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  • DC Insider: Take the money and run! California to opt out of the Recreational Trails Program

    Recently, at a meeting with California Gov. Jerry Brown’s staff, the AMA learned that California intends to opt out of the federal Recreational Trails Program. This means California will spend approximately $5.7 million less on recreational trails in 2014.

    The RTP functioned as a standalone program within the federal highway trust because it is based on a user-pay/user-benefit system. All of the funding for the program came from taxes paid on gasoline by OHV users (you and I) when we filled up our gas tanks. In essence, when groups applied for grants from the program they were simply applying for their money back.

    This will no longer be the case.

    According to the governor’s proposed budget, the funds that were congressionally authorized to fund trails will be diverted to fund active transportation projects. This will include only walking and bicycling projects that will reduce greenhouse emissions.  

    Starting in 2014, Brown is asking OHV users to continue to pay the federal and state excise tax on gasoline and derive no benefit. In fact, he is telling the OHV community to fund other projects instead.

    The RTP program in California is exceptionally popular and well run. Each year RTP administrators receive more applications for grants than they can fund. Additionally, in 2011 California was recognized by the Coalition for Recreational Trails for administering the program efficiently.

    In proposing this state budget, Brown has shown how much he values the OHV community in California and surrounding states. The AMA does not plan to sit out this budget battle on the sidelines. In fact, we – along with other users of recreational trails – have begun a large grassroots campaign to get the governor to reconsider his decision to opt out of the RTP.  

    We need your help! Please send the governor a letter – you can do so by going here and clicking the “Take Action” button. Additionally, share this link with all your friends and urge them to do the same.

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  • DC Insider: Is progress being made to end motorcycle-only checkpoints?

    One word—yes.

    On May 7, U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) introduced H.R. 1861, the Stop Motorcycle Checkpoint Funding Act. The bill will protect motorcyclists’ rights and promote crash prevention as the most effective use of taxpayer money to save motorcyclists’ lives.

    The bill incorporates Sensenbrenner’s legislation (H.R. 904) introduced in the previous Congress. H.R. 904 would have prohibited the U.S. Department of Transportation from providing funds to state and local authorities for the purpose of creating motorcycle-only checkpoints.

    This bill is critical to ending the discriminatory practice of MOCs.

    To view the AMA's efforts to end motorcycle-only checkpoints, go to http://www.americanmotorcyclist.com/rights/motorcycleonlycheckpoints.aspx.

    You—the motorcyclist— can count on the AMA to watch your six while you enjoy the freedom of riding.

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  • DC Insider: A Ride A Day Keeps The Doctor Away

    It turns out that riding your motorcycle can help keep your brain fit.

    A study performed by Dr. Ryuta Kawashima of the University of Tokyo demonstrated that people who rode their motorcycles daily experienced improved memory and spatial reasoning capacity.  

    The study examined three groups. One group of riders had been riding their bikes daily for an extended period of time. The second was a group of former riders who had not been on a motorcycle in over 10 years. Each group had their brains scanned while riding and performing other activities. Finally, they examined a group that did not ride a motorcycle at all.

    Interestingly, the images of each groups’ brains showed vast differences. When riding, the riders who had continuously motorcycled used the right hemisphere of the prefrontal lobe – the area associated with higher mental functions, such as speech, planning and motivation – and demonstrated higher levels of concentration. Those who had not been on a motorcycle for over 10 years did not.

    The benefits of riding more do not stop once you get off your bike. Current riders experienced higher levels of cognitive faculties. Interestingly, at the end of the study, the former riders also experienced these benefits as compared to the control group which did not motorcycle.

    These effects are vastly different that those generated from driving a car, which does not produce the same benefits. This is largely due to the fact that driving a car under normal condition does not create similar stimuli, or require the increased levels of concentration, as motorcycling.

    An added bonus, all participants reported a more positive mental state and lower levels of stress at the end of the study.

    As if you didn’t already need another reason to ride your motorcycle more!

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  • DC Insider: Bureaucrats’ Attempting to Override Congress….Again

    A few weeks ago I wrote about the Bureau of Land Management using arbitrary standards to decide when an event is considered “significant,” thus, needing to be officially “noticed” in the Federal Register. At that time my curiosity got the best of me and the AMA wrote a letter to the principle deputy director of the BLM asking for clarification. Just this week the BLM responded to the letter the AMA sent out asking for clarification.

