Frank Lamothe recently published an article in Louisiana Thunder Roads for motorcycle enthusiasts about Congress finally banning the use of federal funds for motorcycle-only checkpoints on December 3, 2015. Read the article below.
Free at Last — Motorcycle-Only Checkpoints Funding Banned Nationally
After eight years, Congress finally banned the use of federal funds for motorcycle only checkpoints on December 3, 2015.
The ban was part of a $305 billion highway bill called Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (or FAST) Act. The bill was approved by a vote of 359 to 65 in the House of Representatives and 83 to 16 in the Senate. It will become law when it is signed by President Barack Obama. The FAST Act is the first new transportation bill approved by Congress during the Obama Administration and is an example of bipartisanship on behalf of the general welfare of the public and particularly the motorcycling community.
Provisions of the bill will be funded by gasoline tax revenue and $70 billion in offsets from other federal programs. It provides for $205 billion in improvements to American highways and $48 billion on transit projects over the next five years.
The Fast Act incorporated proposed House and Senate legislation including the Senate’s “Stop Motorcycle Checkpoint Funding Act” which was introduced last March.
Motorcycle-only checkpoints are a strategy used by police to harass and conduct searches of motorcyclists under the pretense of checking for the bikers’ compliance with licensing, helmet laws, exhaust emissions and exhaust noise. The stops only applied to motorcyclists. They are often carried out by so-called special task forces and they are often staged near motorcycle rallies and events to better single out motorcyclists.
The checkpoints were inspired by the 2006 death of a New York State Trooper named Craig J. Todeschini. Todeschini died when he lost control of his Chevy Tahoe while trying to chase down a sport bike rider. The following year, in a blatant attempt to exact revenge on all motorcyclists for Todeschini’s death, state police carried out “Operation 5060,” named for Todeschini’s badge number, on Interstate 84 in East Fishkill, New York. The operation featured a helicopter to pursue any motorcyclist who might try to avoid the checkpoint.
No one tried to get away.
Operation 5060 stopped 280 motorcyclists and issued 104 tickets. Because it was publicized as a motorcycle safety imitative, it qualified for federal funding and had virtually no impact on local police budgets. New York State Police sent out a press release calling the checkpoint a “success” and troopers began touring the country to show other police how they could harass motorcyclists using federal funds, too. It became a popular idea.
Another egregious checkpoint program occurred at Pembroke Pines in Florida at a Hooters restaurant where there had been regular bike nights for more than a dozen years with no incidents. Last year the police began conducting “safety operations” near the restaurant causing attendance to dramatically drop resulting in the event being cancelled since the promoter was providing a disk jockey and space for vendors. The police claimed the special checkpoints were for the safety of motorcyclists.
The legislation passed December 3, 2015 helps to put a stop to these types of harassment.
The FAST Act also provides for the reestablishment of a Motorcyclist Advisory Council to coordinate with and counsel the U.S. Department of Transportation administrator on specific infrastructure concerns to motorcyclists.
To its credit, in 2014 Louisiana passed legislation banning motorcycle only checkpoints. But when we travel to other states we can hope we will not be subject to repeated harassment. States are still free to have motorcycle only checkpoints but now no federal funding will be available for these efforts.