8 Ball In The Wind

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Historic Committee Hearings

On February 14th, the Washington State House of Representative's Business and Financial Services Committee held a hearing on House Bill 1804.  This bill was sponsored by two Democrat legislators who both were Chairs of Committees.  The prime sponsor was Rep. Steve Kirby from the 29th District (chair of the committee holding the hearing), and Rep. Timm Ormsby of the 3rd Dist (Chair of the House Appropriations Committee).  This bill was dropped due to the refusal of fellow Democrat, and fellow Committee Chair Rep. Judy Clibborn of the 41st Dist. to even hold a hearing on a motorcycle helmet bill in her career as Chair of the House Transportation Committee.  

In Hearing Room B of the John L. O'Brien building at the state capitol campus, the bill was heard before the committee.  The audience was filled with interested parties for what turned out to be the first motorcycle helmet law amendment bill hearing held in the House since at least the late 1970's.  The bill would permit motorcyclists the opportunity to choose whether or not to wear a helmet, provided they possessed proof of insurance that met Washington State's Financial Responsibility Law.  Several motorcyclists gave testimony to the facts that this was a "freedom of choice" issue.  As well as there being adverse physical effects for some riders forced to wear helmets.  Studies by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the Governor's Highway Safety Association were cited that showed; risks of severe injuries to helmeted motorcyclists significantly above those for non-helmeted motorcyclists, and also that of the 16 states in 2015 that showed a reduction in motorcycle fatalities only six were helmet law states.  Testimony was also given on the very high rates of motorcyclists who insure their motorcycles at levels that exceed the state's minimum requirements.

In opposition, the Washington State Patrol testified that removing the helmet law would result in an increase of serious crashes on the highways.  (Which seems illogical on its face since the wearing of a motorcycle helmets has virtually no causal effect on crashes.)  This supposed increase in crashes would lead to more hours spent by the WSP and other law enforcement investigating crashes, and additional traffic congestion due to these crashes.  If the WSP is to be understood correctly it seems that motorcycle helmets have some ephemeral ability to reduce crashes causing traffic congestion, and lower the overtime for law enforcement investigating those crashes.  Surely, that can't be right?

On the 15th of February, the committee held executive session on 1804, and in a 7-4 bi-partisan show of support, voted to pass the bill out of committee, and on to the House Rules Committee.  Again, this was an historic event, as it marked the first time since at least the late 1970's that a motorcycle helmet law amendment bill was passed out of a House Committee.  The fact was not lost of the Chair, who in the excitement after the vote, almost adjourned the hearing with one more bill on the agenda.  After that bill was also given a "do pass" vote, Chairman Kirby adjourned the hearing, after he commented on his error as shown in the clip below.

Catch you on the road sometime...

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

FHWA Bureaucrats Stacking The Deck On Motorcycle Advisory Council

In what appears to be a case of government bureaucrats "stacking the deck" on the Motorcycle Advisory Council (MAC), the Federal Highway Administration has filled nine of the ten positions on the council with experts in road design, construction, engineering, and safety.  Leaving motorcyclists with effectively no voice on a council supposedly dedicated to being a voice for motorcyclists to advise the FHWA on our issues.  Is this simply another example of the bureaucratic attempt to guide the governments agencies according to what the current bureaucrats own agendas and not what the council was intended by the legislative branch to do?

This does not seem to represent a misunderstanding of what the MAC was intended to be about, but a deliberate turn away from what Congress had intended in the highway bill that created the MAC.  When last year's highway bill became law, re-establishing the MAC, it was with the intention that it was to coordinate with and counsel the Administrator of the FHWA on infrastructure issues that affect motorcyclists.  Yet, with the FHWA only having one seat on the council for motorcyclists, our issues will no doubt have little voice to affect real change on motorcycle issues.  As is no doubt the intent behind such a decision.

Even after receiving bi-partisan letters (and even phone calls) from key members of the Senate and House of Representatives, the FHWA's response was "limited".  The U.S. House of Representatives even issued it's own letter to new Secretary of Transportation Chao; requesting she delay any activity on the council until the MAC has a more balanced and fair composition.  In part the letter stated; "It is critical to allow motorcyclists to have a strong voice on this Council.  These are the individuals who have experience and can provide a motorcyclist's insights on the challenges and benefits of our roadways.  Depending on where they live, riders have unique experiences and are differently impacted by roadway and barrier design, and construction, among others."  (emphasis added by this author)

This is not an isolated issue.  Even here in Washington State's own government there is bureaucratic takeover of Boards and Councils.  One of which is the Washington State Motorcycle Safety Education Advisory Board.  This Board is under the auspices of the Dept. of Licensing, and former members have begun to come forward and openly discuss the fact the board is becoming more focused on insuring that "all the i's are dotted and the t's crossed" in the DOL's existing and proposed procedures and policies than actually working to counsel the DOL on motorcycle education and safety issues.  This is in a council with three of five seats being designated for "active motorcycle riders or people actively involved in a non-profit motorcycle organization that actively supports motorcycle safety."  (again, the emphasis is mine) If the Washington State Motorcycle Safety Education Advisory Board, with it's three board members can be co-opted into a bureaucratic rubber stamp for it's umbrella agency; what hope does a single motorcyclist's seat on the FHWA's Motorcycle Advisory Council have of providing a strong voice for motorcyclists concerns in counseling the FHWA?

