Clad in leather and star-spangled bandanas, motorcyclists descended on the State House Thursday asking for government to take a more hands-off approach towards helmet usage and step up enforcement of dangerous driving.
Rick Gleason, the legislative director of the Massachusetts Motorcycle Association, said one reason bikers want to be able to ride helmet-free is the feel of the wind in their hair, and he said ditching the helmet allows bikers to "hear and see a lot more."
According to a National Highway Safety Administration report, helmets saved an estimated 1,630 lives in 2013 and helmets reduce the risk of death by 37 percent. Gleason said motorcycling becomes more popular in states without helmet laws, which can increase awareness of other drivers.
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Bikers who rode to Beacon Hill in a convoy they said was 75-strong are putting their support behind Spencer Sen. Anne Gobi's bill (S 1923) repealing the requirement that motorcyclists and their passengers wear helmets.
New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut and Rhode Island all allow bikers to ride helmet-free, according to Gleason, who said the Ocean State requires helmets for passengers. Describing the Massachusetts helmet law as a "nanny state" approach, Gleason said bikers from other states refuse to ride in Massachusetts because of the helmet law.
Doc D'Errico, vice president of the association, said bikers from outside of New England have another reason to avoid roadways in the central and eastern parts of Massachusetts: aggressive drivers. He said out-of-state bikers see roads in denser parts of Massachusetts as "chaotic" and try to make their way through as fast as possible.
The motorcyclists' group is pushing for another bill (H 2752) filed by Provincetown Rep. Sarah Peake that would hike fines for violating the right of way rules at an intersection. The bill would increase fines from $35 - which D'Errico said is "kind of a joke" - to $200 with stiffer penalties if the violation results in injuries or serious injuries.
"It's a rarely enforced citation," said D'Errico, who said he thought that would change if penalties are raised. Under Peake's bill, if the violation results in a fatality, the offender would be fined $1,000 - in addition to any other penalties - and lose their driver's license for at least 180 days.
Gleason said he and his wife were seriously injured in Revere years ago by a driver who ran a red light and slammed into his bike. Gleason said the driver stuck around the scene of the crash, but later fled the country.
While acknowledging policymakers face other weighty decisions, Gleason said motorcyclists have a voice at the State House and he identified as fellow motorcyclists Taunton Rep. Shaunna O'Connell, Billerica Rep. Marc Lombardo and Bridgewater Rep. Angelo D'Emilia.
Motorcyclists face frustration at some traffic lights when the two-wheelers are not big enough to trigger sensors switching the light to green.
D'Errico said motorcyclists should be allowed to proceed - when it is safe to do so - through those "dead red" lights. D'Errico said several states have legalized that maneuver, and it is a generally "accepted practice" in other states.
A bill (H 1917) filed by Brewster Rep. Timothy Whelan would permit motorcyclists to proceed through red lights, after stopping and "exercising due care," if the signal is controlled by a vehicle detection device that is not triggered by the bike.
According to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, there were 150,093 registered motorcycles in Massachusetts as of May 5.
Bikers traveled from all over the state, convening in Somerville before riding as a group to Beacon Hill, where they parked on Charles Street.
"It was awesome. It was hot," said D'Errico, who rode from Southborough.