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NMA E-Newsletter #332: The Future of Police/Community Relations

Posted on May 24th, 2015 in , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on NMA E-Newsletter #332: The Future of Police/Community Relations

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By John Bowman, NMA Vice President

I recently had the privilege of speaking at a regional meeting of state motorcycle riders associations. A few minutes into my presentation an audience member stood up and forcefully objected to what he thought were my unfair and ill-informed comments about the nature of traffic enforcement.

I asked the man if we could discuss his concerns after I had finished. He ignored my plea and continued to heckle me as I tried to continue with my presentation.

It became clear that he had a background in law enforcement and thought I was being biased as I described some examples of egregious police behavior toward motorists. I suspect he was sensitive to such critiques given the widespread anti-police backlash in the aftermath of recent events in Ferguson, Baltimore, South Carolina and New York City. My critic asked why I didn’t focus on all of the good things police do for their communities.

It’s a fair question—one I have been pondering since. In my line of work, I’m confronted daily with accounts of police actions that range from mildly objectionable to downright criminal. Maybe I need to balance that perspective by seeking out instances that show the positive side of policing, I thought.

I then heard a National Public Radio story that seemed emblematic of the inner conflict I felt in the wake of my own encounter with an angry police officer. The story discussed ways to prevent violence between police and citizens by changing the way police officers are trained. The director of the Washington state police academy, Sue Rahr, made the following statement:

We changed the training environment itself. We removed a lot of the symbols and the tools of the trade that were on the walls with murals of the Constitution. And we spent a great deal of time talking about the Constitution and what it means to a police officer. I tell my recruits in the first week there at the academy, my entire career, my training on the Constitution, consisted of how to work around it so that I could make an arrest and prove a case. It never occurred to me when I was working the street that I was there to support the Constitution.

What a startling admission, I thought. The top police trainer in Washington just admitted that she had been trained to circumvent the Constitution. She also said that to change the behavior of the officer on the street, you must first change the internal culture of the police agency. Department leaders must model the positive behavior they wish to encourage. Some police agencies clearly understand this.

In Madison, Wisconsin, where I live, a police officer shot and killed a young, unarmed African-American man in March. The officer was cleared of any wrongdoing just last week. And while the case received national attention, protests have been peaceful, and police have not engaged in any heavy-handed tactics. Why such a vastly different outcome from the violence and unrest in other cities after similar events?

First, protest organizers committed themselves to peaceful demonstrations. Second, Madison police officers have shown restraint, thanks to their training and the culture in which they work. Madison Police Chief Mike Koval set the example when he met with the victim’s family the night of the shooting to express his condolences. From a personal perspective, I can also say that my few interactions with area police officers have all been non-confrontational and generally positive. They do a good job.

So, if I ever have a chance to sit down and speak calmly with the man who got me thinking about all of this, here’s what I would say:

Not all police officers abuse motorists on the side of the road, but even one questionable vehicle search is one too many, and it tarnishes the entire profession. I would also mention that at some point Sue Rahr realized she was supposed to uphold the Constitution, not tear it down. Her enlightenment, along with my own observations of the Madison approach, give me hope for the future of police/community relations.

But we still have a long ways to go.

NMA Illinois Alert: Still Time to Make Your Voice Heard

Posted on May 19th, 2015 in , | Comments Off on NMA Illinois Alert: Still Time to Make Your Voice Heard

As the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) wraps up its statewide listening tour, you still have time to speak up, even if you missed one of the public meetings. That’s because IDOT has posted a citizen survey on its website here. The survey is short so take a minute or two to voice your opinions on Illinois’ transportation priorities.

NMA Wisconsin Alert: Finally! Wisconsin Goes to 70 mph!

Posted on May 19th, 2015 in , , , | Comments Off on NMA Wisconsin Alert: Finally! Wisconsin Goes to 70 mph!

Thanks to the efforts of many citizens and public officials, Wisconsin’s maximum speed limit will soon be raised to 70 mph. The new limit will apply to select stretches of interstate highways and freeways throughout the state.

The NMA has supported the increase ever since Manitowoc Assemblyman Paul Tittl took up the fight for higher speed limits two years ago. Rep. Tittl’s initial bill failed to clear the Senate Transportation Committee in 2013. But Rep. Tittl did not give up and proposed a simplified bill this year while redoubling his efforts to garner support. NMA representatives also testified in favor of higher speed limits at four public hearings over the last two legislative terms.

