On Sunday August 31, 2014, the Virginia Coalition of Motorcyclists held its annual Motorcycle Legislative Roundtable. Despite being the Sunday before Labor Day, over thirty interested motorcyclists gathered at the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown Richmond to discuss issues important to Virginia Motorcyclists. We identified issues which we want to pursue in 2015 and formulated strategies to pursue them. Along with many concerned independent motorcyclists, members of ABATE of Virginia, Virginia Bikers Association, and United States Military Vets MC were in attendance. We also had the benefit of having several motorcycle safety instructors take part. All in all, we had quite a bit of knowledge and experience in the room.
The group was unanimous in it’s wish to have a bill introduced during the 2015 legislative session which will amend Virginia Code Section 46.2-1012 (lights on motorcycles) in two ways. The first proposed amendment will make it easier to install and use auxiliary lights on motorcycles in order to increase visibility to other motorists. The second proposed amendment would remove the five second limitation on modulating brake lights. Under current Virginia law, a brake light may only modulate up to five seconds. It must then burn steady. Many brake light kits on the market today do not meet that limitation. In addition, motorcyclists often find themselves stopped for longer than five seconds. It makes sense to allow the light to continually modulate in order to increase visibility to motorists approaching from behind.
The next issue we considered was increasing the penalties for motorists who kill someone while committing a right of way violation. In the past we have attempted to make such an offense reckless driving, most recently last year. Making the offense reckless driving would force the offender to come to court and would give the court the ability to impose jail and/or suspend the offender’s license. Too many times those who kill others in right of way violations are charged with failure to yield the right of way. That is a traffic infraction which is often pre-paid. After much discussion, it was decided that we would take a non-legislative approach this year. This is due to the bill’s repeated failure in the General Assembly and the open hostility that our closest friends there have to this issue. VCOM will attempt to set up meetings with state and local law enforcement officials to discuss having the investigating officers charge such offenders with reckless driving instead of failure to yield the right of way. Virginia law defines reckless driving as driving in a manner so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person (46.2-852). Certainly violating the right of way of another and killing them meets that threshold.
The group also agreed that VCOM, in conjunction with ABATE of Virginia, will meet with officials of the Virginia Department of Transportation in order to discuss the feasibility of using current overhead traffic warning signs to display “Watch for Motorcycles” throughout the year. Other states have been doing this in recent years and have been able to show a reduction in motorcycle crashes in areas where such messages were displayed.
Another issue discussed was legalizing lane splitting, or at least, allowing motorcycles to use the shoulder when traffic is at a standstill. It was pointed out that there have been issues, particularly in Northern Virginia, with air-cooled motorcycles shutting down in congested traffic. This is especially a problem during the summer months. It was decided that, since there is a study on the subject which is expected to be published within a few months, we would wait on that study before deciding whether or not to take any steps in that direction.
The last matter that was seriously discussed was the status of our attempts to amend Virginia’s helmet law to allow adults, who are at least twenty-one years of age, to decide whether or not to wear a motorcycle helmet. That would make Virginia the 32nd state to allow adults to make that choice. As many who were involved with that bill two years ago know, a majority of both the House of Delegates and Senate would support such a measure. VCOM is currently working to determine the Governor’s position on this matter, as well as the position of other legislative leaders who have the ability under Virginia rules to ensure that such a bill would never get a vote regardless of the support that it may have in each chamber of the General Assembly. Until now we have not been in a position to have those discussions due to the fact that the key members with whom we need to speak were too busy working out budget issues as well as the fate of Medicare expansion in Virginia. When we have more information we will make it known.
As always, if anyone has any questions or comments about anything that I have written, please feel free to contact me. Thank you again to all who took their time to attend this year’s Motorcycle Legislative Roundtable. There are many other things that you could have done with your time. Instead you used it in to improve motorcycling in Virginia. Thank you.
Virginia Coalition of Motorcyclists
Tom McGrath’s Motorcycle Law Group