Paolo Volpara’s conversation on bikers rights with A. Goldfine and B. Higdon

[Editor]: On the blog “May: Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month,” published on the 21st of May of this year, I was supporting Mr. Subjective’s (Andy Goldfine) point, saying that “If we want to promote an educated use of two wheels (with or without motor), we must fight for the protection of the users before and after accidents.”

Mr. Subjective’s position was that if we want to promote Motorcycle Safety Awareness, we should start from increasing penalties for traffic crimes committed against most vulnerable road users.“Almost every legislator, judge, jury member — and attorneys on both sides — all, most likely, drive a car to their jobs. Thus, it’s almost impossible to get a fair trial with any kind of significant punishment for the guilty, or fair compensation for the injured. I’ve always been in favor of laws with increased penalties to force a bias against some kinds of misbehavior.”

Mr. Subjective continues: “If the Motorcycle Industry Council and the American Motorcyclist Association wanted to do something meaningful for increasing awareness of motorcycling and motorcyclists, they could work together to try and get strong `vulnerable road user’ laws passed in every state. Co-ordinating such an effort would be a tremendous challenge and cost real money. And any even mildly biased `vulnerable-road-user’ protecting laws would probably be fiercely resisted by well-organized and well-financed opponents. These types of laws work. They are constitutional. And they would make riding safer. The result would be more people choosing to ride.“

[Editor]: Our common friend, rider, and writer Bob Higdon left a comment:

“This is one of those rare instances where Andy Goldfine and I part ways in matters of motorcycle policy. I am unalterably opposed to the enactment of legislation that seeks to offer motorcyclists (or anyone else) a special kind of victimhood in criminal law for reasons that I set forth in detail in a column that I wrote for the BMWRA magazine On the Level in 2002.”

You can read the whole article here.

Bob starts from a case where American motorcyclists nationally objected when a judge in Michigan gave 90 days in jail to the operator of a car, driving on a suspended license, who’d mowed down and killed a motorcyclist. In passing sentence the judge observed, more or less, that the driver probably wasn’t at fault because no one can see motorcyclists anyway.

From here, with Higdon’s castigat ridendo mores style, he continues: “Suppose then, instead of concentrating on the perpetrator’s state of mind, we focus on the status of the victim, to wit: the motorcyclist. We will endeavour to give the rider a special station merely because of who he is. All we lack is a snappy slogan. How about: “Kill a Biker, Go to Jail.” It’s short, sweet, and menacing. It accomplishes the goal of turning what could have been an innocent accident or at worst simple negligence into a criminal act. It doesn’t focus on the offender.

We don’t care anything about the mind of the offender at all, as we surely do with hate crimes. Here we look only at the body on the road. Is it a biker? Yes? Go to jail.”

[Editor]: I shared Bob’s note and essay with Andy and I received his reply almost immediately:

“Some of my co-workers here at Aerostich feel the same way Bob does about this idea. I see laws favouring and protecting ‘vulnerables’ in all areas as legitimate. That would include all minorities.

“My logic on this comes from the history of America I’ve experienced during my lifetime. The famous `Civil Rights Act’ that involved racial discrimination and a bunch of other laws enacted here over the last fifty or sixty years provided ‘affirmative actions’ on behalf of both minorities and ‘vulnerables.’ The difference with motorcycling, bicycling, and walking is that people choose to do these activities. They are not `born’ riders or walkers in the same way that minorities and women are born minorities and women.

“This difference is a critical one, as it applies to our body of laws, and it’s a very good argument. But despite that, it is not necessarily the strongest reason to avoid laws that provide affirmative action for people who choose to be in a vulnerable group. I see laws that protect other elective vulnerable minorities so I wonder why not also protect walkers and bicycle and motorcycle riders?”

In a follow up note Mr. Subjective concluded:

“Bob and I do come down on opposite sides of this question. Riding generally attracts highly individualistic types of people, including political ‘libertarians.’ I personally seek to balance that strong impulse with an activist’s desire to see more people riding, walking and pedalling, while simultaneously being aware that building bias into law can be (and often is) greatly abused by virtually all government policy makers. I want governments which, with real humility and within well-considered limits, will actively encourage social and societal goods, and will also discourage the opposite. Though riding, pedalling and walking on public roadways is generally more dangerous and uncomfortable than driving a car or truck, these choices (riding/pedalling/walking) seem in many situations and on a number of levels to be comparatively better for both individuals and society. Thus they should benefit from a governance bias.

