By Brian Lange
It isn’t unusual when speaking to someone about ABATE or our annual legislative event Black Thursday, to hear them say; “Oh yeah…ABATE…you’re the helmet guys.” While ABATE (A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments) was originally formed to fight bureaucratic overreach that restricted citizens’ freedom of choice, today ABATE is about much more than just being “the helmet guys.” ABATE of Washington is the largest State Motorcycle Rights Organization (SMRO) in Washington State. It is our duty to fight to protect the freedom of the road, and support the rights of riders in the state.
Ever been riding your motorcycle and been caught at a traffic light that didn’t detect your bike? In 2014, a bill that ABATE had fought to get passed was signed into law by the Governor that made it legal to proceed through a traffic signal that doesn’t detect your motorcycle after waiting one cycle of the light, and proceeding when it is safe to do so. This made Washington among the first states in the nation to do so. Do you ride with “ape hanger” handlebars? ABATE successfully fought to increase the legal handlebar height so that riders weren’t being stopped simply for riding with higher than stock bars in Washington State. Over the years we have successfully fought to get bills passed into law such as: passing bicycles within the same lane of traffic, modifying off-road motorcycles, allowing riders the choice of wearing a helmet during parades, and of course, ABATE helped to get the nation’s first motorcycling anti-profiling law passed.
We have even successfully fought to prevent laws from being passed. laws that would have mandated the color of riding gear motorcyclists could wear simply to provide automobile drivers a supposedly better opportunity to see us as we ride our motorcycles. ABATE’s function is to work with legislators to help ensure that our rights are not overrun or ignored in the name of expediency. In 2019 we were successful with passage of legislation for enhancing the penalty for hospitalizing a motorcyclist, or other member of the state’s “vulnerable user” group after failing to yield, running a stop sign, distracted or reckless driving, etc.
In the upcoming legislative session, ABATE will be working on several bills for the motorcycling community. Bills that include: lane-sharing on the freeways when speeds are at 25 mph or below with a speed differential of no more than 10 mph, allowing motorcycles to park with a wheel towards the curb and multiple bikes in the same parallel parking space. And of course, we will be working on a helmet bill as well. This one would provide a five-year pilot program to demonstrate whether or not the accident and fatality rates would change simply by allowing helmet-choice in Washington State. Hopefully bringing Washington in line with the 32 other states in the US that already allow helmet choice. In 2021 we will work on a bill for removing or reducing the $25 “weight fee” currently charged to motorcycles as well as 4,000 pound recreational vehicles.
How does ABATE fight for these issues? We work for these issues in the legislature. ABATE Chapters each have a Legislative Affairs Officer, with a state LAO to coordinate efforts in Olympia. Each year, these ABATE members spend several days, and even weeks working with legislators on bills to protect the rights and help the motorcycling community in Washington. ABATE hosts the big motorcycle advocacy day “Black Thursday” on the 2nd Thursday of each legislative session. This coming year the date is January 16th, and it is an important day for motorcycle rights in Washington. Motorcyclists from across the state gather at the Capitol to meet with their legislators and discuss our issues. There is a “mass ride-in” sponsored by the Council of Clubs that arrives about 10:30, and then we all gather on the Capitol steps for speeches and group photos. After the activities on the steps, we gather inside where it is warm and dry, and attend appointments to speak with legislators. It is by actively speaking with the legislators that the motorcycling community can bring a strong impact to the efforts of ABATE of Washington to get laws that protect the rights of all motorcyclists to ride free from governmental interference and harassment.
It doesn’t matter what type of motorcycle you ride, ABATE is working in Olympia to fight for your right to ride freely. As long as you ride with two or even three wheels and a motor, the laws coming out of Olympia affect us all. This is why it’s so important for the entire spectrum of motorcyclists to stand together on common issues on the steps of the Capitol on Black Thursday as a display of community solidarity.
Together, sport bike riders, dual sport riders, cruiser riders and even touring riders, as well as all the other various subgroups of riders, can protect our right to ride freely. Individually, we have much less power to engage legislators to make changes that can affect the safety and freedom of motorcyclists across the state of Washington. The feeling of community on Black Thursday is strong, and something you should attend to experience for yourself. Come to Black Thursday, and be a part of the efforts to protect our motorcycling community.
Catch you on the road sometime…
Legislative Affairs Officer
ABATE of Washington