The speed limit increase in Wisconsin is long overdue. All of our neighboring states went to 70 mph years ago, and Wisconsin and Oregon are the only states west of New York with 65 mph maximum speed limits.

But that will change tomorrow when Gov. Walker signs the new speed limit into law. NMA President Gary Biller will be on-hand for the signing ceremony at the Capitol. The 70 mph limit will take effect as new speed limit signs are posted this summer.

NMA Ohio Alert: Bill Would Change License Plate Requirements

Posted on May 19th, 2015 in , , , | Comments Off on NMA Ohio Alert: Bill Would Change License Plate Requirements

The Ohio House of Representatives is considering a bill that would make it legal to display only one license plate on the rear of a vehicle. Current law requires two plates to be displayed, but House Bill 159 would change that.

This bill will be of interest to car enthusiasts and collectors and should make licensing a vehicle in Ohio a little more affordable. If passed, it may also help curtail revenue-based photo ticketing schemes.

HB 159 has been referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. We urge you to contact committee members and tell them what you think.

NMA E-Newsletter #331: The Tradeoffs of Driverless Cars

Posted on May 17th, 2015 in , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on NMA E-Newsletter #331: The Tradeoffs of Driverless Cars

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No development in the auto industry has attracted more attention lately than the prospect of driverless cars. And with good reason. Driverless car advocates promise many potential benefits including safer roads, less congestion, greater mobility and convenience, and lower insurance costs.

As we pointed out in our summer 2013 Driving Freedoms cover story, driverless cars will surely change the way we drive (or don’t drive), but many unknowns remain. Let’s take a look at some of the recent news to see where things stand two year later.

To date, four states—California, Nevada, Michigan and Florida—have passed legislation enabling the testing of driverless cars on public roads. Check here for the status of similar legislation in other states.

Driverless car pioneer Google made news last week when it reported that its driverless car fleet had been in 11 accidents since it began testing six years ago. According to Google, the accidents were minor (no injuries) and occurred throughout 1.7 million miles of combined autonomous and manual driving. That’s about twice the national average for property-only auto accidents. Although, as Google pointed out, many minor accidents likely go unreported.

Google also stated that none of the accidents were the fault of the driverless car. However, neither Google nor the California Department of Motor Vehicles has released any of the accident reports, so we must rely on Google’s self-reporting for the details.

This lack of transparency worries some observers, given the unanswered technical questions and far-reaching public safety issues involved. For example, most driverless cars perform well under controlled conditions, but throw in a few potholes or some snow, and the technology becomes suspect. As one expert recently told The Detroit News:

“Everybody can operate on a prototype level pretty well,” said Pat Bassett, vice president of North American research and engineering center for auto supplier Denso International America Inc. “It’s when there’s no perfect conditions or when the weather’s bad … there’s still some technical challenges and some legal issues that have to be resolved.”

Regarding legal issues, the big question still is who is liable when a driverless car gets into an accident? The automaker? The passenger? The software developer? These questions may not be answered until a driverless car actually crashes under normal driving conditions. The automakers are thinking ahead, however, and have been lobbying state legislatures for certain liability exemptions related to driverless cars.

Speaking of the automakers, they continue to pursue driverless cars of their own. At the recent Shanghai Auto Show, Chevrolet unveiled the FNR autonomous car concept, complete with roof-mounted radar, a sensor array and swivel seats. Ford has partnered with Stanford University to fast track driverless car development, and Ford President and CEO Mark Fields said he expects to see driverless cars on the road within five years.

Due to the connectivity requirements needed to make driverless cars run, they will generate untold amounts of locational and personal data about their occupants. Privacy concerns revolve around how government and private entities will use, store and share this data. Look for marketers to serve up personalized in-vehicle ads or exterior billboards based on the characteristics of the occupant or the route taken.

Depending on who’s in charge of vehicle routing, a private company could route vehicles based on commercial considerations, and a government agency could route vehicles based on congestion or other social engineering concerns. (Click here for a fascinating, in-depth analysis of the privacy and legal issues surrounding autonomous vehicles.)