It is a common theme among many grassroots political activists and organizations that we need term limits on politicians in this country.  Perhaps it is at least as important to focus on term limits for the career bureaucrats in government.  Politicians and figure head agency administrators come and go.  But the career bureaucrats continue for a lifetime working towards their goals and ideals., writing agency guidelines and regulations.  Then using those same regulations to populate any Board or Council as it is created as they see fit.  Irregardless of the intent or desire of those elected officials who created the Board or Council by legislative action.  This situation with the Motorcycle Advisory Council of the Federal Highway Administration is just one more example of that bureaucratic mentality in action.

Catch you on the road sometime...

(unless the bureaucrats find a way to eliminate private vehicles from the roadways...and they are working on that)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Two Motorcycle Bills Voted Out Of Committee, But Only One Moves On.

During executive session of the Senate Transportation Committee yesterday, two of the bills that were given "do pass" votes, and forwarded to the Senate Rules Committee were SB5156, and SB5378.  The helmet law amendment and the lane sharing pilot program bills.  Those other eight bills were actually held until the very end of the session, while eight other bills were given pro forma votes.  However when it came to the two motorcycle bills, things slowed down considerably.

Especially on SB5378, the lane sharing bill.  Sen. Hobbs (a Democrat from the 44th Legislative District), was openly opposing the bill due to the fact that Sen, Sheldon (a Democrat from the 35th Legislative District) had offered an amendment that removed the restriction in the bill that would have forced motorcyclists only to be able to pass on the left side of a vehicle in the farthest left lane between traffic and the cable or jersey barriers. Even though during the committee hearing a week earlier motorcyclists had explained that the restriction endangered the lives of motorcyclists.  

Sen. Liias (a Democrat from the 21st Legislative District) also stated his opposition to the bill.  However his reasoning; while different from Sen. Hobbs was no more clear as to his logic.  Sen. Liias stated that while he appreciated the respect and responsibility of the riders who testified in the hearing last week, he was opposing the bill because of those irresponsible riders who would not abide by the law if it was passed.  In other words, he was opposing the bill because some people might violate it in an irresponsible manner.  Does it really make sense to oppose a law, because people will violate it?

When the votes were held by voice on both bills, they passed, but that was contingent on receiving enough signatures from the committee members with a "do pass" endorsement.  The helmet bill received four signatures in favor, four in opposition, and one without a recommendation either way.  That left three Senators who didn't even sign on to the sheet either way.  However, the lane sharing bill, with its amendment to allow lane sharing between lanes and not on the left side, did pass out of committee.

While the motorcyclists of Washington State can look at 5156 not passing out of committee as a defeat, there is still reason for hope.  Rep. Kirby (a Democrat from the 26th Legislative District) prime sponsored a very similar helmet bill, that was referred to the committee that he is chair of.  That bill, HB1804 has been scheduled for a hearing on Valentines Day morning at 8:00 AM.  So the opportunity to be free to choose when and whether to wear a helmet is still a possibility.  Keep following this issue, and I will continue to update the story as it unfolds.

Catch you on the road sometime...

Thursday, February 2, 2017

WSP's Opposition To Motorcycle Bills Is For "Indeterminate" Costs

During the Senate Transportation hearing on Monday January 30th, the Washington State Patrol and the Washington Traffic Safety Board offered little in way of opposition in its testimony before the Committee.  You can watch the hearing here, and the motorcycle related bills portion of the clip begins at the 25:00 mark.  

After about thirty-eight minutes of testimony by the supporters of the two motorcycle related bills, and questions from the committee, the WSP and WSTB gave only about six minutes of testimony combined.

The actual testimony against helmets was primarily how Capt. Alexander had been to more fatal accidents than she would "care to talk about", and that she didn't want to ever "have to deliver another death notification."  Both are genuine human reactions, but they speak more to the trauma a WSP trooper sees in a twenty plus year career than to the actual bill before the committee.  In her testimony on SB5378, that drivers "often don't have a good view of what is on either side of them."

Not exactly the most strident opposing testimony I have ever heard.  The WSP did state there was a fiscal expense related to both bills, but it was "indeterminate" because they had no idea of how many additional hours troopers may have to work investigating an unknown number of possible accidents. So they do not even know whether there will be an increase in accidents, they simply assume so with out looking at the evidence.  There is evidence to look at, in the other states that have amended their helmet laws.

