Rider Education Program Created in Oklahoma

Oklahoma City, OK ... Late Tuesday, June 8, Governor Frank Keating signed House Bill 1474 creating a "Motorcycle Safety and Education Program" within the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety. The new law provides for the appointment of an "advisory committee" with specific qualifications for appointees and a waiver of the "driving" portion of motorcycle operator's license test for program graduates. The law also establishes a "revolving fund" to which administration and operation costs may be charged. The law does not provide for any public money to be deposited in this fund, however.

An amendment by Representative Tim Pope (R-Mustang) to charge an additional ten dollars in "court costs" to DWI offenders to be transferred to the Rider Education Fund was included in the conference report. Senator Jerry Smith (R-Tulsa), whose wife serves as Tulsa County Clerk, happened to be aware of and pointed out that the Appellate Court had declared that "court charges cannot be used outside the judicial system." In an effort to salvage the bill, the Senate allowed the authors to re-submit the conference report without that amendment.

The bill was drafted originally in 1991 through the efforts of Ron Shepard of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) and Don Browning, Oklahoma City Police Officer and MSF Chief Instructor, and leaders of ABATE of Oklahoma, the local "grass-roots" lobbying organization dedicated to the interests of motorcyclists. ABATE earned the respect of legislators five years ago when they successfully lobbied against a federally mandated motorcycle helmet use law that was supposed to be a "done deal". Keeping the helmet law and education issues separated slowed the development of support for rider education legislation. It also took some time for riders and state officials alike to realize the value of a state rider education program.

Holly Swinford, Legislative Liaison for ABATE of Oklahoma, stated "Funding remains a problem for this program, but we have something to build on and a vehicle to take advantage of Highway Safety Program "Section 402 Funds" that will now be more accessible. We are grateful for our sponsors, House Transportation Chairman Mike Tyler (D-Tulsa) and Senate Transportation Chairman Gene Stipe (D-McAlester) and for the wide bi-partisan support in the legislature." ABATE Safety Officer, Paul Brinker, added, "The next step will be to assemble the advisory committee to formulate a program plan and look for a method to channel funds saved by accident reduction into the rider education fund."

Senator Stipe was the original sponsor of the helmet use bill that was defeated by an intense last minute lobbying effort by ABATE of OK in 1994 and this year he used his influence as the most experienced (51 years) state legislator in the nation to help bikers. Charlie Williams, ABATE Communications Director said, "Senator Stipe's help on this issue was refreshing for those experienced grass-roots lobbyists among us who have come to expect less than the best in terms of integrity in today's political arena. It is a credit to the character of both the legislators and the ABATE lobbyists that the public interest was valued above concern over past conflicts."

MRF Vice-President of Government Relations, Steve Zimmer, pointed out that Oklahoma is the 47th state to recognize the value of rider education with enabling legislation. Such programs are largely credited with reduction of motorcycle crash fatalities by more than half over the last two decades. He credited grass-roots political groups such as ABATE of OK as the driving force in the growth of rider education. Zimmer stated, "We continue to be dismayed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) emphasis on helmet laws which have consistently failed to produce such results even when they were enforced in 47 states."

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