Written & Photographed by Diana Olmstead
The morning of January 23rd riders from both Eastern and Western Washington bundled up and rode to the State Capitol in Olympia, Washington to take part in Black Thursday, a motorcycle legislative day.
An estimated 200 bikes rolled into the south diagonal parking area and another 75-100 bikes had parked off campus along with a dozen or so vehicles.
After everyone dismounted their bikes, the riders took a moment to take in the view of our State Capitol campus and its meticulously manicured grounds.
As I walked up and down “the diagonal” I was thrilled to cross paths with so many other riders and fellow friends that I knew. Besides being happy to see them I was also proud that they had all taken the time to show up and stand up for what they believe in – protecting our freedom and rights as motorcyclists.
Around 10:30am the majority of leathered up riders made their way to the capitol steps to listen to speeches and to take part in this year’s Black Thursday group photo. As I looked around I couldn’t help but notice that there was a great showing by members of the COC (Confederation of Clubs), along with US Defenders of Washington State, ABATE of Washington and WRRA, to name just a few.
The only politician to address the group of motorcyclists on the Capitol steps was Representative Matthew Shea of the 4th Legislative District who also sits on the House Transportation Committee. It was extremely kind and smart of him to take time out his busy schedule to speak to all of us.
After the speeches and photos wrapped up the riders split up to attend scheduled meetings with their Legislators in their Districts regarding two very important issues – (SB5141/HB1238) Allowing motorcycles to stop and proceed through traffic control signals under certain conditions with an affirmative defense, and (SB5143/HB1246) the Helmet Law Repeal.
As of tomorrow, our print date, SB5141 is in the House Transportation committee after passing a Senate vote in early February and will likely continue to move out of committee onto the House floor for a vote. I feel that this year looks very promising and we may finally get this bill passed.
Like many who ride, I have often been stuck at a red light, in a left turn lane, only to discover that the traffic sensors are faulty and do not detect me and my motorcycle at the light. In that situation riders have had only two choices, both of which are against the law as it is currently written – we can go through the red light after sitting through several failed light cycles or we can merge back into the through lane to our right, which can be extremely unsafe and we must then go in a direction that we do not wish to go. If this situation happened to every politician driving a car this bill would pass quickly and unanimously!
The Helmet Law Repeal went nowhere again this year. Apparently our argument that the current wording of the law is unconstitutional and the fact that riders also want the freedom of choice fell on deaf ears. No one is saying if the law is repealed that one should not or cannot wear a helmet; they simply believe that riders should have the right and the freedom to choose, just as 31 other states that have some level of helmetless travel have done.
On a positive note, we packed the Senate Gallery for the passing of a Senate Resolution 8671, which recognizes nationally and throughout the state that the Month of May is “Motorcycle Safety and Awareness Month”. After this was announced on the Senate floor the packed gallery of riders exploded in applause which was quickly forgiven by the Senate members below.
I had a chance to speak with Lyle Coyle, ABATE of Washington State Coordinator. I asked him why he feels that Black Thursday is so important and this was his reply, “ABATE of Washington’s Black Thursday is a very important in protecting the rights and fighting unfair laws towards the motorcyclists of Washington. It is a way for us to go to our state legislators with a unified plan that we feel is in the motorcyclists’ best interest. Our big push this year is SB5141 (malfunctioning traffic lights). Then there is the helmet repeal that unfortunately is not going anywhere this year but we will continue to try and defeat this, one thing a lot of people should realize on this issue is we are not against helmets we are against helmet laws. I think it is very important for everyone to go and speak to the people that have been elected to make the laws that we have to live by. I hear all the time from riders “they won’t listen to us”, but I know they will and they have, but you have to take the initiative and time. If they don’t listen then you have the right to get them voted out. I would like to see every motorcyclist out there join us in the fight to protect our rights and make sure fair laws are made with motorcyclists in mind. ABATE is open to both men and women 18 and over who ride a wide variety of motorcycles and who care about our rights and freedom.”
While the turnout was good, in my opinion it could have and should have been far better. Thousands of motorcycle riders reside in Washington State, yet just a small fraction of those riders show up and fight to protect our rights. I just don’t get it…? Why are riders not showing up for this important day? Is it too cold for them to go for a ride? Geez, I sure hope not. If that’s the case for some of you, then get in your car and show up because your voice is still needed and welcome. Is it because it’s a work day? Take the day off; many of you have taken a day off for far less important issues. Is it because you don’t know or understand what the legislative issues are that pertain to those that ride? Then join ABATE or any other number of groups that are involved in the legislative process. That is how you learn, that is how we unite as one powerful voice, and that is how change is made.