For the past 21 months, American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) President and CEO Rob Dingman has been leading the world's largest motorcyclists' rights organization through a reorganization to rededicate the AMA to its core mission: protecting and promoting the future of motorcycling and the motorcycle lifestyle.
In this third in a three-part series of interviews, conducted by AmericanMotorcyclist.com, the website of the AMA, Dingman discusses the Association's comprehensive approach to rider safety, helmet laws and rider education.
AM: The AMA does many things for its members. It sanctions amateur racing, provides discounted services and products, and lobbies for motorcycling interests. Yet, many in the motorcycling community seem to hold onto misconceptions about what the AMA stands for. How do you respond?
RD: We stand for choice, and we accept the responsibility that comes with making choices. This attitude, I might add, is very prevalent among motorcyclists, both on- and off-highway, whether they are AMA members or not.
The AMA, and our sister organization the ATVA (All-Terrain Vehicle Association), advocate for personal responsibility on the part of all motorcyclists and OHV (off-highway vehicle) riders. Not surprisingly, the typical AMA or ATVA member describes himself or herself as someone who rides and acts responsibly. They don't want unnecessary regulation, preferring instead to make educated, responsible choices about the motorcycles they ride, the riding gear they wear, and the places where they ride. For that reason, the AMA and the ATVA do not support mandates. Mandates often result in unintended consequences for the people who are most affected by them.
AM: The AMA talks about a comprehensive approach to motorcycle safety. What does that really mean?
RD: That's a good question, and one that many people ask. A truly comprehensive approach to rider safety includes training, licensing, proper gear and riding unimpaired. All of these components contribute significantly to the safety of riders.
AM: How does the AMA's philosophy of choice factor into its position on mandatory helmet laws? And how do you respond to some people who say that the AMA is "anti-helmet?"
RD: I simply say that it's not true. The AMA strongly encourages everyone to wear a properly fitted motorcycle helmet that is certified by its manufacturer to meet the DOT standard. However, we also believe that appropriate gear should remain a personal choice for adults, and not something mandated by law. The AMA does not oppose mandatory helmet laws for minors. But again, once a person reaches adulthood, the decision to choose whatever gear he or she feels is appropriate should not be mandated by the government.
AM: So why does AMA oppose helmet mandates? Where's the harm?
RD: Because mandates have unintended consequences. Proponents of mandatory helmet laws see these laws as a cure-all for motorcycle injuries and fatalities, when in fact they do nothing to prevent crashes from occurring in the first place. We want to prevent crashes, rather than simply deal with their consequences.
Let's face it, almost any motorcycle crash is going to expose the rider to far more harm than the driver of an automobile. And the fact of the matter is that there are much smarter ways to prevent motorcycle injuries and fatalities, such as rider education, riding unimpaired and driver-awareness programs that include modules within existing driver education courses alerting drivers to the presence of motorcycles in the traffic mix.
The AMA and its members battle every year at the federal and state level to protect funding for rider education and driver awareness. When mandatory helmet laws are passed, safety officials tend to think "problem solved," and they pass the burden of an unfunded mandate to the enforcement community. Once that happens, funding for preventive strategies like rider education and driver awareness is often shelved. This makes the problem worse for riders, not better.
AM: Are there any other examples of mandates that the AMA opposes?
RD: Yes, we oppose mandatory rider training. Some states have gone so far as to mandate rider education, but we don't agree with this strategy. While on the surface this argument may have a nice ring to it, the reality is that every state program is currently stretched to the breaking point just trying to meet the needs of motorcyclists who seek training. When states pass these unfunded mandates, they force riders to wait many more months for training.
One unintended consequence is that some riders will then forego training altogether and risk riding unlicensed, which is nearly impossible for law enforcement to monitor. And unlicensed riders are already overrepresented in crash and fatality statistics.
As an alternative to mandatory rider training, we believe that greater funding of existing programs, improved training reciprocity between states, and other incentives -- for example, insurance discounts -- would result in more riders completing rider training courses.
On top of that, riding instructors are hard to find, train and keep. These people are enthusiasts who want to give something back to motorcycling, and often they are not well-paid. When you force students who don't want to be there into the classroom, the instructor corps becomes disenchanted and dwindles rapidly at the very time that more of them are needed.
AM: What message does the AMA want to deliver to a beginning rider who is unfamiliar with these issues?
RD: If I could stress one thing about motorcycling to a novice rider, it would be this: take responsibility for how you ride. That means get trained, get licensed, wear protective gear, including a helmet, ride unimpaired, run a quiet exhaust, observe the rules of the road, and ride, ride ride! When you do these things, motorcycling is a lot of fun. And remember to join the AMA -- because we make sure your right to ride is protected.
This is the last of the three-part series, "Threats to motorcycling in America, conversations with the AMA's Rob Dingman." To read all three parts, including Dingman's answers to questions about public land access and excessive sound, go to www.AmericanMotoryclist.com