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Will reversing motorcycle law be dangerous?

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – Some proposed laws aimed at improving motorist safety – making texting and driving a primary offense, for example – have been shot down in the Virginia General Assembly.

But alive and well is the proposed repeal of a 40-plus year-old law that makes it against the law for two motorcyclists to ride side-by-side in the same lane. Virginia is just one of two states in the U.S. with such a law on the books.

The proposal, sponsored by 26th District Delegate Tony Wilt and 18th District Delegate Michael Webert, sailed through the transportation committee and, overwhelmingly, through the House.

The law is an old one, probably sparked by the menacing motorcycle gangs of the 60s.

“1968. We assume it had to do with motorcycle gangs,” said motorcycling lobbyist Jim Cannon. “We don’t have institutional memory going back that far to tell us why it was enacted.”

Cannon, with the Virginia Coalition of Motorcyclists, said 48 other states either don’t ban the practice, or have specific laws allowing it. There’s no indication those states have more crashes or problems related to two-abreast riding.

“It’s a solution looking for a problem – there’s no problem there,” Cannon said.

He said riders are told in safety classes to pull up side-by-side at stoplights, but they can be breaking the law getting into and out of that formation.

Many motorcyclists pull up side-by-side to communicate. You see police officers on motorcycles doing that, particularly in motorcades. Bicyclists can ride side-by-side.

But 74th District Delegate Joe Morrissey thinks reversing the law will cause injuries and deaths.

Low-speed, two-abreast riding is one thing, Morrissey said. But motorcyclists riding that way at highway speeds can’t guess what the other rider will do if there’s an animal, road debris or even just  a pothole to dodge. “I love motorcycle riding,” Morrissey said. “I’ve been doing it since I was 13-years-old. But that’s just a bad (proposal).”

Instead of the menacing motorcycle gangs of yesteryear, now there are clubs. Motorcycle registrations have shot up during the past decade. Many frequently ride in large groups for fund-raisers like Teddy Bear Runs or to raise awareness, such as the massive Rolling Thunder tribute in Washington DC for missing or imprisoned soldiers. It would be great to ride in those two-deep legally.

Yes, there’s no doubt riding motorcycles is one of the most dangerous things you can do. You’re about 35 times more likely to die in a crash than if you were in a car. And about 8 times as likely to be injured.

Speaking of cars . . .  two-thirds of motorcycle crashes are caused by people in cars who don’t see the riders. Two abreast may even help visibility.

And since motorcycles generally have one headlight, riding abreast can help illuminate dark roads.

Motorcyclists have to have a heightened sense of awareness while riding. Our lives are on the line. Most of us who ride abreast will do so carefully. No, it’s not something for the new or casual rider. Know your limits and know the person next to you.

But if you’re really worried about those of us riding on two wheels, don’t fret about repealing this law.

Instead, please watch more carefully for us.  That would eliminate about 3,000 of the 4,500 or so motorcycle fatalities every year.

That’s my take. Please share yours on WTVR.com, or on my WTVR CBS-6 Facebook page.


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