American Motorcyclist March 2018

Fighting Where You Ride

AMA Supports Riders On State Legislation

By Jim Witters

Do you want lane splitting in your state?

The AMA is on it.

Tougher penalties for distracted drivers?

We’ve got your back.

Protection for the people who let you ride on their land?

We’re on your side.

As state legislatures started their work in the first couple months of the year, the AMA began tracking hundreds of bills that would affect the rights of motorcyclists and the joy of riding.

The AMA works with motorcyclists, state motorcycle rights organizations and elected officials across the country who are trying to pass favorable bills or defeat bad legislation at the state level.

If you have an issue that you need help with, contact the AMA Government Relations Department at [email protected].

Many of the bills under consideration are covered in this magazine. But if you would like more immediate information on these and other issues, sign up for AMA Action Alerts at www.american > Rights > AMA Action Center and subscribe to AMA e-newsletters at www.american > For Members > AMA Social Media Channels.

The more that motorcyclists become active, the better the chance that votes on state laws will go our way.

Here are a few of the top 2018 issues that could come up for a vote.

Lane Splitting

For Chad Smith, an AMA member for 24 years, the issue of lane splitting provided the spark he needed to become an activist.

A bill in the Georgia General Assembly (H.B. 490) that was introduced in 2017 remains alive. But the session ends March 30, and the bill is stuck in the House Judiciary Committee.

Smith and other Georgia riders are calling and emailing members of the state House and Senate to get them to bump the bill into the House Transportation Committee, where they believe it has a higher chance of success.

The Georgia bill would allow motorcyclists to move through traffic that is stopped or traveling at 10 mph or slower. Smith described it as lane filtering, more than lane splitting.

“I got involved because I think lane splitting just makes sense,” Smith said. “I travel all over the world as part of my job, and I see lane splitting and lane filtering work. I used to live in (Washington) D.C., and traffic congestion is really bad there. Atlanta is bad, too.”

Smith, along with Ned Williams and Lance Lamberton, are trying to educate lawmakers and law enforcement personnel on the benefits of lane splitting for everyone on the road.

“Our biggest obstacle is ignorance,” Smith said. “We are trying to demonstrate to people, the elected officials and local law enforcement that legal lane splitting can help relieve congestion and make things safer.

“I don’t want to get rear-ended by some distracted driver while I’m sitting in traffic,” he said. “We all know that if a car gets rear-ended, it’s a minor fender bender. But if a motorcycle gets hit from behind, it can be disastrous.”

The group set up a Facebook page ( And they have been sending lawmakers videos that illustrate the benefits of lane splitting.

One House member, Howard Maxwell, is a motorcyclist and former AMA member. The Georgia riders hope to enlist his support to get the bill through the Assembly this session.

California is the only U.S. state to formally recognize lane splitting. The state passed a law in 2015 allowing the practice and instructing the California Highway Patrol to issue guidelines. Those guidelines are still in the works.

Nick Haris, AMA western states representative, said he also expects lane splitting bills in Oregon and Nevada this year.

Washington state, Oregon, Texas and a handful of other states have considered lane-splitting legislation during the past few years, but none has passed a law allowing it.

“Our lane sharing bill is also currently residing in the Senate Rules Committee,” said Brian Lange, legislative affairs officer for ABATE of Washington.

The bill passed the state Senate 37-17, but was recalled in late 2017 ahead of the election in the hope that more motorcycle-friendly representatives could be elected. That didn’t happen.

A Colorado group posted on its Facebook page that they couldn’t get a lane splitting bill off the ground this year because the State Patrol opposed it, and no lawmaker would introduce a bill.

Arizona had two bills introduced in the Senate this session. Neither has moved since being introduced on Jan. 8.

The only difference between S.B. 1015 and S.B. 1007 is that S.B. 1015 would require lane-splitting riders to wear a helmet.

The formal position statement on lane splitting adopted by the AMA Board
of Directors can be found here: > Rights > AMA Position Statements.

Cell Phones And Distracted Driving

Distracted driving alone is the topic of 23 bills in eight states, as lawmakers try to find the right mix of education and penalties to convince drivers and riders that texting and phone calls can be as dangerous as drunken driving.

