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Basem Wasef

Motorcycle-Only Checkpoints Rile Riders, Trigger Political Clash

By February 10, 2012

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It may have originated in notoriously bike-unfriendly New York, but when Federally funded, motorcycle-only checkpoints became a nationwide trend, something had to give.

The checkpoints single out motorcycles from four-wheeled traffic over license, helmet, and exhaust violation concerns, and are supported by the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Striking back in defense of motorcyclists is a bipartisan group of lawmakers, among them Republican Wisconsin Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, who calls the movement "an intrusive governmental overreach," and Rep. Tom Petri (also a Republican from Wisconsin) who says "Motorcycle riders are right to be outraged at being singled out for safety inspections."

Not surprisingly, the American Motorcyclist Association states that they "... believe that strategies to promote motorcycle safety must be rooted in motorcycle crash prevention, and don't include arbitrarily pulling over riders and randomly subjecting them to roadside inspections."

According to the LA Times, of the 27,000 or so riders who passed through checkpoints last year, 2,500 were pulled over for closer inspection. 380 (or 15% of those singled out) were ticketed for an illegal helmet; 49 (or less than 2%) were ticketed for riding without a proper license, and 6 (or .024%) were arrested under suspicion of drunk driving.

With a provision aimed at the House Transportation Committee from the aforementioned group of lawmakers suggesting the Federal funds be spent on educational programs intended at reducing accidents, we riders can only hope that logic prevails when Congress considers new versions of the transportation bill next week.

Sources: LA Times, Motorcycle Riders Foundation, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner


Photo © Getty Images

February 12, 2012 at 9:04 am
(1) Pete says:

Quite a few years ago – this was in the Vancouver area – I went through the same check half a dozen times in a month at the same highway on ramp. It too was bikes only. After the 3rd time, I asked the officer ” Why just bikes?” He was quite nice and completely understood why I was asking…it turned out the provincial average of riders without any MC drivers licence was 4 in 10. 40% ! Substantially higher than car drivers with no licence.
I know one of them….friend of mine since 1970…still has no bike licence.
After I got over the shock of that, I said “Thanks…keep checking!”
I get why they do this…won’t hear any complaints out of me. My comment to the cop stands “Keep checking”.
There’s probably going to be some very ‘spirited’ replies to your blog….many of the same people who think they don’t need helmets. You get hit by a rider / driver with no licence …they probably have no insurance either. Good luck collecting a dime.

February 13, 2012 at 5:35 am
(2) Basem Wasef - About.com Motorcycles Guide says:


Gotta say, I’m a little surprised at your angle… anyone else have thoughts they’d like to share?


February 13, 2012 at 11:35 am
(3) Pete says:

Hi Basem,
Oh, I have little doubt my thoughts will be completely opposed to many…probably the majority – but – I have never had an issue with the police asking to see a license or proof of insurance. Safety checks on the side of the road – other than tractor / trailers – are very rare in Canada. Most provinces mandate yearly checks for cars and none that I’m aware of do checks on bikes. B.C. used to check bikes and it was a complete joke…the McDonalds reject at the test station asked me if the little green light meant it was in neutral gear…after he checked the center stand spring from both sides of the bike. Maybe there should be more bikes checked? I don’t see the need… I think most riders take far better care of their bikes than most car owners do of their cars. Time & resources probably best spent checking cars that are a hairs breadth away from killing someone. The bigger problem then becomes the time being wasted checking bikes for minimal return…go after the cars with no brakes & bald tires.
Are civil liberties being walked on? Maybe, to a degree, but if you have nothing to hide and you’re riding legally, what’s the problem? Like I said about no license and no insurance…good luck collecting if you get hit by some axxhole who has neither.
The one thing the AMA (speaking of a waste of time) did say, that I hope most will agree with: “strategies to promote motorcycle safety must be rooted in motorcycle crash prevention”. While that is certainly the right approach, it’s also incredibly obvious.
Maybe if we could do away with the 1%’s and convince sport bike riders to race on the track instead of the street, this might not be happening. Our own fault we attract attention?

February 13, 2012 at 12:05 pm
(4) Joe says:

Kind of torn on this one. I go to Rolling Thunder in Washington DC every yr and they have a check point for MC’s only there. It’s only to check MC endorsement (they check valid Reg and Ins. too). No exhaust or helmet law stuff. Just like Pete, I asked why the check point and the officer said it was because a few yrs ago a younger male on a sportbike crashed and killed himself and he did not have an MC endorsement on his license. This check point is only during the event. i really don’t have a problem with that check point. If this check point was because of a exhaust I may feel different about it, lot of cars in my area have exhaust as loud or louder then my bike. Then I think they should check every vehicle or none of them.

February 13, 2012 at 4:14 pm
(5) Pete says:

Joe raises a good point….if a road side stop is set up to do legitimate safety checks, and legitimate licence checks, bring it on, and keep doing it. If they set up at an event to score some quick tickets for pipes and such, like shootin ducks in a barrel, that is world class BS.

February 13, 2012 at 6:32 pm
(6) Joe says:

In the state I live in there was a check point for not using a hand free device (cell phone). The police would set up a fake tow truck picking up a disabled car with undercover police manning it and they would see a driver using a cell phone while driving and radio to a marked unit and they would pull over the car. The driver then was issued a pamphlet instructing the driver to a web page and they would have to watch a movie. If they didn’t do this in 30 or so days they would receive a summons in the mail. I thought this was a great idea, not trying to create revenue but educate the public more.

