Legislation Concerning Motorcycle Training in Virginia

It is that time of the year.  The Virginia General Assembly will convene next week.  This year is a short session.  It is 45 days long.  We have our first piece of legislation which impacts motorcycling in Virginia, and the training program in particular.  It is HB 1476 introduced by Delegate Ed Scott of Culpepper Virginia. DelEScott@house.virginia.gov

Delegate Scott is usually very friendly to motorcyclists but we do have a disagreement about this particular piece of legislation.  It has been introduced at the request of Harley Davidson and amends Virginia Code to relax the rules on the type of motorcycles which may be used in the Virginia Rider Training Program.  I can better explain this bill with a short history.

Nine years ago the Virginia Coalition of Motorcyclist actively worked a bill to allow for the training program to be taught at private sites.  The idea was to have more sites and therefore make training available to more people.  It is our belief that training and education is the bedrock foundation of motorcycle safety.  Part of this legislation defined the types of motorcycles which may be used in the program.  The current code requires that the motorcycles must meet the following three criteria: (i) an engine displacement of no more than 500 cubic centimeters, (ii) a weight of less than 400 pounds, and (iii) is equipped with a seat whose height will accommodate each novice rider course participant.

This year it was noticed that there was a grammatical error in the statute that provided that the site must have only one such bike.  We currently have a bill to fix that issue requiring one compliant bike per student.  We were then contacted by Harley Davidson.   They want to amend the code to require that the seat height must be 30 inches or less, and further require that the motorcycles need only meet two out of the three criteria.  Their explanation was that this was the MRF requirement followed by almost every other state.  The other explanation was that they have a training bike coming out in 2014 that does not meet Virginia’s current criteria.  When asked what it was about the new bike that does not meet Virginia’s current criteria they refused to tell us citing proprietary information.  We certainly found it difficult to work with Harley on this matter by agreeing to a change in Virginia code to accommodate a motorcycle about which we know nothing.

In an attempt to work with Harley we contacted numerous states which do in fact have the standard suggested by Harley.  We learned from various states that the standard was put into place nearly ten years ago with input from Harley Davidson in order to accommodate the Buell Blast as a training bike.  However, the majority of those states that use those criteria also have the administrative power to reject a motorcycle as being inappropriate for their rider training program even if it meets the MRF criteria.  Our program has no such power.

It is VCOM’s position that HB1476 should not be passed, but instead should be referred to the committee on unconventional motor vehicles.  (I know that motorcycles are not an unconventional motor vehicle but we did not invent nor name the committee).  This is a committee made of training program staff, VCOM, dealers, DMV and State Police.  Together we should be able to craft sensible criteria that protects the integrity of the training program and gives it more power to determine the types of motorcycles which are appropriate to safely train students.  As I stated before, it is VCOM’s position that crash avoidance is the key to motorcycle safety.  That begins and ends with sound, appropriate and safe training.

As this piece of legislation moves ahead and is assigned to a committee I will send updates to keep you abreast of its progress.

Additionally, remember that Lobby Day is Monday January 21. Full details can be found here.