    The BLM’s response was disappointing.    

    The BLM directed me to 40 CFR 1508.27 which, theoretically, lays out the legally binding definition of a “significant” event. The legal definition leaves much to be desired. At the end of the day, this flexible definition of a significant event gives nearly total discretion to (unelected) federal decision-makers on the ground.

    The BLM went on to say that, “Although Federal regulations do not require a comment period for environmental assessments… [we] strongly encourage public involvement, leaving the type of involvement at the discretion of the decision-maker.”

    As a result, if an unelected bureaucrat wants to make an unpopular decision he/she first gets to decide if an event is significant enough to legally warrant public comments and being noticed in the Federal Register. That same bureaucrat can then decide the level of public involvement. Since the law is so vague, any decision is difficult to appeal.

    I am not one to argue for more levels of arbitrary bureaucracy. But, the BLM, as well as all other federal land management agencies, should have quantitative measurements that apply when determining the significance of a proposed decision. These metrics should be applied to every project so the public can be involved in decisions that affect them, no matter how insignificant the federal government claims them to be. After all, our nation’s citizens and their treasured natural resources deserve nothing less.

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  • DC Insider: They are at it again

    Unelected bureaucrats are trying to restrict responsible OHV access once again.

    In 1964 Congress passed the Wilderness Act, which established the legal basis for designating federal public land as Wilderness. This important legislation was passed to protect the most pristine federal lands for future generations – certainly a noble endeavor.

    A Wilderness designation is one of the strictest forms of public land management. Once Congress designates an area as Wilderness, nearly all forms of non-pedestrian recreation are prohibited – including riding a bicycle or using a wheelbarrow. This is why, to prevent abuse, only Congress can create Wilderness.

    The AMA supports appropriate Wilderness designations that meet the criteria established by the 1964 law. Until recently, this rule was generally followed by federal land management agencies. However, as we have seen in recent years, federal agencies have increasingly attempted to limit access to public lands by creating new land-use designations that mirror Wilderness.

    However, these agencies are not seeking congressional approval to do so.

    On Dec. 22, 2010, former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed Secretarial Order 3310 creating a new land-use designation called "Wild Lands" that essentially allowed officials in the federal Bureau of Land Management to manage public land as if it had received a "Wilderness" land-use designation from Congress, but without requiring congressional approval. This new policy would have restricted responsible off-highway riding in the designated areas.

    When the "Wild Lands" policy first emerged, federal lawmakers called the policy a "land grab" and a blatant attempt to usurp congressional authority. The AMA agreed.  

    The AMA opposed the "Wild Lands" policy because it would restrict responsible OHV riding with little or no public input whatsoever. Fortunately, Congress asserted its authority and blocked the "Wild Lands" proposal by refusing to fund it.

    However, the fight did not end there.

    On Aug. 2, 2012, U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) announced that despite a lack of funding, Wild Lands had been reincarnated within the federal Department of the Interior. Instead of designating targeted land as Wild Lands, the DOI would label them as having “Wilderness characteristics.” This was the defining language used to describe the Department of the Interior's "Wild Lands" policy.

    This de facto resurrection of the Wild Lands policy was in violation of the congressional funding moratorium that prohibits the use of appropriated funds to implement, administer, or enforce Secretarial Order 3310.

    Senators and representatives from western states were opposed to the administrative attempts to circumvent Congress.

    "Even though these proposals have already been overwhelmingly rejected, the administration is attempting to administratively put these policies in place," Hatch said. "This proposal will give Washington bureaucrats more control over the lands in Utah and across the West. It's wrong, and the Interior Department needs to stop trying to keep the public off public lands."

    "This is a prime example of why Congress must exercise vigorous oversight," said House Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings. "The Wild Lands policy expressly circumvents Congress' statutory authority to establish Wilderness areas."

    Now an additional threat has emerged.

    The AMA recently noticed the National Parks Service introducing the concept of “semi-primitive areas.” According to a recent draft environmental impact statement, semi-primitive areas are “areas [where] visitors would experience a more natural setting with an opportunity for solitude away from roads…semi-primitive zone[s]…could be accessed by visitors using only nonmotorized means.”

