(Printed from July 2007 issue of American Motorcyclist, the monthly magazine for members of the American Motorcyclists Association)
Lawmakers, police fed up with antics
Motorcyclists who pull 100 mph wheelies on the freeway, or do stoppies on the street in front of their homes, attract a lot of attention.
Unfortunately, it’s not the kind of attention the rest of us need. And in more and more places, we’re seeing the predictable result.
Not only are police cracking down on these riders, but state lawmakers are now getting involved, writing specific laws targeting motorcycle stunters. The lawmakers say they want to make sure that police have the tools they need to go after these riders.
Stunt riders on public streets don’t just pose a danger to others, they are also a danger to themselves. Consider:
• In Ontario, California, a 60-year-old motorcyclist was killed when he popped a wheelie on the street in front of his home and smashed into a parked car.
• In Sugar Grove, Illinois, a 21-year-old motorcyclist did a 100-yard wheelie in front of a police officer. He was chased, crashed, and then was charged with reckless driving, fleeing and eluding, disobeying a stop sign, and operating an uninsured vehicle.
• In Middletown, New York, two motorcyclists collided and were killed on a street called Industrial Place, which is in a warehouse district and is a popular gathering place for motorcycle stunt riders and street racers. Police have stepped up patrols there as a result.
We’ve all seen or read news reports involving incidents like these, including the senseless case from last year in which a young rider with no pants on died while doing high-speed wheelies on a freeway for a video. He died when he hit a stopped vehicle.
Lawmakers in at least three states have seen or read these reports, too, and are pushing laws targeting motorcyclists as a result.
In May, the Tennessee Senate unanimously passed a bill to make it illegal to do a wheelie. Specifically, the bill says that any rider who pulls a wheelie can be charged with reckless driving.
Sen. Dewane Bunch (R-Cleveland) says he introduced the bill because it’s unclear whether prosecutors can charge motorcyclists with reckless driving for popping wheelies under current law.
Tennessee’s House has passed a similar bill, and once the differences between the two measures are resolved, the proposal will go to the governor to be signed into law.
In New York, a lawmaker is taking a slightly different approach to the issue. Assemblyman Joel Miller (R-Poughkeepsie) has introduced a bill to prohibit “exhibition driving.”
Miller claims that under current law, a rider “can perform dangerous stunts such as wheelies, side-straddling or fishtailing without the threat of a ticket. This type of reckless driving is dangerous to the operator and also puts other motorists and pedestrians at risk.”
Police agencies across the state have indicated stunt riding is a growing problem, he says. The proposed law defines “exhibition driving” to include all motorized vehicles, so that motorcycle operators aren’t singled out, he adds.
Violation of the proposed laws in Tennessee and New York would qualify as a misdemeanor. But a measure working its way through the legislative process in Missouri would raise that to a felony for someone convicted of a second offense of “motorcycle stunt driving” without a license plate on the bike.
The Missouri bill, introduced by state Rep. Jeff Roorda (D-Jefferson), would specifically make stunt riding a crime. And the license-plate provision is designed to impose additional penalties on those who attempt to hide their identity while performing stunts.
Under the bill, stunt riding would be defined very broadly, and would include standing on the seat, frame or handlebars on a motorcycle; doing handstands while riding; or pulling a wheelie. But it would also include “removing both hands from the handlebars while operating the motorcycle.”
“The problem of riders pulling dangerous stunts on public roads has only been growing,” says Ed Moreland, AMA vice president of government relations. “Frankly, stunt riders aren’t doing the rest of us any favors, and it’s entirely predictable that we’re now seeing these laws.”
HERE IS MY RESPONSE:
I'm still proud of the fact that I'm an AMA member, despite what was a short-sighted approach at an imposition into riders' rights.
This is a response to the article "Stunt-rider Crackdown" published in the July issue of American Motorcyclist.
The writer seems to gloat in favor of these lawmakers and their respective laws. I'm a rider and member who doesn't believe that these laws, as they are written, are a good thing.
Firstly, I'm an avid sportbike rider who also loves sport-touring. I am not a "stunter". My current vehicle of choice is a 2001 Aprilia RSV Mille. I am enamored with all motorcycles, including Harleys, Indians, Triumphs, BMW's, etcetera.
The question here lies with the law and how it will be perceived. Let's take the issue of wheelies, for instance. Modern sportbikes are true performance derived machinery. In sheer numbers (and I've done some homework here), current model middleweight sportbikes of 600 and 750cc's are making average power-to-weight ratios of 27%. Current V-twin literbikes are making upwards of 29% and in-line-four literbikes are making a whopping 38%. Compare these numbers to the 2007 Chevrolet Corvette or the Porsche 911 Turbo, both of which have power-to-weight ratios of only 14% or almost a third of what the top literbikes getting. You can now see what today's sportbike riders are dealing with. I have an occasional "wheelie" without trying on my Aprilia. I've had to adjust my riding position since taking ownership of the bike to keep the thing from flipping over on acceleration.
Any of todays' modern sportbikes will lift the front wheel with moderate acceleration. I'm afraid that the perception from law enforcement will just be subjective; is it a wheelie or is it a wheelie? As any law-abiding sportbike rider will tell you, law enforcement already has us in their crosshairs and its not always welcome. From reading this article, I've gathered that we, the AMA, are in support of the proposals. Mr. Moreland, our VP for gov't relations sure seems to like them.
As much as I agree that open stunting on our streets and highways is definitely hurting our sport, I cannot totally agree with how these laws are being written and approached. "Under the Missouri bill, introduced by state Rep. Jeff Roorda (D-Jefferson), stunt riding would be defined very broadly..." This language creates major problems. I do applaud the New York lawmaker, Joe Miller (R-Poughkeepsie) for including "exhibition driving" in his proposal which is intended to include all motorized vehicles. Can I depend on the AMA to ensure that state and federal lawmakers don't propose bills that infringe on all sportbike riders? I would like to think this is why the AMA exists.
Let's collectively examine what is happening before we give our full support to these lawmakers.
Otherwise, I guess we can stop accepting AMA applications from sportbike riders...unless, of course, their names are Mladin, Duhamel or Hacking.
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