After a 13-month delay and enactment of three separate extensions, Congress finally passed a surface transportation reauthorization bill. This bill, sometimes called the highway bill or the infrastructure bill, has been a hotly debated topic in D.C. for several years. Once signed by the President, the bill will reauthorize many highway programs, provide funding for road and bridge construction and replace the previous highway bill passed in 2015, known as the FAST Act.
Just a week ago, Congress gave itself a third extension running into December. Yet election victories by Republican candidates, especially a win by the GOP in the Virginia governor’s race, seems to have spooked Democrats, and motivated passage of a bill that has been awaiting a vote since the summer.
For the last two years, the House of Representatives and Senate have battled over transportation priorities and funding levels. In both 2020 and 2021, the House of Representatives passed versions of their highway bill, only to be rebuffed by the Senate. Under pressure from President Biden, the Senate finally acted, passing in August a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. This action by the Senate, effectively forced the House to accept the Senate version of the bill or continue to pass short term extensions of current law.
However, pressure from the left wing of the Democratic party delayed a vote on the Senate’s infrastructure bill until an unconnected piece of legislation, referred to as the “human infrastructure bill,” was agreed to. That bill, called “Build Back Better,” had an original price tag of $3.5 trillion and effectively held the infrastructure bill hostage. After months of debate, and Tuesday’s election results, House Democrats agreed to vote on a smaller Build Back Better bill later in the month, opening the door to a final vote on the infrastructure bill.
At 11:27pm Friday night, the House agreed to the Senate’s bill and passed a $1.2 trillion 5-year highway bill, known as the INVEST ACT. The final vote in the House was 228 to 206, with 13 Republicans voting in favor and 6 Democrats voting against.
While not a perfect bill, there are victories for bikers contained in the 2,740 pages of legislation.
First and foremost, the Motorcyclist Advisory Council (MAC) will be reestablished with this new law. The MAC is a forum, within the U.S. Department of Transportation, specifically focused on motorcycle issues. The council is required to provide biannual reports to Congress on three critical areas:
Importantly, the new MAC will have expanded membership of 13 members, including one designated member from a “National Motorcyclist Foundation.”
Second, grant money allocated to states through the Section 405 funds, specifically dedicated to motorcycle safety, will be increased with this new law. In 2021, approximately $4.2 million dollars was distributed to states for motorcycle safety programs. With this new law, close to $5.1 million dollars will be set aside for grants related to motorcycle safety programs in 2022.
Last year 45 states applied for and were given money for the education and implementation of motorcycle safety programs. The five-year length of this bill will see those funds continue to grow year over year, providing important resources to states for safety training.
Finally, the bill leaves unchanged hard-fought provisions from past highway bills. These include the ban on using federal funds to create motorcycle only check points and a prohibition on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) actively lobbying state governments on pending legislation.
It is unfortunate that it took 13 months from the original expiration date of September 30, 2020, to finally pass a new highway bill. This bill does not meet all the needs of bikers, but it does take some positive steps to ensure motorcyclists remain part of the transportation network. With your help, the Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF) will continue to fight for motorcyclists’ priorities left unaddressed in this bill. Issues related to the profiling of bikers, autonomous vehicles and ethanol regulations are just a few of the areas that this bill falls short on. The MRF is committed to these priorities and remains the voice of the street rider in Washington, D.C.
On a nearly annual basis the media in this country is inspired to report stories about motorcycle fatalities on our nation’s roadways. Invariably, these stories paint motorcycle rider deaths as a product of irresponsible riders who live in states that have some level of helmet choice. Frequently they report statistics that prove their narrative but fail to paint a full and complete picture. The lens with which these stories are reported often takes the naïve view that crashes can be made “safer” if only bikers somehow followed government helmet mandates.
The only true solution to motorcycle safety and reducing fatalities are proactive measures, which prevent a collision from occurring at all, rather than reactive steps that may or may not offer some level of injury mitigation only after a crash has already taken place. Rider education, which prepares motorcyclists to interact with other roadway users by learning and practicing the skills necessary for hazard avoidance and developing a strategy to deal with real world traffic, is the primary component of a comprehensive motorcycle safety plan. Additionally, educating all motor vehicle operators to be alert and free of impairment as they share the road with others is critical in deterring crashes caused by inattention.