    The BLM has a similar definition, though less restrictive – motorized uses are allowed but kept to a minimum to protect a natural looking environment with only subtle evidence of man-made structures.

    This sounds like Wilderness Lite to me.

    The AMA is concerned that this designation will be used to ultimately limit – or even end -- OHV use on public lands. In the DEIS cited above, the NPS has stated that its goal is to increase the level of funding for these semi-primitive and rural zones to make certain national parks a destination for non-motorized activities.

    Opponents of motorized recreation want to eliminate OHV use so that Wilderness characteristics can return to an area. If this happens, the agencies can then use language lifted from Secretarial Order 3310 to designate an area as having Wilderness characteristics. While the DOI has insisted this will not affect land-use within an area, this designation will be taken into account when designing future resource management plans and DEISs.

    This is another example of federal agencies trying to do an end run around Congress to limit OHV access. Wilderness designation, because of the strict limitations that accompany it, is supposed to be difficult to obtain. Designating areas as semi-primitive is one administrative step closer to designating the land as having Wilderness characteristics. In turn, this is one step closer to a de facto Wilderness designation.

    Because the restrictions in Wilderness are so great, only Congress should have the authority to designate it. What the agencies are trying to do is rule by administrative fiat, without utilizing public input.  

    The American Motorcyclist Association opposes all of these administrative land-use designations because they can restrict responsible OHV riding.

    Please join us in working together to defeat these proposals and any that are certain to follow. More members means more clout against our opponents, and your support will help the AMA fight for your rights – on the road, trail, racetrack, and in the halls of government. To join, go to AmericanMotorcyclist.com/membership/join.

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  • DC Insider: Risk of E15 misfueling may increase with federal program

    Last August, I posted a blog titled, “Paying from both ends to support ethanol.” It was about how the U.S. Department of Agriculture was subsidizing ethanol production from the start by providing grants to purchase special ethanol blender pumps.

    The blog post elicited several comments and I wanted to provide an update on the latest efforts of the AMA on the E15 front. E15 is a blend of gasoline that includes up to 15 percent ethanol by volume.

    On April 24, the AMA provided comments regarding grants and loans for the Agriculture Department’s Rural Energy for America Program’s renewable energy systems (e.g., special ethanol blender pumps).

    Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced in 2011 that the USDA intends to install 10,000 blender pumps by 2016. REAP will be a key component to achieve the secretary’s goal and, thus, help grow the availability of E15 fuel.

    These special ethanol blender pumps will further limit access to E10-or-less fuel in rural areas. This will be a problem because rural areas tend to have an older “legacy” vehicle fleet than other parts of the country. Moreover, rural areas are the most vulnerable places for motorcyclists and users of small engine devices because options for regular gasoline may be few or even non-existent.

    The REAP will help one segment of the rural economy at the cost of other segments. Ultimately, the higher costs will have a negative impact on small rural economies.

    These special ethanol blender pumps may increase misfueling by consumers. In fact, the EPA is concerned enough to issue a plan for retailers on its website’s “E15: Misfueling Mitigation Plans” page to try to avoid misfueling by consumers.

    The REAP grant and loan program to purchase special ethanol blender pumps will only worsen the possibility of misfueling by consumers.

    Like always, the AMA has you—the motorcyclist—in mind concerning the unproven effects of E15 fuel on your ride.

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  • DC Insider: April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month

    On April 23, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood released distraction guidelines that encourage automobile manufacturers to limit the distraction risk associated with electronic devices built into their vehicles. High-tech devices designed for communications, entertainment and navigation, known as “infotainment systems,” will, inevitably, increase distracted driving and add to the ever-increasing number of crashes and fatalities attributable to distracted and inattentive vehicle operation.

    The American Motorcyclist Association sent a letter on April 24 thanking LaHood for his actions regarding his ongoing efforts to combat distracted driving and shares his view that “Distracted driving is a deadly epidemic that has devastating consequences on our nation’s roadways.”

    Issued by the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the voluntary guidelines establish specific recommended criteria for electronic devices installed in vehicles at the time they are manufactured that require drivers to take their hands off the wheel or eyes off the road to use them.

