Gary Gardner (grgardner) wrote,
Gary Gardner

March Column

Well we've just passed the half-way mark of the Legislative Session, and I can come up for some air.  It's actually going by quicker than I expected this year, which is good -- means that I'm that much closer to hitting the road this summer.  Had my second gallery showing of the pictures from the "Ghosts of the Road" project at Cupcake Royale in Seattle's Madrona neighborhood.  I was able to have a nice opening reception that was catered by my friend Susan, and some 30 friends came by to look at the pictures and  socialize.  I got a lot of great comments and they have asked me to leave them up for two months rather than the standard one.  You can see them online at and the store even has me as "Featured Artist" on their web page which is very cool: They will be on display there until the end of April.

And here is my Quick Throttle Column for March, musing about mandatory helmet laws and the like, as I get down to figuring out what to write about for the April issue.
Every day during the Legislative session one of the first things I do is read the list of new bills and proposals introduced that day.  In any given year the Legislature will produce about 3000 bills.  The daily list generally runs several pages long, and gives the title and a one sentence summary of each proposal.  It’s the first step in figuring out what these folks are up to and what issues they are going to discuss.  It is a rather boring chore that I like to do first thing in the morning over a cup of coffee.   The combination of the coffee and the bill list usually tends to get my digestive system moving early before heading to the office.

The other morning I came across HB 1663 which was simply listed as “Hog Fuel Tax Exemption”.  This sounded rather intriguing so I pulled up the text of the actual bill.  Despite the title it had nothing to do with discounting gas for my Harley, but rather a tax credit for using “Hog Fuel”, which is defined in statute as “wood waste and wood residuals” when generating electricity.  Shucks, I was hoping for cheaper premium gas.

However boring the process of reading bills might be, we did have some excitement in the legislative session already  - something historic in fact.   We actually had a hearing on a bill to repeal Washington’s mandatory helmet law.  There hasn’t been a hearing on that bill in a very very long time although the bill has been introduced every year since the mandatory helmet law went into effect in 1990.  The helmet law was first enacted in 1967, but repealed in 1977 and then reinstated for riders under age 17 in 1987 and for all riders in 1990.

I’ve occasionally joked with the proponents of repealing the helmet law, and even laid down a bet or two that it wouldn’t happen.  I’ve tended to view the proponents of repeal as distant relatives to Don Quixote off tilting at windmills from the back of their bikes.   I still feel that there are better things that are more easily accomplished that we can focus on that will have meaningful and direct benefits to riders too.   Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a debate on the merits of helmet repeal and advocate for it  -- just that it shouldn’t be the number one priority.

Hell, the Legislature wouldn’t even hold a hearing on the bill for 22 years, since the long reigning chairs of the Legislative Transportation Committees wouldn’t even entertain the notion at all.   Well this year there has been a major shakeup in the Washington State Senate leadership and I’ll be damned our Quixotic rascals didn’t manage to convince the Senate co-chairs of the Transportation committee to hold a hearing on the bill.

The hearing was packed with bikers, and there was some passionate and logical testimony given in support of repealing the helmet law for adults by our fellow riders.   But equally strong were the arguments on the other side by the insurance and medical lobby and the police unions.   I don’t believe the Legislature was persuaded like they were for the Biker Profiling bill a few years ago, and I don’t expect to be eating crow anytime soon.

I will admit to having mixed feelings about repealing the helmet law.  I occasionally ride without a lid in states where it’s legal, and when situations warrant it – I love the freedom and the feel of the wind blowing through my… um across my scalp.  I chafe at the Nanny State imposing mandates, be they what kind of bag I can use at the grocery store, to seat belts and helmets and no-cell phone laws.  The Libertarian in me says it’s my business if I ride without a helmet or a seat belt or chat on the phone while driving.  But we’ve ceded that authority already.  We have mandatory seat belt and helmet laws.  Hell, why not repeal the seat belt law too while we are at it?

But as a taxpayer I also recognize that we all bear the social cost for those that don’t drive with seat belts or helmets.  Is that reason enough to restrict freedom or not?   I know very few bikers that aren’t supportive of the cell phone use while driving prohibitions, but they also want choice when it comes to whether or not they choose to ride with a helmet.    Is this a contradiction in terms?  Tell someone else what they can and can’t do, but not me?  Do we as a society err on the side of caution rather than freedom?   There’s a lot more to this issue than just being able to hop on your bike sans helmet and ride off down the road.

Will the helmet law be repealed this year?  I don’t see it happening.  I don’t think I’ll be settling up on those bets I’ve made for steak dinners any time soon.  But my heritage is Scottish.  I wear a kilt, love bagpipes and eat haggis.  And we Scotsmen don’t give up.   It took William Wallace and Robert the Bruce years of battles and struggles to win freedom from English domination back in the 14th Century.  The dogged supporters of repealing the helmet law are like that and they won’t give up either.  They haven’t for 20 plus years.  They’ll keep coming back and coming back, and we all have to admire them for that.  More often than not its persistence that wins the day, and that’s what just might win the day here.  But not today.

Gary can be reached at and you can read his blog at or 

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