“This issue is one of the most important to motorcyclists, because drivers involved in crashes with riders already claim they didn’t see the motorcycle,” said Mike Sayre, AMA government relations manager for on-highway issues. “While legislative action calls needed attention to the problem, so far, traffic citations don’t seem to have alleviated the issue. The AMA believes that granting authority to the courts to impose enhanced sentences would make more of an impact.”

Sayre also pointed to legislation passed in Washington state in 2017 that currently is the toughest distracted driving law in the nation. That law forbids drivers from handling their phones at all, even at stop lights and in stopped traffic.

In South Carolina, state Rep. Bill Taylor has proposed a “DUI-E: Driving Under the Influence of an Electronic Device” law that would prohibit drivers from holding a phone in either hand and prohibit typing, sending or reading text messages. The South Carolina bill is similar to the one passed in Washington.

In Florida, lawmakers have proposed a bill to make texting while driving a primary offense, meaning law enforcement officers could stop drivers just for that offense. Currently, drivers may be cited for texting while driving only if they are stopped for another offense. Under the proposed bill, the current $30 fine would remain in place for first offenders, but with court costs, first time texting drivers could be out $108. The fine would be doubled for a second offense.

Other states considering distracted driving legislation this year include Colorado, Iowa, Missouri, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Virginia and Wisconsin.

The AMA position statement on distracted driving also can be found on the AMA’s position statement page at > Rights > AMA Position Statements.


This year, five states decided to take on the perennial issue of mandatory helmet use for motorcyclists and passengers.

A Nebraska bill to end its mandatory helmet law died in January for lack of votes to end a filibuster and bring the issue to a full vote.

In Washington state, a bill supported by many motorcyclists would require vehicle liability insurance if a rider or passenger rode without a helmet. Currently, riders are not required to carry liability insurance on motorcycles.

“Sadly, our helmet bill, as well as several other motorcycle related bills, are languishing in the House Transportation Committee and are extremely unlikely to even be given a hearing in this session,” Lange said. “It is generally regarded by the motorcycle community in Washington state that the House Transportation Committee is the place for motorcycle bills to be sent to die of neglect.”

Elsewhere, a bill in Iowa would require children younger than 18 to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle or ATV. Those caught without a helmet would have to pay a $35 fine.

In Missouri, lawmakers want all riders and passengers younger than 18 to wear a helmet.

Florida would require scooter riders younger than 21 to be helmeted, a mandate that already applies to motorcyclists in that age range.

Maryland’s General Assembly is considering a bill that would allow motorcyclists 21 and older to ride without a helmet if they have held a motorcycle operator’s license for at least two years or have completed a motorcycle safety course. Passengers would be permitted to forego the helmet if the rider has been licensed for at least two years or has completed the course.

In Hawaii, H.B. 1749 would require all operators and passengers of motorcycles and bicycles to wear helmets.

The AMA position statement on voluntary helmet use can be found here: > Rights > AMA Position Statements.

Motorcyclist Profiling

Motorcyclist profiling is the law enforcement practice of stopping riders based on their appearance, their clothing or their choice of transportation.

Profiling also includes motorcycle-only checkpoints.

In the past few years, Maryland and Washington state passed laws outlawing the profiling of motorcyclists and requiring law enforcement agencies to institute training programs that discourage profiling.

At the same time, several states have banned motorcycle-only checkpoints, and Congress has banned the use of federal funds for those police operations.

In 2018, New Hampshire is taking up a bill that would ban motorcycle-only checkpoints.

And California motorcyclists and lawmakers are working on legislation that would end motorcyclist profiling.

“It’s unacceptable for law enforcement to make these stops solely on the basis of appearance or vehicle choice,” Haris said. “We are working hard to come up with legislation that would end this practice.”

The AMA position statement on motorcyclist profiling can be found here: > Rights > AMA Position Statements.


With Congress and federal agencies taking up the issue of classifying the Polaris Slingshot and other similar vehicles, several states have turned their attention to regulating autocycles and their operators.

A Mississippi bill passed the state House defining autocycles as three-wheeled motorcycles with steering wheels, non-straddle seating, seat belts and rollover protection.

Florida is considering a similar definition that includes a provision for meeting federal motorcycle safety standards. The Florida legislation would not include enclosed vehicles, such as the long-promised Elio, in its autocycle definition.

