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Agency wants safety course for all motorcyclists

Gov. Jeb Bush and the Cabinet today backed a proposal requiring bikers to take 16 hours of safety education.

By STEVE BOUSQUET
Published September 22, 2005


TALLAHASSEE - The growing popularity of motorcycles in Florida has led to more fatal accidents, and that has some officials suggesting bikers be required to pass a safety course and carry insurance.

Gov. Jeb Bush and the Cabinet on Thursday backed a proposal that bikers must take 16 hours of safety education -- a requirement that now applies only to cyclists under 21. The change would need legislative approval.

But Bush and the Cabinet did not endorse new insurance requirements, citing unresolved questions.

Citing a dramatic rise in motorcycle registrations, state highway safety director Fred Dickinson included the changes as part of his 2005 legislative package. He said growing numbers of baby boomers in their 50s are buying their first motorcycles.

Motorcyclists in Florida are not required to carry motor vehicle insurance as car owners must. The idea of requiring them to carry insurance came from Dr. John Agwunobi, the former state health director.

Current law requires motorcyclists who do not wear helmets to carry $10,000 in medical coverage, but that protection can be through a health care plan. The proposed change would require all bikers to carry at least $50,000 worth of coverage.

Dickinson told his Cabinet bosses that in the past two years, no motorcycle fatalities have occurred among the riders who took a safety course. Bush called that "phenomenal."

Dickinson said the cost of the 16-hour motorcycle safety course ranges from $190 to $300. That price range brought criticism from a motorcycle rights group, ABATE of Florida.

"You might pay $300 at one place, $150 at another. That shouldn't be," said ABATE lobbyist James "Doc" Reichenbach. "It should be a fair, set price for everybody."

A federal study showed that in the three years since Florida eliminated a motorcycle helmet law, deaths increased by 81 percent compared to the three years before repeal. But 2004 state figures showed that 51 percent of the 416 motorcycle crash victims in Florida last year were wearing helmets, compared to 49 percent not wearing helmets.

-- Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or 850 224-7263.

[Last modified September 22, 2005, 18:50:53]


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