We’re pleased to see more attention focused on the interaction between the vehicle occupant and the car. We saw little of this two years ago and believe it’s one of the more important issues that needs to be addressed. Our concerns center on the ability of the passenger to take control of the vehicle in an emergency, if that option is even available. The original Google car didn’t have a steering wheel or brake pedal. However, California law requires self-driving cars that allow people to take control if something goes wrong. Google has since said it will modify its design accordingly. (Click here for more on the human/driverless car interface.)

The bottom line on driverless cars comes down to control. Many people will gladly give up that control in exchange for convenience, added safety and cost savings. As we said in Driving Freedoms, we only hope there’s still an open lane for those of us who enjoy driving and wish to maintain some sense of freedom, privacy and personal responsibility.

NMA E-Newsletter #330: About ‘About Us’

Posted on May 10th, 2015 in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on NMA E-Newsletter #330: About ‘About Us’

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Most websites, particularly those offering a product or service, have an About Us section. That is where curious online viewers can learn more about the website sponsor, albeit through a controlled narrative.

For an advocacy organization like the NMA, About Us can serve multiple purposes. It can inform those who are thinking about becoming a member and want to learn more. The media may examine About Us to obtain background information or a specific angle for a story. Those who are philosophically opposed to one or more NMA positions have been known to scan our site for ammunition to discredit our arguments. We must therefore describe who we are and what we stand for with purpose and clarity.

With the redesign of our flagship website at hand, we are also updating the About Us description. The existing version has been in place for several years. When we roll out the enhanced Motorists site this summer, About Us will include six tenets that largely define our mission to protect motorists’ rights:

We are a grassroots alliance of motorists joined together to protect our rights in the courts, on the streets, and in our vehicles. National Motorists Association members number in the thousands and are active in all 50 states as well as in several provinces of Canada. 

The NMA has empowered drivers since 1982. We fight for the driving freedoms of motorists. We lobby for traffic regulations and enforcement actions based on safety considerations, not a line item on the income side of a city, county, or state budget. 

Among the principles we advocate: 

  • Traffic safety through sound engineering and real driver training
    Lives are saved on the highway through proven engineering solutions such as setting speed limits at their safest levels, i.e., slightly above the natural prevailing speed of free-flowing traffic, and through driver education programs that emphasize early advanced driving-skill development both on-road and in controlled learning environments. 
  • Traffic laws fairly written and reasonably enforced
    Traffic laws and penalties should be based on sensible standards that differentiate between responsible behaviors and demonstrated unsafe actions. If a driver is acting in a reasonable and prudent manner with no one placed in harm’s way and no property put at risk, then no penalty should apply. Command-and-control tactics like speed traps and red-light cameras do not constitute reasonable enforcement. Revenue motives corrupt the process, a problem exacerbated by the hiring of private, for-profit contractors as proxies for local law enforcement. 
  • Freedom from invasive surveillance
    Myriad surveillance schemes – among them the tracking of motorists and vehicles by GPS, indiscriminate license plate data collection and retention, and the use of the driver’s license as a national ID card – do irreparable harm to the privacy rights of motorists. 
  • Full due process for motorists
    A fair trial is a fundamental constitutional right that has been increasingly stripped away from motorists. Our system of justice is based on the principle that people are considered innocent until proven guilty, but drivers – and vehicle owners in cases involving automated enforcement – are frequently presumed to be at fault and then subjected to administrative hearings that rubber-stamp guilty verdicts. This denies them basic rights such as discovery, trial by jury, and often the ability to question their accuser. 
  • Reasonable highway user fees for maintaining and improving highways, not for financing non-highway projects
    Having road users pay for upkeep and expansion of roads and bridges is fair. Charging them twice – as taxpayers and as drivers through the use of tolls and various fees – is not, particularly when the highway infrastructure continues to crumble and funds purposed for road improvements are funneled to unrelated projects. 

For a detailed history of the NMA’s first 30 years of advocacy and a look forward, go to

NMA California Alert: Support Bill to Ban Bogus Stop Sign Cameras

Posted on May 5th, 2015 in , , , | Comments Off on NMA California Alert: Support Bill to Ban Bogus Stop Sign Cameras

The California Senate is considering a bill (Senate Bill 218) to prevent the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority from operating bogus stop sign cameras within the lands it manages. The NMA supports SB 218 and urges you to do the same. SB 218 will be heard in the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee next week. Please contact the people listed below and tell them to vote for SB 218.