Other states place autocycles in a separate category of motor vehicle.

At least 31 states define an autocycle as having three wheels. And 27 state that the vehicles must have a steering wheel.

Michigan allows autocycle owners to drive with a valid state driver’s license. No motorcycle endorsement is needed. Motorcycle trike riders still must obtain a motorcycle endorsement.

A Missouri bill would exclude autocycle operators from protective headgear requirements.

And a bill in Vermont would require the state Commission of Motor Vehicles to offer a motorcycle endorsement specific to three-wheeled motorcycles, including autocycles. The endorsement would allow the rider to operate three-wheeled motorcycles, but not two-wheeled ones.

The AMA supports the definition of an autocycle developed by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators: A three-wheel motorcycle that has a steering wheel and seating that does not require the operator to straddle or sit astride it.

OHVs On Public Roads

Sixteen states are taking up a combined 27 bills this year that would that would affect off-highway vehicle riders’ ability to use public roads.

Many of those are driven by communities hoping to reap the economic benefits that come from dirt bike and ATV riders using public roads to reach local businesses.

“Several studies over the years have highlighted the benefits to communities along or near OHV trails, including spending for restaurants, hotels and fuel,” said Steve Salisbury, AMA government relations manager for off-highway issues. “Off-roading is usually an activity people share with their family and friends, so areas that are accommodating to riders can reap significant economic rewards.”

Washington state’s H.B. 1837 is an example. The bill would allow ATV riders to operate on state roads that have a speed limit of 35 mph or less in rural counties (population 15,000 or fewer).

Similar laws have been enacted in several states in recent years to allow OHV riders to get off the trail to fuel up or grab a bite to eat at a local restaurant.

Among the other states where such bills pending are Georgia, Iowa, Maine and Tennessee.

OHV Registration

West Virginia is likely to have an OHV registration bill this year tied to greater access to public lands, Salisbury said.

While many riders like the fact that they do not have to register their dirt bikes and ATVs with the state, others believe that registration can help track stolen vehicles and return them to their owners. Importantly, others anticipate a percentage of registration fees would go toward supporting trail construction and maintenance.

So far, natioanlly, 28 bills have been filed to require some sort of OHV registration.

Three bills that would have created a first time OHV registration program in Mississippi died in committee.
Pennsylvania’s H.B. 1883 would add dirt bikes to its long standing registration of other types of off-road vehicles.

Since only ATV riders currently pay into the state trails fund through registrations, none of that money can be used for dirt bike trails or the feasibility studies that might make them attractive.

In North Carolina, lawmakers are considering a bill that would require registration with the state Wildlife Resources Commission of motorcycles and ATVs for off-road use. The law would apply only to vehicles from model year 2005 or newer and would exempt agricultural use.

OHVs would receive plates or stickers that are a different color from those issued to on-road vehicles.

Landowner Liability

Protecting landowners from certain liability claims frees them to allow off-road enthusiasts to use their property without fear of losing their land or other assets should a recreational rider or passenger get injured.

A model for public/private cooperation in creating a viable trails system is the Hatfield-McCoy Trails project in West Virginia. A landowner may not be found liable for injuries to people who use their land for recreation according to the “Limiting Liability of Landowners Act,” which prompted mining and timber companies to offer their land to be part of a planned 2,000-mile trail system.

Of the 13 landowner liability bills pending across the country, four of them are in New York and two are in Pennsylvania.

One of the more notable bills is New York’s A. 1429, which goes beyond landowner liability protection to provide a tax credit for those who allow OHV access.

The bill also would create a trail development and maintenance fund and an environmental restoration fund.

In Pennsylvania, H.B. 544 would grant liability protection to landowners who allow use for “exercise, sport, education, recreation, relaxation or pleasure.”

Those activities specifically include ATV and motorcycle riding. And the protections include access for creating, mapping and maintaining trails.

“The Pennsylvania bill, which OHV advocates have been pushing for a couple of years now, would set the stage for the creation of new trails and broaden the options for those who want to enjoy responsible motorized off-road recreation,” Salisbury said.

Illustrations by Gina Gaston

American Motorcyclist March 2018