ABATE: Protecting Your Right to Ride

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If you enjoy your right to ride your motorcycle without the many (MANY) restrictions that the government would like to put on you, chances are you should thank ABATE.

Bruce Downs, ABATE of Colorado State Coordinator

Bruce Downs, ABATE of Colorado State Coordinator

ABATE of Colorado has advocated for bikers since 1983, fighting everything from helmet laws to HIPPA restrictions. (Yes, HIPPA nearly made it possible for insurance companies to yank coverage away from bikers. Keep reading!) 

According to State Coordinator Bruce Downs, the fight for motorcyclist rights is a constant battle and one that few bikers truly understand. Even Bruce was confused about ABATE’s mission when he first heard about it.

“I said, ‘Oh, you’re those helmet people, aren’t you?’ I got my A** reamed so I decided to look more into it,” recalls Bruce, who joined in 2001 and became State Coordinator (a volunteer position) in 2014. “So, I looked into it and the more I saw what was going on – what politicians are constantly trying to do to motorcyclists – the madder I got. I figured I could stay mad or do something about it, so I joined.”

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ABATE’s Mission

ABATE of Colorado exists to preserve freedom of the road, to unite motorcyclists, to promote fair legislation, safety and rider education, and to provide a network for communication on issues affecting motorcyclists.

What made Bruce mad? Here’s a small collection of the issues ABATE has fought:

  • HIPPA: “Under Bill Clinton, the new HIPPA law wanted to say that insurance companies could exclude you if you participated in a ‘hazardous recreational activity,’ and they included motorcycles in that category. We were the first state that got our state legislature to say that insurance companies can’t discriminate against motorcyclists.”

  • HOV lanes: “We teamed up with the Motorcycle Rider Foundation to make sure motorcycles could use HOV lanes for free nationally. We got it into federal law. Then, when Colorado opened the central I-25 corridor and the HOV lanes to Boulder, they said we had to use a transponder and pay a reduced rate. We fought them, saying it violated federal law. They had to redo some things in their tolling systems to allow motorcycles to go through the HOV express lanes for free without a transponder.”

  • Texting-while-driving: “We are in favor of stronger penalties for drivers who text and drive. We’ve testified for Senator Lois Court on this issue for years. We see drivers doing this all the time. Why are the rights of the person who caused an accident worth more than the person who they hurt or killed?”

  • Helmets: This issue comes up all the time, according to Bruce. “We used to be a totally helmet-free state and ABATE fought against the 18-and-under helmet law. I’m not anti-helmet. We just want to make sure that bikers have the right to choose whether or not to wear them. 

The most recent ABATE success was the change to the “dead red” laws. The Colorado State Legislature passed a bill allowing bikers to proceed through malfunctioning lights. 

“As we pointed out in testimony, if you’re stuck at a left-hand turn lane and you finally go ahead and make the turn, you’ve made an illegal turn,” says Bruce. “The other option can be even worse. Sometimes, we have to take a right-hand turn, go down that road and make a U-turn where it’s legal, then go back the other way to cross the intersection. This exposes us to much more danger.”

ABATE also provides regular motorcycle training classes, including basic, advanced and police-style riding courses, as well as accident scene management classes.

Dwindling Membership Concerns Bruce

Despite all these successes, Bruce says ABATE membership is dwindling and younger riders don’t understand what’s at stake. 

“A lot of people don’t know what ABATE does,” says Bruce. “As soon as I mention that we do rider education and we’re political, they shut us off. They don’t want to do the political work. I’ve had calls from motorcyclists who complain when a law passes that they don’t like. They say, ‘How could you let this happen?’ And I ask them, ‘Are you an ABATE member? Were you at the Capitol to let them know how you feel? Then you have no reason to complain.’”

Bruce worries that the right to ride will be continuously chipped away until it is gone and younger riders won’t know what’s happening until it’s too late.

“I worry that motorcycles will be outlawed or banned as a safety hazard,” says Bruce. “There are a lot of people out there that don’t like motorcycles just because they’re motorcycles. I want young riders to know that, if you do not get involved, you will not be riding when you are my age.”

As Bruce rightly points out: “It’s a lot easier to keep a right or privilege than it is to get it back.”

To learn more about ABATE of Colorado, visit their website: https://abateofcolo.org