The Course                                                    Report 1622 words

Aug 2020

Howard R Music

 

 

I received the following from an officer in the Texoma Motorcycle Rights’ Association.

 A bit of background is needed:  In 1997, after several years of lobbying, Texas riders had amassed enough knowledge, influence and numbers to modify a state wide mandatory motorcycle helmet law. Unfortunately, we lost by one vote in getting a clean helmet bill.  A personal injury protection plan (PIP) in the amount of $10,000 was required to ride without a helmet or, a biker could take the rider course.  It wasn’t perfect, but we accepted it, reasoning that we could come back the next session and work a clean sweep.  Alas, many riders dropped out of the lobbying process, our influence waned, and we were never able to get a totally clean helmet law.

A few years later, I forget the exact time, the chairman of the now defunct Texas Motorcycle Rights’ Association (TMRA 2) proposed to make the rider course mandatory to receive an MC license.  I was horrified and did everything but beg in an attempt to change his mind, but to no avail. Lacking the support he'd previously had from grassroots riders, I believe he thought compromising with the state would help with other issues.  Regardless, the course was made mandatory by the legislature, and managed by the Texas DPS (Highway Patrol). 

The rider course itself, was one of the issues that sparked Texas riders to lobby. Decades ago riders had agreed to pay and extra five-dollar license fee to fund the course.  The cash was duly collected and amassed to several million-dollars, yet there was no rider course.  Riders have tried for many years to account for the funds but have been unsuccessful.  Rumors abound such as one claiming the DPS has used the monies for armed, high-speed boats on the Rio Grande.  Some have speculated the motive for the ambush and shooting and arrests of participants in a political meeting at Twin-Peeks outside of Waco was in regard to biker inquiries of the funds.

We may never know.

I believe there is a lesson in this. Mainly, never voluntarily compromise with government bureaucrats. The situation Texas bikers find themselves (and their cash) is a prime example. After decades of funding the beast in a good-faith effort to educate new riders, as well as the public, the costs have gone up, service has gone down, and all we have to show is more red-tape and delays in getting an MC license.

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On September 1, 2020 a new chapter in motorcycle safety training started as the Texas Department of Public Safety handed the reins of a program it had held since the 1980s to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, per changes in the Texas Transportation Code brought about by the sunsetting of the DPS Motorcycle Safety Unit.

Texas Transportation Code, Title 7, Subtitle G, Chapter 662 set forth new rules and guidelines for the operation and administration of the motorcycle safety program. Unlike the DPS program, which had one small unit overseeing all aspects of the training program, the new arrangement envisioned by former State Senator Kirk Watson split responsibilities among three entities, based on their specific areas of expertise.

The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) is responsible for the overall administration of the program and the coordination with the other two named entities. TDLR contracts with the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) to conduct instructor/rider-coach training classes, and with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) to conduct ongoing motorcycle safety and rider education research as well as outreach to the public through events, online-promotion, and other communication means.

The hope was that splitting responsibilities among three entities, each with their own specialization and expertise, would result in better overall performance of the state motorcycle safety program and better service to the public in terms of training accessibility, affordability, and adaptability.

Issue:

Unfortunately, the 3-legged stool approach has not worked. While overall outreach, research and promotion has flowered under TTI, and while TDLR has greatly streamlined overall licensing and regulation for greater efficiency, the instructor training overseen by TEEX has been inefficient and ineffectual.

The instructor corps of Texas has shrunk in the past seven years from more than 700 instructors to less than 260 at this time. This has resulted in a dramatic reduction of both training sites (down by nearly a third due to no instructors available to teach, causing large areas of the state to not have any training available within a reasonable distance) and class offerings (classes must be taught by licensed instructors. The fewer of those that are available, the fewer classes can be offered at the sites that do exist.)