February 14, 2012 at 2:34 pm
(7) Dave says:

I understand Pete’s comment, but the results of these stops are not near the 40% he cites. Assuming no rider was ticketed for more than one reason, 435 riders out of 27,000 were found to “have issues.” That is 1.6% on my calculator; an incredibly inefficient use of police resources.

If you randomly stopped 100 cars, wouldn’t you expect to find more than 1 or 2 with equipment, license, insurance or driver condition issues?

February 15, 2012 at 8:44 pm
(8) Mike Campbell says:

We are losing “freedoms” more and more everyday because Gov’t wants to be in your lives. Why should I be pulled over if I’m not breaking ANY laws at all for a safety check. My time and freedom are worth more than that. A simple check of license plate will tell you if the registered owner of that licensed vehicle is endorsed or has insurance without pulling you over. PD’s have computers that can read thousands of license plates in an hour…..thats how they scan for stolen vehicles. It is an intrusion! If the roadblock was for ALL vehicles, then the discriminatory aspect goes away. Perhaps Pete will endorse the local PD to come into his home and check for safe water temps on faucets and etc.

I do NOT feel safer because a motorcycle safety roadblock pulled over all motorcycles. Sure glad its ILLEGAL for roadblocks in Washington state with the exception of the Border Patrol that holds roadblocks within 100 miles of border.

February 16, 2012 at 1:53 am
(9) Erika says:

Well…. I’m all for making sure everyone is licensed and everyone’s vehicle is inspected and so forth. What makes me worked up are the stupid laws they try to pass in New York City that would go along with these check points… which to me are ways to make money. For example, they want to pass a law that makes aftermarket pipes illegal. Not noisy pipes, but all aftermarket pipes without the EPA label. So if your pipes don’t have the stamp on them, your bike will be impounded. There have been many variations on this law, the worst of which is confiscating your bike. So if this law were to ever pass with the worst case scenario, then at these checkpoints, they will look for EPA labels and if they can’t find one, they will make you get off the bike and load it up onto the truck for the impound lot. I could only imagine all the auctions these guys will have to raise “revenue” for the city. I’m not saying this will go on in every city… or will it?

Also, why bike-only checkpoints? Why not scary suspicious van only checkpoints? or broken down smoking clunker checkpoints? I’m sure some of those guys are up to no good or don’t have a license. I’m sure they don’t have oem mufflers. How far does it have to go before it is an infringement on our rights?

February 16, 2012 at 7:41 am
(10) Jds says:

If they have funding for motorcycle only checkpoints, they have too much money and need to have their budget cut.

February 16, 2012 at 3:46 pm
(11) Pete says:

Gimme a bit … I realize I’m not the brightest guy around, but I’ll work on your hot water taps comment, and figure out the connection to the discussion. If I manage to get it, I’d probably be tempted to come back & call you an idiot….but that would be disrespectful.
If I can’t put it together, I’ll just assume you’re pretty clever after all.

February 16, 2012 at 10:03 pm
(12) pirate says:

we have Inspection stations in most states, aren’t they for safety? there are alot of riders without an m/c endorsement. maybe they shouldn’t let you register a m/c unless you have a m/c endorsement on your license.that would take care of that. they’re probably taking your picture and documenting it with your name for their files ,like they did in spartensburg s.c years ago.

February 18, 2012 at 4:32 pm
(13) Brett954 says:

As much as I think that a motorcyclist should be licensed and insured just like every other driver, this is still discrimination. There is no difference here that singling out a different race for crimes or suspicion. Frankly, all this is, is an attempt to make more money. If the state really wanted to prevent motorcycle accidents or promote safety, then time and money would be better invested in offering free safety courses for riders that currently have or want to obtain a license. But that will never happen because it does not create revenue.
Pete, riders should obey the law just like anyone else, but to be singled out is politically incorrect. I ride fully insured, fully licensed, with proper gear and proper helmet. However, I do admit that on both of my motorcycles, I have after market pipes. One of them is quite loud, like a cruiser. I take full responsibility for my actions on using the aftermarket pipes. As should any other owner of a vehicle (may it be a truck or car) take responsibility for the changes they have made to their vehicle. I can just as easily be pulled over and cited for my loud pipe while cruising down the rode. I will pay the outrageous fine, earn California some more money and continue to sport my loud pipe. There is no need to waste the money stopping everybody on a motorcycle. Like Mike said, if there is suspicion of a rider not having a license, run his/her plate. That simple.

February 21, 2012 at 9:03 am
(14) LTR4Ever says:

Discrimination, stop everyone or no one. This is nothing but goverment filling the coffers.

February 27, 2012 at 10:31 pm
(15) Jacob says:

Did you say exhaust Violations? Please, more of this. I love motorcycles as much as anyone else, but street bikes with straight-pipes or race exhaust should be ticketed daily.

I once saw a guy leave his deafening Harley idling right beside a toddler who was sitting on the patio at a restaurant. Ridiculous. They come with nice-quiet pipes people, just leave them alone and go for a ride.

May 2, 2012 at 5:01 pm
(16) Ronnie says:

I totally agree with pulling over motorcycle(s) ..

If your driving w/o a license or insurance you should be ticketed..

If your pipes are loud you should be ticketed…………..

The police are not giving quiet bikes tickets….Nothing is more annoying then those stupid Harleys w/ straight loud pipes…

I ride a Honda Goldwing, very quiet, The police can stop me everyday if they want…………I’m legal

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