When coming across these stories keep in mind some facts that are omitted from their reports.
|Fact: Over the last decade motorcycle related deaths have varied between years but for the most part remain flat. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data from 2019 shows 5,014 deaths, a decrease from the 2008 5,307 deaths NTSHA recorded. In that same time period registered motorcycles increased from 7.7 million in 2008 to 8.7 million ten years later. In other words, there are a million more bikes on the road and there were 300 less deaths.
Fact: Twenty-nine percent of motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes in 2017 were riding without proper licensure at the time of the collision. A valid motorcycle license includes a rider having a valid driver’s license with a motorcycle endorsement or possessing a motorcycle only license. Proper training and licensing are fundamental parts of motorcycle safety, taking unqualified riders off the road is a commonsense solution to lowering motorcycle fatalities.
Fact: The lack of a helmet mandate in the 31 states who have allowed freedom of choice does not prohibit someone from choosing to wear a helmet. In fact, a 2019 U.S. Department of Transportation audit showed that states without mandatory helmet laws still saw 56.5% of riders choose to wear a helmet.
Fact: A 2019 U.S. Department of Transportation Fatality Analysis Reporting System report showed that in crash study data, where helmet use was known, 36% of motorcyclists killed were not wearing a helmet. Conversely 61% of motorcycle fatalities involved a rider wearing a helmet. The remaining 3% had unknown usage. These numbers closely mirror NHTSA data on overall helmet usage which shows 64% of riders wearing helmets.
Fact: Despite the constant drum beat from safety advocates, the media and Washington D.C. bureaucrats about the ills of helmetless riders, state legislatures continue to trust the judgment of bikers. Just last year Missouri passed a modified helmet law allowing the choice to ride without a helmet to those who are qualified. In at least three other states, West Virginia, Maryland, and Nebraska there are active campaigns to change their helmet mandates and let those who ride decide.
|Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure unveiled its 2021 highway bill, titled the Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation (INVEST) in American Act. As you may remember, every five years Congress is required to reauthorize many of the highway related spending bills it passes. The current highway bill, known as the FAST Act, was given a one-year extension last year and is set to expire in September of 2021. The bill introduced Friday is a key component of the major infrastructure spending push the Biden Administration has made a top priority.
For the last two years, the Motorcycle Riders Foundation and its members have diligently educated and lobbied lawmakers about the need to include motorcyclist specific priorities in a new highway bill. These grassroots efforts were given a boost with the inclusion of three major motorcyclist specific items in the bill. The Democrat lead bill includes the following provisions in its nearly 1,300 pages of text:
The road ahead for a massive infrastructure plan remains uncertain. Negotiations between the House, Senate and White House will be contentious and as always political. However, what is certain is that the work of MRF members has ensured that motorcyclists are being heard in Washington, D.C. and as this newly released legislation shows they are being prioritized.
After a long year, this Memorial Day weekend things are returning to normal. In streets across our nation, traditional motorcycle events honoring those lost in military service are resuming. We at the Motorcycle Riders Foundation are forever grateful to our brothers and sisters lost defending the freedoms we cherish.
As Ronald Reagan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
As our lives return to normal and we again spend time with family and friends, let’s all take a moment to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice. We at the MRF wish you and yours a safe and happy Memorial Day.
For the last 15 months the halls of Congress have been silent. Health and safety restrictions have all but eliminated the normal atmosphere on Capitol Hill. However, this week things began to return to normal. Bikers from over 25 states made their way to Washington D.C. and spent Monday and Tuesday meeting in person and via zoom with lawmakers and their staff. In many cases MRF members were the FIRST in person guests many members of congress had hosted since March of last year!
Bikers advocated on issues related to profiling, autonomous vehicles, the highway bill, ethanol and a host of other items. The action wasn’t limited to D.C. as MRF members who couldn’t make the trip spent the last few days meeting with elected officials and staff back home. In the coming weeks the MRF will put out calls to action on many of the topics we covered this week. You can help move our agenda forward by responding to these calls to action and build off of the great work done in D.C. But for now, enjoy some of the pictures your fellow rides snapped while in out nation’s capital!
About Motorcycle Riders Foundation
The Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF) provides leadership at the federal level for states’ motorcyclists’ rights organizations as well as motorcycle clubs and individual riders. The MRF is chiefly concerned with issues at the national and international levels that impact the freedom and safety of American street motorcyclists. The MRF is committed to being a national advocate for the advancement of motorcycling and its associated lifestyle and works in conjunction with its partners to help educate elected officials and policymakers in Washington and beyond.
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