Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Freedom Isn't Free


I had planned to write up my rendition of the press conference that was held at the capitol Monday morning, in a dry blow-by-blow sort of way, but I walked away from that conference with something else, besides the distaste I had for our state's political blindness. RC had already blogged on this, but I felt the need to vent after seeing this new "dog and pony show". So this is what I saw of this conference, but more importantly, what I saw of RC in action.

The new campaign, "Ride Proud, Dress Loud", is at best a "feel good" move, and will contribute to future problems for motorcyclists everywhere. But RC made damn sure our concerns were heard. If they didn't know him before, they know him now. I knew we'd only get the chance for one or two questions, and I knew RC would hit them hard.

I have known RC for a little more than a year now. Each time I am with him somewhere, fighting the good fight, or supporting our troops, I see something new that smacks me right up the side of the head and says, see, there's another reason this man has more integrity than those lofty politicians sitting up there in their tidy little offices, or the "little Napoleon" who runs the [small] MRO called Abate in this state. Come to think of it, if any Abate members were at this conference, they did not make their presence known. Why am I not surprised at that?

The title to this blog is one of RC's favorite sayings. RC runs the
Big Bend Bikers For Freedom blog, and if you haven't been there, you should go and check it out. And if you have been there, you know that RC is every biker's warrior. An "old school" biker in every sense of the word, RC is a bearded, long-haired biker who has been-there-done-that. His sense of fairness and compassion is evident in everything he does; quick to laugh and kind of heart, until you mess with freedom, or give yourself airs you don't deserve. Then you'd better run and hide until you've mapped out 100 ways to make it up. God love him.

So back to the press conference. Now I may be wrong in thinking that many of the 50 odd bikers that showed up for the press conference on Monday were there to hear the speakers, and maybe get on TV, but I know for sure that RC and I went there specifically to challenge the discriminatory flavor of this press conference. And a handful of others I know came for that reason as well. Some who showed up and made the "feel good" comments to reporters that were printed in the media, and may like wearing neon pink; the better to see them when they are riding home drunk after Hooters bike night. OK, I sometimes wear a white and red colored jacket. But that's because I want to. No one is going to dictate to me what I wear when I ride. No one. And I won't give lip service that contradicts that.

So while the majority are either standing around waiting for something to happen, or socializing, RC is documenting, networking, and cornering officials and reporters. I'm still hanging back and making myself available to him when needed. I don't recognize these people yet the way he does.

This press conference was nothing more than a publicity stunt designed to win public approval, in spite of what anyone else thinks. I knew that, RC knew that, but I don't think many others knew that. Some were indignant that anyone would protest such a "feel good" initiative the state had cooked up "for motorcyclists". Lord, help me look past their short-sightedness.

So let's examine why on God's green earth two of this state's freedom fighters would think our freedom is yet again up for grabs.

Fact: 2/3 of all motorcycle deaths are due to negilgent and/or distracted drivers of 4-wheeled automobiles.

Fact: Drivers convicted of right-of-way violations, and killing or injuring a motorcyclist, are fined for a traffic violation and allowed to go free.

Fact: The majority of guilty drivers who kill or injure a motorcyclist can get out of any restitution by stating, "I didn't see him/her".

Fact: Drivers who use cell phones while driving, hands-free or not, are equal to impairment of a driver under the influence of alcohol.

Fact: There are no valid studies that show bright colored clothing, or motorcycle color makes a motorcycle more visible to a driver, especially one who doesn't look.

Fact: Light colored helmets and headlights have proven to be helpful in making motorcycles visible to motorists, WHEN THEY ARE LOOKING.

Fact: The state of Florida now mandates that all new riders must take a state designated rider training course, for about $200.

Fact: There are 29 approved driver education schools for various fees.

Fact: A standard drivers license written test contains no information about motorcycle awareness or cautionary techniques.

Fact: A standard drivers license only requires a driving test and written test. Renewals only require a written test.

Fact: A motorcycle is bound by the same driving laws and is entitled to use the same roads as any other motor vehicle.

Fact: When a helmet-less motorcyclist dies at the hands of a negligent driver, the government and the public focuses on the absence of helmet, not on the guilt of the driver, regardless of the injury that caused the death.

This last fact is the most telling of them all. Tell me, dear readers, once this campaign is going strong, and "Ride Proud, Dress Loud" is plastered all over the state, how often will we now hear, "Well, she didn't see him because he was wearing black"? What this campaign will do is raise awareness for yet another excuse for NOT seeing motorcycles. Now it'll be, "he hit him because he was wearing black, and he died because he wasn't wearing a helmet". God help us all. Next thing you know, some uppity state rep with a hair up his ass, like Carlos-Cantera, will come up with a bill forcing all motorcyclists to wear neon orange vests, helmets, and plaster neon stickers all over our bikes.