    The guidelines recommend disabling several operations unless the vehicle is stopped and in “park,” such as:

    •    Manual text entry for the purposes of text messaging and internet browsing;
    •    Video-based entertainment and communications like video phoning or video conferencing;
    •    Display of certain types of text, including text messages, web pages, social media content.

    The AMA supports NHTSA efforts to curtail distracted driving, and agrees with LaHood that infotainment systems are a step in the wrong direction toward achieving safer highways for all users, especially motorcyclists.

    Driver, rider and pedestrian safety should never be compromised in the effort to introduce yet another technology distraction to an already overly distracting automobile cockpit.

    You can count on the AMA to keep fighting for you—the motorcyclist—on this important issue of safer highways for all users. 

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  • DC Insider: AMA receives response on new transportation safety office

    As promised, once the AMA received a response addressing our concerns regarding the new U.S. Department of Transportation’s Integrated Highway Safety Program Office (IHSPO), we would share it with you.

    In a conference call, officials from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration responded to our letter on behalf of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The officials said the idea behind the office will be a “synergy out of data” and will be a virtual office used as a clearinghouse to avoid duplicate data.

    This virtual safety office will be available for the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the NHTSA.

    However, the officials informed the AMA that the current budget for the NHTSA does not include funding for the IHSPO. They did inform us that the FMCSA does include $5 million in its budget for the safety office but it’s unclear what the $5 million would be used for.

    Therefore, it appears the DOT will have a new IHSPO soon!

    You can count on the AMA to continue to get more information on this new safety office and how it will affect you—the motorcyclist.

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  • DC Insider: Capture the moment; earn cash!

    The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials announced this week its ninth annual Faces of Transportation photography contest. The national competition is open to everyone and asks for photographs of people and projects that are making communities better, while emphasizing the importance of transportation.

    According to an AASHTO’s press release, the theme for this year's competition is "A Snapshot of Transportation in America," which includes three new categories: "Building the Future," "Opening Communities," and "Taking the Road Less Traveled." A total of five awards will be presented this year. A $125 cash prize will be awarded to the best photograph in each of the three categories. $500 cash prizes will be presented to the winners of both the People's Choice and the Best Overall Photograph awards.

    AASHTO strongly encourages every submission to prominently feature people designing, constructing, using, and enjoying the nation's transportation systems. All entries should represent the positive effects of all modes of transportation on individuals and communities. Photographs that include recognizable individuals must be accompanied with a model release form and, regardless of category, all photos must include a caption that describes the scene. Failure to meet these requirements may lead to disqualification.

    Riders, this is our time to represent the motorcycling community!

    All entries must be received by July 31. Judging will begin on Aug. 1 and end Aug. 31. The general public will vote for the People's Choice Award at the Faces of Transportation web site, www.facesoftransportation.org.

    The winners of the Faces of Transportation competition will be announced at the TransComm (AASHTO Subcommittee on Transportation Communications) annual meeting in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Sept. 9. Entry forms and contest rules are available at www.facesoftransportation.org.

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  • DC Insider: Is a new federal safety office in the works?

    In a word -- Yes.

    The administration’s fiscal 2014 budget proposal calls for the creation of a new Department of Transportation Integrated Highway Safety Program Office.

    According to the budget proposal, the office will “enable best practices in highway safety, and to streamline highway safety research and data collection and analysis, in order to reduce the paperwork burden of grantees and to enhance the Department’s approach to safety.”

    The AMA spotted this new nugget of information in the president’s budget and decided to send a letter to Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood to address our concerns.

    With the prevention of motorcycle crashes as the utmost priority of the AMA, we wanted to know how this new office will incorporate the safety concerns of motorcyclists? Will the office be a clearinghouse for existing research? Or, will it create an additional bureaucratic layer involving ongoing research (e.g., Federal Highway Administration’s crash causation study, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s naturalistic study)? Will this office initiate new research? How will the new office be accommodated in the DOT’s organizational chart? In addition, will it only incorporate research from agencies within DOT or include research from other federal and/or international agencies?

    Once the AMA receives a reply, we will be sure to share it with you—the rider!

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