Every January when the Virginia General Assembly meets, motorcyclists around the state begin talking about the laws being considered that affect motorcyclists in Virginia. For many, that means the dreaded helmet statute. On this issue, motorcyclists are deeply divided. Many firmly believe that they should have the right to choose for themselves whether or not to wear a helmet. Others firmly believe that it is an important law that needs to remain in effect. Many helmet law opponents view those who wish the law to stay in place as nannies that are violating their right to choose, while helmet law supporters look at the other side as reckless and irresponsible. However both sides share a common misconception that is shared by many members of the General Assembly and the public at large; and that is that the term motorcyclist’s rights is a euphemism for helmet reform. For that reason many motorcyclists do not become involved in legislative efforts to better motorcycling. For helmet reform supporters, they fail to get involved due to being discouraged over years of perceived failure. For helmet law supporters, their failure to become involved is due to their desire to see the law remain in place. Both sides are wrong. The fight for the rights of motorcyclists is about much more than helmets, and in Virginia, it is an ongoing fight that is that has seen some disappointments, but has also seen many victories that have benefited all motorcyclists in the commonwealth.
Over the years, the Virginia Coalition of Motorcyclists, with the help of other motorcyclist’s rights organizations such as ABATE of Virginia, Virginia Freedom Riders and the Virginia Bikers Association, as well as with the help of numerous motorcycle clubs, organizations, and individual motorcyclists, have facilitated significant changes to laws affecting motorcycling in Virginia. None of these changes have had a thing to do with helmets. Among these accomplishments are the following
Opening up the HOV lanes to motorcycles.
Mandating the marking of steel plates which are used in roadway construction and constitute a danger to motorcyclists who are unaware of them until they find themselves on a wet piece of steel
Changing the statute governing motorcycle learners permits to make it comparable to that of automobile drivers.
Gaining funding for the Virginia Rider Training Program
The establishment of a motorcycle seat (currently held by Tom McGrath) on the Commonwealth Transportation Safety Board
Assisted in the establishment of the Governors Motorcycle Advisory Counsel
Eliminating the handlebar height restriction
Promulgating Section 33.1-13.1 of the Code of Virginia which prohibits the imposition of any requirement of which restricts the access of motorcycles and motorcyclists to any highway, bridge, tunnel, or other transportation facility
Adding motorcycle awareness to the high school drivers education curriculum
Successfully eliminating numerous proposed pieces of legislation which would have been detrimental to Virginia motorcyclists
These are but a few of the accomplishments in the Virginia motorcyclist’s rights front. Every motorcyclist in Virginia has benefited from these accomplishments regardless of their stance on helmets. However, none of these would have been possible without the help of individual riders who were willing to roll up their sleeves for the betterment of Virginia motorcycling.
Unfortunately, there is much more work to be done (in fact, it never ends). Among the current issues of importance to Virginia motorcyclists are
Increasing the penalties for people who kill or severely injure others as the result of a right of way violation
Improving the laws governing tolls to eliminate inherent prejudices against motorcyclists
Preventing legislation which would put burdens on motorcyclists but not the operators of automobiles (such as increased insurance requirements)
I would invite every motorcyclist, regardless of their individual view on helmet statutes, to become involved in protecting our chosen sport, activity, passion, or any other word you may use to describe your own two wheeled addiction. Now is the perfect time. This year all 100 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates, as well as all 40 seats in the Virginia Senate, are up for grabs. Support those candidates who have been supporters of Virginia motorcyclists and oppose those who have not. Spend a day pounding yard signs for candidates who share your views on the subject or become involved in a SMRO (State Motorcycle Right Organization). There are numerous ways to become involved, as there are numerous excuses not to. However, one excuse that does not fly is that motorcyclist’s rights means helmet reform. In Virginia it has never been just about helmets and it never will be. It is about protecting our rights, and improving motorcycling for our enjoyment, and for the enjoyment of those down the road.
As usual, if you have any questions or comments about anything that I have written, I would invite you to contact me at the Law Offices of Tom McGrath 1-800-321-8968.
The preceding is for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. Before attempting to settle any claim you should contact an attorney. The rules governing insurance coverage may be different in your state .
Tom McGrath is a personal injury lawyer with credentials that are rare in his profession. When Tom's not lawyering, he's lobbying to protect your rights, or crisscrossing the Commonwealth teaching motorists and motorcyclists about their rights, helping them to understand the insurance laws and how to protect themselves and their loved ones. Got a question? Send Tom an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit http://www.motorcyclevirginia.com/.