Nevada's Helmet Choice Bill SB177:
Lessons from Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
Commentary by TigerLily
Published in QuickThrottle Magazine, SW Edition April 2011
“A helmet is a rabbit's foot that gets the credit if you get lucky."
Travis Barrick, Esq., former candidate for Nevada State Attorney General
“We were blackmailed by the feds to force helmets on us. This law needs to go!” That’s what “Bones,” President of ABATE of Southern Nevada has been saying for years. This “blackmail” prompted Nevada and every state in the Union to force helmets on motorcyclists. The law has remained intact in Nevada since 1972 – 20 years longer than California, 28 years longer than New Mexico, and 32 years longer than Arizona. But this year, with Nevada having the worst economy in the nation, some are seeing economic benefits to offering helmet choice. It is an undisputable fact that when States offer helmet choice, motorcycle registrations skyrocket! Nevada will be flooded with out-of-state motorcyclists who would come to Nevada knowing they can wear anything they want and not be attacked by aggressive law enforcers.
Senator Don Gustavson introduced the Bill that was heard on March 10th by the Senate Transportation Committee. I sat in disbelief in Las Vegas, outraged at the levels to which the opposition would stoop to portray proponents of helmet-choice as selfish risk-takers who will end up becoming a burden to society. David Stilwell of Bikers of Lesser Tolerance says, “That’s bull! We motorcyclists are hard-working, law-abiding, well-insured, tax-payers who fund welfare, food stamps, and wars that inflict more carnage than all the motorcycle wrecks in the world.” Proponents of helmet-choice are not asking for a handout they are DEMANDING freedom!
Reverend King said: “An unjust law compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself.” If more head trauma is incurred by operators and passengers of other vehicles, how then, can a majority justify forcing a minority to wear a helmet that they would staunchly object to wearing themselves. I would like to see those drivers and their passengers wear a helmet during their commutes and tell legislators that wearing a helmet does not cause sensory deprivation.
The bigotry experienced by African Americans during Reverend King’s era was perverse and immoral. It was often fueled by local media incapable of objective reporting. I compare it to the Las Vegas Review Journal’s report of the helmet choice Bill. The Journal interviewed UMC’s Trauma Center Director, Dr. John Filds, a former motorcyclist who no longer rides because “it’s too risky.” Notice the biker bigotry in his words, "These people want to exercise their rights. I want to exercise my right not to pay for their medical care. There is no such thing as unpaid medical care. You and I pay for their accidents." But according the Institute for Medicine, physicians injure more than 1.5 million Americans every year and kill more than 7,000 citizens.
We’ve been depending on doctors to influence policy for far too long; and on law enforcers to enforce laws from those policies. I have experienced and witnessed the tyranny by law enforcers who violated my rights, treated my retired Marine Officer husband like a dog, and obscenely violated four law-abiding San Diego motorcyclists during last year’s Las Vegas BikeFest. Reverend King wrote: “You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping "order" and "preventing violence." I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes… I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.”
QT can’t keep up with the reports. We covered the story of a club in North Las Vegas that was wrongly raided by SWAT and four other agencies. Seven club members were jailed – all wrongly – and ultimately charged with jaywalking. One of those victims was Paul Lemoine, who found it difficult to explain to his daughter why “daddy” went to jail – the way Reverend King expressed in his letter “…you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter.” We also covered the story of motorcyclists detained by Henderson PD in an effort to keep them from attending a party. Of those victims, 56 challenged their helmet tickets – and all won. Why? Because this helmet law is virtually unenforceable to anyone wearing anything on their head – even a coconut shell! At the helmet-choice hearing, a senator asked a DPS official to comment about the current helmet law. The bureaucrat said, “We’re still in limbo as to what’s legal and what’s not.”
Activists who want to disarm law enforcers from its helmet law are ready to compromise. SB177 contains age, education, and experience conditions that don’t apply to any other motorist. Would Reverend King approve? He wrote, “In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action… Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation.” Will “good faith” be seen in Nevada?
Past efforts to pass helmet-choice laws in Nevada have been undermined by Ken Kiphart, Administrator for the Nevada Rider Program and he tried this time again. But compared to what I discovered, Kiphart is but an annoying little gnat that just needs a swat. Other opponents are more perverse and better funded, such as paid lobbyists like the Nevada Sheriffs’ Association; the Professional Firefighters of America; and - on taxpayer’s dime – Adam Stubbs, representing LVMPD. Our tax dollars are funding lobbyist to oppose our freedoms. According to Keith Reed, a long-time motorcyclist, Las Vegas Resident, and former Clark County computer technician supervisor, these paid government lobbyists use tax dollars for their time, travel, expenses, housing, utilities – and more, for months during legislative sessions. But it gets worse.
John Johansen, from Nevada’s DPS, lobbied likely in violation of Nevada’s lobby laws when he offered the following testimony: Quite frankly, I sit between neutral and opposed. My major concern is that if we are going to have adults responsible for their actions, and they choose to not to have a helmet, at a very minimum, they should also be responsible to keep the medical cost out of our pockets… So a medical insurance limitation of $10,000 is simply not acceptable… It should be over $100,000, or a minimum of $100,000, because those are, in fact, average charges for trauma.”
But he flat out distorted the truth! His data revealed that in Arizona - a helmet choice State - the cost of trauma for motorcyclists was over $47,000 greater for riders WITH helmets than WITHOUT! QT has been stonewalled by DPS who won’t answer us. The email for Nevada’ DPS, Director, Jerry Hafen, is: email@example.com. Ask him: Why did Johansen fail to tell our legislators the whole truth? What’s in it for DPS to kill helmet choice? Will DPS lose grant money? Will the lack of helmet tickets force DPS downsize? If you get an answer, please forward it to me at TigerLily@QuickThrottle.com.
Despite Goliath-like opposition from paid lobbyists, and government workers with vast resources, there’s a glimmer of optimism in Nevada that it may soon become a helmet-optional state. But John Bland, President of ABATE of Northern Nevada cautions that now is no time to celebrate. “Write, call, and email your representatives explaining that passing this Bill will stimulate our economy!” We cannot afford to wait another two years for the next legislative hearing, because, as Martin Luther King would say, "Justice too long delayed is justice denied."
For more information, comments, and criticism, contact TigerLily: TigerLily@QuickThrottle.com