The result is that people in need of the mandatory training to get their M endorsement are left with few opportunities to meet the requirement. Research has shown that untrained, unlicensed riders are over-represented in motorcycle crashes and fatalities. By making training less accessible, less affordable and less adaptable to changing needs, the state is, in fact, encouraging riders to break the law and ride illegally, putting themselves at risk, both in terms of injury and financial liability. This issue may well be reflected in our increasing motorcycle fatality numbers. From CY 2019 to CY 2021 motorcycle fatalities increased over 26%, from 404 to 515. Even more telling, the number of unlicensed motorcyclists involved in crashes has risen to 58%. (Source: TxDOT Crash Records Information System).

When TDLR took over, the following goals were set to quickly increase trainer numbers through a multi-faceted approach:

a) Eliminate Texas-specific curricula customizations, bringing Motorcycle Safety Foundation and Total Control Training, Inc curricula back to the basics.

b) Make instructor training more accessible by allowing out-of-state training by qualified certified instructors in the two state-approved curricula.

c) Allow qualified out-of-state curricula instructor trainers to teach in Texas at approved sites.

d) Allow for local training at any curricula-standard/licensed training site to ease the financial burden placed on instructor candidates when required to attend distance training.

e) Allow for alternative instructor training methods, such as the Be Crash Free modified online/in-person approach, to lessen the time (and expense) required for instructor in-person training.

f) Remove the two-year minimum licensing rule set forth in the Transportation code to increase the pool of potential instructors.

Unfortunately, the current arrangement is an impediment to almost all these necessary changes.

a) The Transportation Code specifies that instructors must be trained in Texas by TEEX.

b) TEEX has made it very difficult for out-of-state qualified instructors to come into the state to teach, and for out-of-state instructor trainers to be brought into Texas.

c) TEEX has restricted training to its on-site location at the Texas A&M RELLIS facility in Bryan/College Station. That has caused considerable problems for candidates from other parts of the state.

d) TEEX will not allow alternative teaching methods for instructor training, such as Be Crash Free. Consequently, candidates have no option other than 9 days of in-person training with all the time and expense issues that involves.

e) Despite Texas accepting multiple curricula for licensing and the Transportation Code requiring Instructor Training in all approved curricula, TEEX restricts instructor training to only one curriculum provider.

The result? Since TEEX assumed the responsibility of Instructor Training (Sept. 2020), only 46 new instructors have been trained. Far less than the 48 instructors stipulated in each of the two annual Statements of Work agreed to by both TDLR and TEEX. This rate of instructor training does not even keep up with natural attrition in the program.

Solution:

a) Section 662.0062 (1) must be amended as shown to remove the requirement that motorcycle operator training and safety instruction must be administered by TEEX.

b) The two-year minimum licensing rule in Section 662.0062 (2) of the Transportation Code must be eliminated.

c) Section 662.0064, which mandates that instructor training be administered by TEEX, must be removed in toto.

d) Section 662.0037 section (b), eliminate #5 and change #6 to #5, rewriting it to three public members who had a valid class M drivers’ license issued under Chapter 521.

Eliminating the requirement that TEEX administer all instructor training in the state will allow TDLR to bring about all necessary changes through simple rule changes, and that will allow greater flexibility in the future.

Under the current arrangement, TEEX is paid in excess of $250,000 annually to administer this program, monies that could be better spent on grants, scholarships, research, and public awareness campaigns to bring down motorcyclist crashes, injuries, and fatalities.

More instructors mean more training sites (more accessible). More training sites mean less expense required for instructor and rider training (more affordable). And simplifying administration requirements means motorcycle training, both for instructors and riders, will be better able to quickly meet changes in population, technology and laws (more adaptable.)

The solutions outlined in this report are supported by groups like the Texas Motorcycle Dealers Association (TMDA) more riders trained means more riders and more motorcycle sales, which increases state tax coffers), the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA), and a number of manufacturers, including CanAm/BRP.

The solution is simple. The payoff is potentially huge. Please help us get this done.

How can we help? We need to have appointments to sit down and share our concerns and proposed legislation with the Senate Transportation Committee.

The Motorcycle Safety Advisory Board members are ready, willing and able to attend these appointments and speak with the Senators, what they need from us is constituents/family/friends of these Senators to help get an appointment. If you (or someone you know) has a relationship with any of the listed Senators and can get a meeting with them, PLEASE reach out!!

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