Last week, U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) introduced S. 2078, the Stop Motorcycle Checkpoint Funding Act.
S. 2078 would prohibit federal funds from being used to fund motorcycle-only checkpoints. Motorcycle-only checkpoints are a form of traffic enforcement used by state or local law enforcement officials designed to stop all passing motorcyclists – and only motorcyclists – while they check for compliance with state laws covering license endorsement, helmet use and exhaust systems, among other things.
Let me be clear, the American Motorcyclist Association fully supports reducing motorcycle crashes, injuries and fatalities because safety -- for all road users -- is our top priority.
However, we do not believe that motorcycle-only checkpoints are an efficient use of limited safety funds. For fiscal 2014, the NHTSA was appropriated only $235 million to implement Title 26 § 402 safety programs that cover 3.9 million miles of road.
That money could be spent more effectively on campaigns to educate other motorists about interacting with motorcyclists on our roadways.
In 2007 when the practice of motorcycle-only checkpoints began, the state of New York conducted a motorcycle-only checkpoint in which 104 traffic citations were issued. However, this checkpoint included officers from four police departments, a police helicopter, a dedicated “chase” car, additional highway signage and investigators from the state Special Investigations Unit.
Surely these resources could have been more effectively employed in a different manner to make our nation’s roads quantifiably safer.
Some of the recent increase in motorcycle fatalities can be attributed to increasing numbers of distracted drivers. A common phrase uttered after a driver hits a motorcyclist is, “I just didn’t see the motorcycle.” And no one can deny that, as cell phones and vehicle entertainment systems have proliferated, car, SUV and truck drivers are increasingly distracted, toggling between radio stations, checking the GPS and texting with friends.
The AMA would like for section 402 funds to be spent to enforce distracted-driving laws and to educate all operators about the dangers of distracted driving.
The AMA does not oppose checkpoints for all motorists. However, a checkpoint should be conducted in a manner that does not discriminate against a class of legal, non-commercial transportation. Furthermore, all checkpoints should show demonstrable results.
A universal checkpoint could undoubtedly check for unlicensed operators and drivers not wearing a seatbelt in cars.
If the goal is to truly make the roads safer, let’s focus on everyone and not just motorcyclists.
We urge the NHTSA to create safety programs that have positive, quantifiable impacts on making the roads safer for all operators.
Allard represented Colorado in the U.S. Senate from 1997 to 2009, and Colorado's 4th Congressional District in the House from 1991 to 1997. He currently works for the Livingston Group, a Washington, D.C. lobbying firm and serves as vice president for government relations for the American Motorcyclist Association.