After eight years, Congress finally banned the use of federal funds for motorcycle only checkpoints yesterday
The ban was part of a $305 billion highway bill called the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (or FAST) Act. The bill was approved by a vote of 359 to 65 in the House of Representatives and 83 to 16 in the Senate. It will become law when it is signed by President Barack Obama. The FAST Act is the first new transportation bill approved by Congress during the Obama Administration and is an example of bipartisanship on behalf of the general welfare.
Provisions of the bill will be funded by gasoline tax revenue and $70 billion in offsets from other federal programs. It provides for $205 billion in improvements to American highways and $48 billion on transit projects over the next five years. At the last moment, Senator Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona, tried to include a provision that would provide $3 billion for crop insurance in the bill. The Senate rejected the provision.
The Fast Act incorporated proposed House and Senate legislation including the Senate’s “Stop Motorcycle Checkpoint Funding Act” which was introduced last March.
Motorcycle-only checkpoints are a strategy used by police to harass and conduct searches of motorcyclists under the pretense of checking for the bikers compliance with licensing, helmet laws, exhaust emissions and exhaust noise. The stops only apply to motorcyclists. They are often carried out by so-called gang task forces and they are often staged near motorcycle rallies and events.
The checkpoints were inspired by the 2006 death of a New York State Trooper named Craig J. Todeschini. Todeschini died when he lost control of his Chevy Tahoe Sport Utility Vehicle while trying to chase down a sport bike. The following year, in a blatant attempt to exact revenge on all motorcyclists for Todeschini’s death, state police carried out “Operation 5060,” named for Todeschini’s badge number, on Interstate 84 in East Fishkill, New York. The operation featured a helicopter to pursue any motorcyclist who might try to avoid the checkpoint.
No one tried to get away.
Operation 5060 stopped 280 motorcyclists and issued 104 tickets. Because it was publicized as a motorcycle safety imitative, it qualified for federal funding and had virtually no impact on police budgets. New York State Police sent out a press release calling the checkpoint a “success” and troopers began touring the country to show other police how they could harass motorcyclists using federal funds, too. It became a popular idea. The legislation passed yesterday puts a stop to it.
The FAST Act also provides for the reestablishment of a Motorcyclist Advisory Council to coordinate with and counsel the U.S. Department of Transportation administrator on specific infrastructure concerns to motorcyclists.