Even as Georgia law enforcement finalizes their plans for motorcycle only checkpoints over the next few weeks, lawmakers in Washington are taking steps to cut the federal funding feeding the controversial practice.
The most recent state enacting the federally funded motorcycle-only checkpoints is Georgia, awarded a $70,000 grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to ‘improve motorcycle safety in the state’. The grant will be used for six road checks, the first of which will be March 9 along I-75 in Monroe County. During the same time, law enforcement will conduct checks in Chatham County on I-95.
Upset riders and motorcycle advocacy groups have been joined by federal lawmakers who have introduced legislation to prevent the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) from giving money to states and local jurisdictions for motorcycle-only checkpoints.
On March 3, Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) introduced the bill along with original co-sponsors Representatives Tom Petri (R-Wis.) and Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). The legislation would prohibit the DOT “from providing grants or any funds to a state, county, town, or township, Indian tribe, municipal or other local government to be used for any program to check helmet usage or create checkpoints for a motorcycle driver or passenger.”
“The checkpoints go beyond the helmet issue and also include motorcycle safety inspections. We have limited resources, and motorcycle checkpoints won’t get us the biggest bang for the buck,” Tom Petri, the bill’s co-sponsor said. “Also, it’s outrageously intrusive. Nobody is suggesting pulling cars off the road for unscheduled inspections, so why are motorcycle riders being harassed?”
Georgia isn’t the first state to take advantage of the grant, New York state has operated a similar program using state funds. The checkpoints have led to a lawsuit being considered in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York which questions their legal foundation.
The lawsuit notes the Supreme Court of the United States has repeatedly made it clear that any roadway checkpoint whose primary purpose is general crime control constitutes an unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment and is presumptively unconstitutional.
Notwithstanding that fact, the progress reports which the police prepared on the checkpoints specifically state that the grant funds are used “for overtime for intelligence gathering and the subsequent criminal and traffic enforcement.” The police admit that the checkpoints, which focus only on equipment violations and forged and stolen VINs, do not address any of the major causes of motorcycle accidents such as reckless driving, driver inattentiveness and alcohol impairment.
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