A Brief History Of Bikers Rights In America   By Bill Bish

Easyriders magazine editor Lou Kimzey issued a plea in issue #3, October 1971, for bikers to come together to fight impending restrictions from  NHTSA by joining a new national bikers’ rights organization called the National Custom Cycle Association, but because of a conflict with the acronym the name was changed in February 1972 to A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments (ABATE).    Easyriders began granting state charters around 1974.   Almost every state during this time passed handlebar height restrictions, mandatory eye protection, motorcycle licensing requirements, lights on laws and other equipment regulations, and many other restrictions on our “Freedom Machines” were being considered by legislators and bureaucrats to make motorcycling “safer”.    In July of 1975, Rob Rasor of the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA), Ron Roloff of the MMA of California and Ed Armstrong of ABATE of Chicago presented the House Sub-Committee on Surface Transportation with convincing testimony to repeal the helmet mandates.   Later that year, with California being sued by the DOT because Governor Ronald Reagan refused to comply with the federal helmet law mandate, Roloff helped convince California Senator Alan Cranston to offer the language of the bill as an amendment to the 1975 Federal Highway Act, which passed with overwhelming support from the California delegation because of the impending lawsuit, and was signed by president Gerald Ford on May 5, 1976. Not bad for a rag tag bunch of bikers with little or no previous political ambitions.      Spurred on by many successful protest  rallies around the country following the national helmet law repeal, and the eventual repeal of more than 30 state helmet laws, ABATE, MMA and other motorcycle rights organizations sprang up in every state and are now a fixture in Capitols across America.  During this same time, many state rights groups have become proactive within their states instead of RE-acting to legislative threats. Minnesota passed our nation’s first law  to make it illegal to discriminate against someone because they ride a motorcycle; Arizona, Iowa, Oregon and Washington have successfully repealed or modified their state’s handlebar height law; Virginia and Illinois have lobbied their states to reinforce the federally guaranteed access to roads by passing laws to protect our rights to ride on any roads within their state boundaries; and several states have fought and defeated so-called “No Fault” insurance proposals that are unfair to motorcyclist.  So, there you have it. The roots of ABATE and bikers’ rights run deep in the hearts of those  of us who have accepted and, in turn, passed on the torch of Freedom of the Road. To all of those who came before, we salute you!    But, I’d like to leave you with a quote from Margaret Mead;  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that has.”

The National Coalition of Motorcyclists started a little over 35 years ago by Richard M. Lester.  It’s very interesting because Richard Lester did not get his law degree until he was in his 40’s.  Prior to his becoming an attorney he was a wild animal trainer and trapper for zoos.  He attended law school by night and worked in a head shop and waterbed store during the day.  After he got his law degree he had a biker for a client and discovered that bikers were not very well legally represented.  He decided to do something about it and started A.I.M. (Aid to Injured Motorcyclists) and N.C.O.M. (National Coalition of Motorcyclists).  Soon C.O.C.’s were springing up across the country.  Patch holders now have a motorcycle rights organization that works for them in their area.  Each C.O.C. is unique to its own area.   Read about it here in the Easyrider Magazine Interview from August 1986…

A.B.A.T.E.  of Oregon Victories

Oregon ABATE has had its own awesome history.  Members from several different motorcycle clubs in Oregon such as Brother Speed Motorcycle Club, Outsiders Motorcycle Club, Gypsy Jokers Motorcycle Club, and the Free Souls Motorcycle Club as well as a good number of independents were charter members of A.B.A.T.E. of Oregon.  A.B.A.T.E of Oregon became a tax exempt 501(c) 4 organization on November 14, 1975.   There have been many battles and ups and downs over the last 40 years.  The list below does not list all the crazy things the Oregon legislature has tried or thought of enacting over the years – so many of those things were squashed in the early stages of development.  Again, not bad for a rag-tag bunch of bikers who have done pretty well for themselves over the years.  The freedom fighting continues to this very day.

1977  –  Oregon’s mandatory helmet law is repealed. ABATE membership CAMPED OUT ON THE CAPITOL STEPS day and night during this time.  Our legislation passed overwhelmingly and it became law.

1979  –  ABATE of Oregon proposed the first rider safety program was signed into law in 1981 and became Team Oregon.

1988  –  After years of freedom, helmet choice was again taken away through voter referendum during one of the lowest voter turnouts in Oregon history.

1988  – ABATE members form “BikePac” in order to have an official presence in the capitol after the mandatory helmet law goes back into effect.

1995  –  ABATE facilitates the passing of HB 3422 which redefines the Oregon definition of a “motorcycle helmet” and gets the penalty for not wearing one reduced to a Class D misdemeanor.

1997 –  HB 2454 allowing for adult freedom of choice helmet reform passes in both the House and the Senate, but is vetoed by Governor Kitzhaber.

1997 – Landmark federal court ruling that law enforcement cannot further inquire into whether a rider’s helmet meets so-called “federal testing standards” if it meets the Oregon helmet definition.

1999 –  REPEAL of the “handlebar height law” in Oregon.

2001 –  Oregon motorcyclists won the right to pump their own gas. HB 3885 goes into law, which gives motorcyclists the choice of fueling their own bikes.

2000 –   present:  EVERY legislative session, ABATE has introduced helmet freedom of choice legislation. In addition, ABATE has passed or stifled laws pertaining to a wide variety of rider rights issues including: motorcycle sound and emissions, rider law enforcement harassments and profiling, legal firearm transportation clarity, ethanol gasoline usage, all-terrain vehicle laws, safety and training laws, and much more.  NOTE: BIKEPAC TRIED TO GET MANY BILLS THROUGH THE LEGISLATURE AND HAD A DIFFICULT TIME GETTING THEM OUT OF COMMITTEE DUE TO AN UNFRIENDLY LEGISLATURE.  WITH GOV. KITZHABER OUT OF OFFICE WE ARE FINALLY SEEING SOME ACTION.

2015 – The “Dead Red” light bill SB 533 passes!  As of 1/1/16 Riders can go through a red light after 1 cycle if their bike does not trigger the light.

OTHER NOTABLE ACTIVITY FOR OREGON RIDERS DURING THE 2015 SESSION

  • Lane Filtering: BikePac and Oregon Riders worked hard to pass this bill. We got the bill through the Senate with flying colors but got stalled in the House Committee – we made great progress this year and will take another pass at it in 2017.
  • SB 878 allows riders to stand up on their foot pegs.
  • It is now legal to film police doing their jobs – be sure to not get in their way and film from an audible distance.
  • Speed limit increases in Eastern Oregon – I84 east of The Dalles goes up to 70MPH – many other highways will go to 65MPH.

2016 – Riders prevailed in their quest for a legal remedy to punish drivers found to be driving recklessly who consequently run into, hurt, or kill a rider.  HB 2598, the “Driver Responsibility Bill” and is now officially known as the “Milkman Mike Act”.  This bill passed both houses and was signed  by Governor Brown.  This means that if a reckless driver injures a motorcycle rider or their passenger, the driver can be charged with vehicular assault and will be a Class A Misdemeanor.  The punishment can be doing time up to one year in prison and a maximum fine up to a $6,250.  The bill becomes law on January 1, 2018.

2016 – A word on the Lane Splitting bill.  Riders did not prevail this session.  Unfortunately BikePac could not get the bill out of committee and it died there.  Riders did a great job of presenting their case however.  Please go to the home page to see video footage of the hearing.  There are some big hurdles to over to get this bill passed for there are several agencies not in favor of this bill:  Oregon Dept. of Transportation, Governor’s Advisory Board for Motorcycle Safety, Oregon Trucking Association, Portland Police Dept., and AAA.