Motorcycle ‘user’ fees near impossible to regain

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Compulsory motorcycle helmet use reached a spastic orgy of statist reasoning in the U.S., with allegations of public health hazard leveled at those who chose it best to let those who ride decide, in state after state.

“Money beats soul – ever time.” – Jim Morrison, “Roadhouse Blues”

Austin – When it comes to the hassles between bikers and the statists who like to tell them how to live their lives, the story is all about the money.

In the upcoming Legislature, the biennial will be one in which the Texas Senate proposes appropriations, rather than the House of Representatives. That’s how they do it in Austin, alternating between one and the other chamber each two years.

Word is that Democratic Senators haven’t yet decided just how their legislative strategy will work in attempting to claim most of a $15 million balance of the Motorcycle Safety Fund remaining after the most recent Legislature’s appropriation of roughly a quarter of an unused $17 million that had accumulated from motorcycle registration fees.

One could easily argue that those funds are for asking permission to use one’s vehicle on the highways and roads of the state, in return for a registration number by which to apportion motor fuel use taxes collected at the pump back to the states in which the vehicle shares the road with passenger cages and commercial motor freight trucks.

They compromised on releasing only $4.1 million to the Department of Public Safety for its efforts to educate riders in the facts of life regarding auto-bike collisions on Texas Highways. That left the unappropriated remainder in the unused columns as counterbalance to those earmarked to be spent.

The bargain is straightforward enough; those who take a sanctioned rider safety course are exempted from having to wear a brain bucket.

They are allowed to ride their scooters in peace, as either crash test dummies, or organ donors – their option – once they have taken the rider safety course and elected whether to donate their organs by checking it off on their motorcycle endorsement on their driver licenses.

Such a deal.

Essentially, the Legislature created the “user fee” for motorcyclists when the huge majority of states enacted compulsory helmet laws in return for massive U.S. DOT grants for highway construction.

Following a landmark court decision in which it was held that a person may not be compelled to comply with a law when it is a matter of personal safety, the largest majority of states, including Texas, backed off their former statist demands for brain bucket compliance.

The Texas bureaucracy started charging a special fee on motorcycle registrations, and then the Legislature failed to use the money by refusing to appropriate the  dedicated fund for its stated purpose.

They let it add up, year after year, and used it as a balancing fund to keep the state’s spending money, and the budget, in balance.

But the Texas DOT cast collective eyes on the loot. They have established a “Share the Road” program aimed at auto v. motorcycle questions of dominance of the highways and streets. It rivals the DPS Rider Safety Program, funded mostly by the students who take the course in pursuit of a motorcycle endorsement.

According to information shared by the office of Senator Kirk Watson, D-Austin, the DPS siphoned off funding for other purposes.

Scholarly papers and lengthy studies concluded that because of the relative size ratio of auto and truck to motorcycle and rider, most drivers find it difficult to see scooters on the road.

Add to that the braking efficiency of two-wheelers and you get the reason why heavier vehicles often strike bikers from the rear, knock them off their ride, then run over them.

No mention here of how they might not have been looking, something one is obliged to do in the operation of a motor vehicle on a public roadway.

Since the average motorcycle enthusiast is either a skilled craftsman or a white collar worker in his mid-forties who makes above average pay, the argument goes, let them be the ones who decide what is best for their personal safety when riding Texas roads on two wheels.

Of resulting head injuries, a huge percentage are permanently disabling. The argument goes that though it may not be society’s role to decide what you want to do about your beano when you ride, it’s society who picks you up off the road, transports the injured to the hospital, treats the permanent wounds, and pays off unemployment and disability benefits when a victim can no longer support himself.

The conflict between statist reasoning and libertarian self-sufficiency could not be more starkly delineated.

Going in to the most recent Legislature, motorcycle fatalities numbered nearly 500 in 2013, up by five percent from 2012 – and accounting for 15 percent of the state’s motor vehicle deaths.

Critics point out that the previousyear was exceptionally cool and wet in its first two quarters, resulting in a 5 percent decrease in fatalities due to a decided drop in motorcycle excursions. The resulting increase was just a gain back from the previous decrease when the weather turned dry and warm in the following year of 2013.

The bottom line: Activists are rumbling that one of the main items on the agenda for the Confederation of Clubs and Independents meeting at Twin Peaks Restaurant, Waco, on May 17, 2015, was how to approach the Legislature to get the entire $17 million released for it designated use – motorcycle safety, and not building roads and funding Highway Department PR campaigns.

When DPS CID officers and local police moved in on a biker rumble complete with flying fists and brandished firearms, the meeting never happened – and most biker activists, the core group of them, who usually meet in Austin, were arrested and placed under a “gag order” that severely restricted their association with other bikers or attendance at biker functions, if they wanted to keep from violating their conditions of bond.

The huge majority of those people did not engage in any violent activity, choosing mostly to low crawl to safety in restrooms and a walk-in cooler.

To McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna, it didn’t matter. He directed police to place all present and identifying themselves as members of any kind of motorcycle club, support, or riding club, under arrest for the conspiracy offense of engaging in organized criminal activity leading to capital murder and/or aggravated assault.

That cancelled not only discussion at the C of C meeting on May 17 in Waco, but at the state house for the remainder of the closing Legislative session.

And there is no end in sight. Not one pending case has been scheduled for trial.

That’s not the only thing breaking the biker community’s rice bowl.

Motorcycle tourism in states under the yoke of the statist requirements of brain bucket use lags far behind those where the nation’s major biker rallies are held. One’s mind turns immediately to Bike Week and Sturgis, legendary names like Laconia.

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