The WTSB provided the committee with a graph showing the fatality stats of the past few years, claiming they showed "it has been pretty flat" with little change.  However when examined, the rate has been fluctuating over a 17% range.  At least according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  Not quite the "flat" level rate that they claim.  Even some of the committee members showed doubts as to the WTSB's numbers.

One of the facts the WTSB brought to the committee was that 93% of the motorcycle fatalities over the last five years were helmeted.  

Perhaps a more significant statistic might well be that 24% of the fatalities "were unendorsed."  What result would it have if law enforcement actually began enforcing the current laws on motorcycle riders operating a motorcycle without an endorsement?  The same question applies to riders under the influence, and "distracted" riders, what would be the result for the motorcycling community then?  When we stop accounting for 17% of the fatalities in the state, while only making up 4% of the registered vehicles?  

I seriously doubt it.  At least not as long as the state continues to look at motorcycles and other motor vehicles in the same way.  We are different in many ways.  A motorcycle doesn't have; a metal cage around the rider, or air bags, or crumple zones, or anything else the average motor vehicle has.  A motorcycle's "safety equipment" is in its maneuverability, acceleration, and braking ability.  And, ultimately in the riders skill and apparel when they crash.  When the state removes a bikes ability to move in traffic, it removes one of a motorcyclists biggest pieces of protection against  crashes,  This prevents us from being able to move effectively and utilize the motorcycles abilities.  For example, ask any senior motorcycle safety trainer whether a motorcyclist would have enough time to avoid a rear end collision when sitting behind another stopped vehicle, or if they would have a better opportunity to avoid the collision if they were already moving forward in a safe and prudent manner through traffic?

Think about it,

and I'll catch you on the road sometime...


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Bikers Give Senate Committee The Low-Down On BIlls

On Monday; January 30th, 2017, bikers from across the State of Washington filled Senate Hearing Room Number 1 to give the Senate Transportation Committee the information on two bills that affect the motorcycling community of the state.  So many bikers filled the room, and wanted to speak on both the lane sharing, and helmet bills that the Committee combined the testimony period of both bills to make things more efficient.  Even with this there were thirteen speakers on the helmet bill, and five on lane sharing.  

The hearing included good information, and a little levity from both sides as the proceedings began to drag out.  There were good exchanges between the bikers testifying and the committee, which seemed to be open to both of the bills being discussed.  Several of the bikers giving testimony were women who spoke of the pain and discomfort being forced to wear a helmet caused them.  Others spoke of accidents and injuries suffered with no impact on the helmets.  One, Keith Parkison from Wenatchee described a neck injury his wife Angela  suffered in a crash that the emergency room physician informed them was probably caused due to the weight of the helmet causing stress on her neck.  As the committee listened, bikers explained the risks of wearing helmets under adverse conditions, and the risks being forced to wear the devices could bring to riders.  That is why the group was supporting SB5156 that would allow riders the option of not wearing a helmet providing they carry proof of meeting the states financial responsibility law by having at least the minimum liability insurance required for automobiles in Washington State.

While supportive of the concept of lane sharing, the group was not in agreement with the language of the lane sharing bill SB5378.  The main concern was a clause in the bill that would have required riders to pass only on the left side of vehicles in the farthest left lane of traffic.  Thus placing them between the fastest lane of traffic, the rumble strip, roadside debris, and the jersey barrier or cable barrier.  I personally informed the prime sponsor of the bill Senator Tim Sheldon (D 35th Dist.) that I felt that part of the bill was dangerous, and likely to cause injury or death to a motorcyclist.  I also requested he substitute the language of House Bill 1157 which was a much more clean and concise bill on the same practice.  Senator Sheldon then asked if the lane description was the only issue I had, and not the speed requirement.  When informed that I agreed with the speed requirement of the bill, as it complied with the basic California Highway Patrol guidelines of 2013 for lane sharing/splitting Senator Sheldon seemed satisfied with the reply (I learned today that he had offered a striker amendment, changing the language of the bill).

Both of these issues seemed to be accepted quite positively by the committee, with little direct opposition from the committee. Only brief opposition was brought forward by the Thurston County Sheriff, Washington Traffic Safety Board, and the Washington State Patrol.  The latter of which brought no facts forward to refute any of the previous testimony, but merely stated that she hoped she never had to go to another "fatal accident scene, of deliver another death notification".  This seemed to be only a hollow attempt to play on the committees emotions rather than their intellect. 

Now it is simply a matter of waiting to find the results of the committee members decision on both bills on whether to pass them out of the committee by the February 24th deadline or not.  Personally, without some logical reason, I can't really see why both bills should not be brought forward, and eventually debated on the floor of the Senate.  If and when that happens, I will keep everyone posted.

Until then,

Catch you on the road sometime...