clearly, the overall economic hardship and senseless fuel-inefficient cruiser monsters as gas prices spike would warrant a discussion in Wisconsin about bringing back the Harley Topper to stake a claim in the scooter space, right?

You might recall that the Topper was the only scooter that the Harley-Davidson ever produced and they were manufactured between 1960 and 1965.  They produced less than 3000.  It utilized a CVT transmission called “Scootaway Drive”, like most scooters produced today and the engine was a 165cc single-cylinder (9HP) two-stroke that required premixed gas/oil. The starter was a rope-recoil type similar to a Honda lawnmower.  The front body, fender and floorboards were made of stamped steel, and the engine cover and body were made of chopper gun-sprayed fiberglass.  Harley even rolled out the two-tone Hi-Fi Red and Desert Sand colors which looks very similar to the copy-cat Yamaha C3!

Shouldn’t Wisconsin have a Harley Scooter on the R&D drawing board?  Couldn’t Harley become as prominent in the scooter space as it is in motorcycles?

 

Topper photo courtesy of Motorcycle Museum.

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