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Pennsylvania Motorcyclists 'Tax Themselves' to Ensure Safer Riding

HARRISBURG, Pa., Oct. 5, 2002 -- The Alliance of Bikers Aimed Toward Education (A.B.A.T.E.) today hailed Gov. Schweiker's signature on Act 114, a measure that substantially increases funding for Pennsylvania's Motorcycle Safety Program, as "the best possible way to prevent motorcycling accidents, injuries and deaths on Pennsylvania's roads and highways."

The legislation was initiated by A.B.A.T.E. shortly after that organization's President, Joe Dickey, became a certified Motorcycle Safety Instructor in the program. "It quickly became apparent to me," said Dickey, "that the demand by students for rider training was far greater than the current program's capabilities. I felt supporting the introduction and passage of a bill to partially solve the problem was in keeping with our mission statement." The A.B.A.T.E. Board of Directors quickly agreed and the organization's lobbyist, Charles Umbenhauer, was given the task of finding a sponsor.

Rep. Rick Geist (R-Blair) was not hesitant when the opportunity was presented to him and he introduced a bill which rapidly drew the support of a bi-partisan list of 68 co-sponsors. The legislation increases the surcharge on motorcycle Learners Permits and Drivers Licenses from $2 to $5 annually.

"I was told it is rare for a group of people to be in favor of taxing themselves," related Umbenhauer. "While it may be a rarity, the idea was almost universally accepted by motorcyclists throughout the Commonwealth. Riders, and particularly the members of A.B.A.T.E., understand that education is the best way to prevent fatalities and injuries resulting from motorcycle accidents. As responsible members of the community, motorcyclists have been more than willing to shoulder the cost of rider education."

"As an organization very concerned with rider safety," said Dickey, "this legislation has been our primary focus for the last two years. We are extremely proud A.B.A.T.E. was the primary force in getting it introduced and passed. Our State Legislative Coordinator, John Mullendore, and Charles Umbenhauer worked very hard to insure this victory. They were responsible for keeping the bill's language intact and fending off attempts to attach amendments which could have damaged our ability to gain passage." Dickey chuckled, "When it appeared that A.B.A.T.E. was close to getting the measure passed, there was another group that sent a notice to its members stating the bill had passed and their lobbyist claimed responsibility for getting it done. Since the bill had not yet gone back to the House for concurrence, we thought that was pretty funny. It simply showed how uninvolved they had been in the process."

In 2001, the Motorcycle Safety Program, operated by PennDOT under contract from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, trained approximately 15,000 students. Due to funding limitations, that number represented the maximum enrollment the program could handle. In the same year, over 100,000 motorcycle Learners Permits were issued.

According to Mullendore, "It was obvious there was a definite need to increase funding. Classes filled up almost immediately when they were opened and many potential students had to be turned away. While the increased funding will not completely eliminate that problem, we anticipate a much lower turn-down rate in the future."

The Motorcycle Safety Program is free to Pennsylvania residents and is unique in that students who successfully pass the course are licensed right on the spot by Site Coordinators authorized by PennDOT to endorse the graduates' permits. The program has been repeatedly recognized by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation as one of the best in the nation. When the method of teaching riding fundamentals was changed last year, Pennsylvania was chosen by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation to be one of two pilot programs. Program managers from Pennsylvania were later utilized to introduce the updated program and train Rider Coaches in other states.

A.B.A.T.E. of Pennsylvania, a 501(c)3 corporation formed in 1983 , is one of the nation's leading State Motorcyclists Rights Organizations (SMRO) and currently has over 7,000 members. Motorcycle ownership is not required to join. Further information on membership can be obtained by calling 717-234-3777 or writing to A.B.A.T.E. at P.O. Box 15226, Harrisburg, PA 17105.