Legalized biases have been an integral part of good governance since civilization began, starting with tax and other laws which (for example) regulate or favor marrying and producing children, to criminal laws which more strongly punish some kinds of intentional crimes than unintentional ones.

Lastly, the most serious negative I see with biasing laws involving our personal mobility choices is that such laws may potentially be economically harmful because they’d influence more people toward less consumptive and probably healthier behaviors: Less cars sold, less fuel and other materials consumed, less road maintance required, less overall healthcare probably needed (more trauma care but less long-term chronic care, so maybe this evens out?), etc.”

[Editor]: I dare to enter into the conversation because I believe it is an important point of understanding not only for the biking community but, in general, for a correct application of rights and duties in a community.

“Dear Andy,” I wrote, “I support your point on the blog suggesting that the best MC safety awareness action would be to fight for the protection of bikers (with and without motor) before and after accidents. The application of severe laws for injuries or death and education on equality of rights for all legal personnel involved is of paramount importance. 

“Bob raises in his article an element that made me think: Should we claim `special — vulnerable — status’ for bikers? Here, without articulating my thought as competently and legally-compelling way as Bob, I have a simple consideration.

“When I decide to take a two wheels vehicle in the Traffic I accept a risky (riskier) position in the road/food chain. Simply I can choose for the protection of a metal cage (with safety belts and air bags), the stability of four planted wheels with balanced brakes and differentials, the vision of a protective screen with roof, and the control on movements that comes from the size of the vehicle (not so easy to filter and swerve on a car). Because I selected an unprotected and unstable vehicle, should I be granted a special status? I believe not.

“Moreover I have been trained to think that every accident (or most of them) are my responsibility; I refuse the concept of accident (except for `act of God’ events), preferring the concept of pilot mistake in collecting data, evaluating, planning, executing, and reacting to hazards. And when I look at the zigzagging of motos and cycles in the city traffic, I cannot see we bikers as `vulnerable road users.’

“I recognize, instead, that I am a `violent user,’ taking advantage of my size, my agility, and my horsepower, especially in slow-moving traffic. A drunk driver commits a crime the moment she or he turns the engine key, and in such instances I support severe (more severe) punishment in case of an accident. Racism places some groups of humans in a secondary, less important, category, and until racism is erased from our culture, we must protect these more vulnerable groups. Motobikers? We have the traffic and penal laws protecting us as common citizens and we have our brains to defend us from other road users.

“In conclusion, I agree with you that work must be done by the motorcycling community to make the judiciary aware of the vulnerability of our vehicle. I agree with Bob that to do this, we do not have to push for special legal status.”

Now the microphone passes to you, readers of ThinkingOMM blog. Should we have more or privileged rights as moto-bikers? Should the people offending, injuring, or killing a biker suffer more severe punishment because of the nature of the victim? Or should we accept that bikers are invisible and as such not worth special attention? Or else?

By Paolo Volpara

"Si sta come d'autunno sugli alberi le foglie"

One thought on ““Kill a Biker, Go to Jail””
  1. A big difference in Bikers and Cyclists I see is the the Acceptance of Risk.
    Bikers have learnt to accept that their is Risk , the 6th S of 6S & 2C is ” Shit Happens” so Consider / Compromise and return Thinking to 1st S – Safety. This was not always the case . When I first started riding in the 80s it was always someone else’s fault. In the instances I have had over the year I don’t think there has ever been one where I was 100% innocent. It may have just been a bit of the % could be if I had C&C and looked at IPSGA and changed something [rapidly].Blame may lay with someone else but WHAT COULD I HAVE DONE to avoid tarmac kissing. It often appears harsh but when something has gone wrong in riding / Life you have to self evaluate or if teaching , help the student understand wot has happened.
    Cyclists in general still BLEAT that it is everyone else’s FAULT and that they are BLAMELESS.Only in professional and the Advanced equivalent of cycling do you see Acceptance of Risk.
    NB- Safety / System / appropriate use of Speed / Smoothness in the ride / Sparke [fun] / Shit happens
    Consider and Compromise. your actions where it makes it you Safer

    sorry bit rushed but off to work and looks a bit messy in London tonight .

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