There are 15.5 million drivers in Florida, and only 3.9% of them are endorsed. Why is the state trying to convince US to accept sole responsibility for those 2/3 motorcycle fatalities that are not the rider's fault? Does this not smack of the band-aid approach that helmets do? We know that helmets will only protect our heads up to 20mph, and that most fatalities occur at much higher speeds. We know that the head is only part of the body, which contains many other areas where we may be fatally injured, all of which is mangled in a crash between a motorcycle and an automobile. The physics will win every time.

Indeed, that morning I rode my bike down to the capitol, and while sitting at a red light, in the right lane, a pickup truck squeezed past me, IN MY LANE, to make a right hand turn. If I had leaned my body to the right even 6 inches, his mirror would have smacked me in the head. Somehow I doubt that wearing neon orange would have made any difference. My point being, drivers take full advantage of motorcyclists without any regard for their safety, and just don't care about looking for us, or are too distracted to. I've been told the risk of them hitting me is solely mine, because I choose to ride, which, in their mind, absolves them of any wrong-doing.

I would challenge you to an experiment, assuming the Director of FLHSMV has credibility in her statements about color of bike or clothes. While you are out driving your car next time, and you see a motorcyclist coming in the opposite direction from a distance, I'd like you to determine what color the bike is, and what color clothes the motorcyclist is wearing, first thing, the minute you spot them in the distance. Especially if you see a biker on a Harley, or cruiser type of bike. Can you see what he's wearing through the fairing? Can you tell what color the bike is on the small front fender?

Mark my words. Somewhere soon, a motorcyclist is going to die at the hands of a negligent driver, and the first thought that will come into their head as they look at him lying in the road is, "oh my, I didn't see him because he's wearing black, so it isn't my fault".

So yes, we went to that press conference to protest. What were they thinking??? The director of FLHSMV was adamant, in her words to us before the conference started, that this is about "everyone", including other motorists, but the official statements made by her, and by the Tallahassee Police Chief, and the FHP were all about motorcyclists taking the responsiblity and making ourselves even more visible so we don't have to die.

Both LEO's stated that enforcement of dangerous driving would be increased. My first thought was, "and they weren't enforcing all of it before?", then I thought, well that's nice, but what are you going to do about a deterent? What about stiffer penalties for killing someone in a ROWV? Enforcement will merely increase the number of citations paid.

There were other things that just fried my ass at this hearing. Most notably the eight, count 'em, eight motorcycle cops attending to lend a pretty picture with their bikes all lined up by the podium. Why does that piss me off? Because last Saturday the Patriot Guard escorted a fallen soldier through Tallahassee to his final resting place, and the county Sheriff and Police chief refused to give an escort. PG riders blocked roads for the procession, and risked being run over by angry Tallahassee citizens who couldn't wait five minutes for an honored soldier to pass. In the state capitol!

Another thing that came to my attention was the money paid to hire a marketing firm to advertise this campaign, which came out of state motorcycle safety funds. Yet, the state of Florida saw fit to pass an increase in endorsement fees to help pay for rider education, a portion of which is pocketed by the M$F, who will be delivering rider courses we are forced to pay $200 for! Gosh, do I "feel good" yet?

Now back to why 'when I grow up I want to be like RC'.

When the state officials were all done with their flowery speeches, one of the reporters asked if questions would be accepted. No sooner than they accepted this, RC stepped up to the plate. This may not be accurate word for word, as it is quoted from memory, but he asked very clearly, "What specific measures are you going to implement to assure that distracted drivers who kill us are punished?". And true to all politicians and most state officials, they danced around the question and merely repeated the "extra enforcement" comments. So, RC again repeated his question. And for a second round, they repeated their comments. The main thing is, everyone heard his questions. You could have heard a pin drop. And all the reporters were watching, and paying attention.

The officials then stepped down and disbanded, but every one of those reporters and cameramen clustered around RC like moths to a flame. He gave statements and answered questions. Sadly, the reporter that the Tallahassee Democrat sent to the press conference cared little for printing the truth. It most definitely didn't go down with "a roar of approval and motorcycle engines". See that story
here.

I tell you here and now, the government will not tell me what to wear when I ride. I've stayed alive this long by treating every other driver as though they would run me down if they had the chance. If you can't see me or hear me coming, YOU DIDN'T LOOK!

And MY campaign will always be "Ride Proud, RIDE Loud". I'll leave the dressing loud for the FSU student body and the bike night drunks. My pipes are loud enough, thank you very much.

And RC? Well, when the chips are down, my vote stays with his. Watch out Florida politicians, he's got your number. Read RC's rendition of this press conference
here.

Ride proud, ride loud, ride long, ride free. Freedom isn't free, especially if you're wearing neon pink.

(Note: As of this writing, the Tallahassee Police Chief and the Leon County Sheriff's department are [allegedly] negotiating a policy change to provide police escorts for fallen soldiers returning home to Florida. See the story here.)

1 comment:

Shirley Vandever said...

"Now back to why 'when I grow up I want to be like RC."

Me too !