Meet U.S. Sen. Gary Peters
Motorcycle Rider And Advocate
U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) has been passionate about riding motorcycles since he was a child in Oakland County, Mich., and organizes motorcycle rides around the state to meet with constituents. Members of ABATE of Michigan and local HOG chapters join him for the rides.
“Part of being an effective elected official means being out in the community and listening to people about their concerns and the top issues on their mind,” Peters said. “I take that responsibility of meeting with Michiganders very seriously. And, if I’m going to be getting from point A to point B, why not do it on a motorcycle?
“My annual ride provides me with a unique opportunity to hear from constituents, business owners, and community leaders and discuss my work in the U.S. Senate on their behalf.”
Peters was elected to the Senate in 2014 and serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee; the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee; the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee; and the Joint Economic Committee.
He is the cofounder of the Senate Motorcycle Caucus, cosponsored the AMA-backed National Historic Vehicle Register Act and has urged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to ensure that automated vehicles can identify and respond appropriately to nearby motorcycles.
Here are some insights into his motorcycling story and legislative record.
American Motorcyclist: When did you start riding motorcycles?
Gary Peters: When I was around 11 years old, I started a newspaper route to save up and buy my first minibike. Shortly after, I was able to buy my first motorcycle. To this day, I still believe that there is no better way to see Michigan’s gorgeous scenery than by motorcycle.
AM: What got you involved in riding?
GP: Growing up, I lived close to open fields. Many of my friends had minibikes that they would race on dirt tracks. I wanted to be part of the action, and that’s why I worked so hard to buy my first minibike.
AM: What bike do you own?
GP: I own a Harley-Davidson Dyna Super Glide. During my 2018 Motorcycle Tour across Michigan, I was able to take a restored 1957 Harley-Davidson Sportster for a spin—the technology has definitely improved in the last 60 years.
AM: Why did you seek elective office?
GP: Growing up as the son of a public school teacher and nurse’s aide, [I was taught by] my parents the values of hard work and service. Whether in public service—or in the U.S. Navy Reserve or in the private sector, where I was a financial investment adviser—I’ve always believed in rolling up my sleeves, getting to work and getting things done. My top focus has been bringing people together, regardless of party affiliation, on issues Michiganders care about.
I’ve been recognized by nonpartisan groups as one of the most bipartisan and effective Democratic senators. That’s because I’ve worked across the aisle to get legislation signed into law by Democratic and Republican administrations on issues from expanding job opportunities, skills training and apprenticeships, cutting wasteful government spending, supporting veterans suffering the invisible wounds of war like PTSD, and increasing border security.
AM: How have your constituents responded to your motorcycle rides?
GP: It’s been great. Thanks to my annual ride, I’ve been able to get into a lot of the more rural counties in Michigan to meet with Michiganders in every corner of the state. In many instances, if I’m visiting a local company, employees would ride with me there and to my next stop after. One of the great parts of my ride is having constituents ride with me.
AM: Please talk about motorcycle-specific or motorcycling-related bills that you have sponsored or supported in office.
GP: One issue I’ve worked on is ensuring that historic motorcycles are preserved for the future. Cars, trucks and motorcycles are woven into the fabric of American life and culture, and it is important for us to preserve the stories of vehicles that have played a critical role in American history. Preserving classic and iconic motorcycles would ensure that they are available to inspire future generations of innovators and engineers as they work to design the bikes of the future to be smarter, safer, more reliable and more efficient than ever.
But right now, there is no dedicated federal register to document historically significant motorcycles for future generations of Americans to appreciate and enjoy. That’s why I introduced the bipartisan National Historic Vehicle Register Act with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), which would establish a federal register of historic vehicles to document and preserve records of the vehicles that shaped our nation’s history.
The bill authorizes the Department of Interior to establish a federal register specifically focused on historic vehicles to document and preserve records of American auto and motorcycle history.
The criteria for determining the inclusion of a vehicle on the Register would be based on a vehicle’s:
- Association with a person or event that is significant in vehicle or U.S. history;
- Distinctive design, based on engineering, craftsmanship or aesthetic value; and
- A particular type that was the first or last produced of that type or is among the most well-preserved or authentically restored surviving examples.
AM: Have there been bills that you opposed because of their potential negative impact on motorcycling or motorcyclists?
GP: I joined with Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) to establish the first-ever bipartisan Senate Motorcycle Caucus and, through that caucus, we’ve brought advocates and stakeholders together on a multitude of issues on behalf of both motorcycle riders and manufacturers, whether it be regarding safety or manufacturing.
In one example, I convened a caucus meeting on how motorcycling will be impacted by changing mobility technologies, including self-driving cars. I’ve been very involved in drafting legislation to ensure that our country continues to be a leader in automotive technologies and development. But as an avid rider, I also recognize that we need to protect the safety of riders, and I wouldn’t support a bill that failed to do that.
That’s why, after conversations with manufacturers, I included in my bill a requirement that self-driving vehicle manufacturers prove to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that their autonomous vehicles are able to sense motorcycles in their paths.
In the coming years and decades, we will see a mixed fleet of conventional; semi-automated; and eventually fully self-driving vehicles, motorcycles and trucks of all sizes and levels of automated vehicles. And with over 8.5 million motorcycle riders on our nation’s highways, I will see to it that riders are accounted for in engineering design plans from the get-go and have a seat at the table for future regulatory action within the federal government.
AM: What else would you like to convey to AMA members?
GP: Riding has truly become something that I’ve come to rely on, through thick and thin. Through riding, I’ve met people from all walks of life and different viewpoints. When you’re with fellow riders, I’ve found that it’s easy to throw political lines and divides aside and get to actually know people and form a bond through a mutual love of riding.
That’s why I’ll continue fighting for motorcyclist safety and ensure that we can keep riding as technologies on the road adapt in the coming years.
Photo courtesy of Sen. Gary Peters