Staff for committee members:

Senator Jeff Stone (Vice Chair) (R)

Senator Benjamin Allen (D)

Senator Robert M. Hertzberg

Senator Ben Hueso (D)
Susan Chan

Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D)

Senator Bill Monning  (D)

Senator Andy Vidak  (R)

Senator Lois Wolk (D)

Senator Bob Huff (R)
Author of the bill

In addition, you can sign this petition in support of SB 218. For more details on SB 218 please review the letter of support the NMA submitted to committee members below.


CA SB 218 ver2

NMA E-Newsletter #329: We’ve Been Here Before–A Call for a Modern Day NMSL of 65 MPH

Posted on May 3rd, 2015 in , , , , | Comments Off on NMA E-Newsletter #329: We’ve Been Here Before–A Call for a Modern Day NMSL of 65 MPH

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The American Trucking Associations (ATA) is, in its own words, a federation of 50 affiliated state trucking associations and industry-related conferences/councils. It claims to be the voice of the U.S. trucking industry and, apparently now, for all U.S. vehicular traffic. The ATA, long a proponent of speed limiters on all trucks, has recently raised the ante by urging federal transportation agencies to establish a national maximum speed limit of 65 mph for all traffic. We beg to differ.

No, that is too polite. The NMA is adamantly opposed to a regulation that artificially limits natural traffic speeds and is from an era when highway safety suffered as a result.

We are not alone. OOIDA – Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association – agrees. The association represents more than 150,000 one-truck and small-fleet haulers which makes one wonder how the ATA can claim to speak for the trucking industry when a large segment is opposed to its views.

The NMA and OOIDA teamed up earlier this week to challenge the ATA and its motives in a statement released to thousands of national media outlets. We pulled no punches in the press release:

For April 28, 2015 Release

NMA and OOIDA Dispute Split-Speed Limit
Safety Claims by American Trucking Associations

Waunakee, WI [April 28, 2015]: The National Motorists Association (NMA) and Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association (OOIDA) issued a joint statement questioning claims made by the American Trucking Associations (ATA) that all trucks need speed limiters programmed to 65 mph. The ATA has called upon the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) to not only cap the speed of large trucks, but to also reduce speed limits for all traffic.

“The ATA is searching for a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist,” noted NMA President Gary Biller. “They want to turn back the clock from today’s speed limits at a time when U.S. highways are statistically safer than at any time in the past. Much safer, in fact, than when the federal government regulated the maximum speed of all vehicles to 55 mph between 1974 and 1995. It makes you wonder why.”

In an April 2015 study, the FMCSA reported (see Figure 1) that from 2011 to 2013, 80 percent of fatal crashes involving large trucks occurred at speed limits posted no higher than 65 mph. Nearly 60 percent of the crashes were on roads posted at 55 mph or lower.

newsletter 5-3-151

The ATA has been lobbying for speed limiters on trucks for several years. In comments presented to federal transportation officials in March 2007, OOIDA opposed the ATA call for large truck speed limiters. The advocates for independent drivers testified eight years ago that, “Twenty-four states have legally set their approved maximum speed limits at or above 70 mph on roads designed for the higher rate of speed; ten of these have approved limits of 75 mph for certain roads. Further these states have determined that it is in the best interest of highway safety to allow all vehicles, including heavy-duty trucks, to travel at these speeds.”

FMCSA statistics support OOIDA’s statement that trucks keeping pace with surrounding traffic are at less risk of crash. The information in Figure 2 was formulated with data from FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, and Accountability program and from a January 2013 study by the John A. Volpe Transportation Systems Center, “Financial Responsibility Requirements for Commercial Motor Vehicles.” The analysis shows that over a recent 12-month period, the crash rate was 71 percent higher (9.5 vs. 5.56) for large-fleet truck firms than for one-truck carriers. The large fleets typically operated with speed limiters, the independent truckers without.

newsletter 5-3-152

The ATA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have also pointed to tire speed ratings as justification to set lower speed limits for large trucks. NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind acknowledged that no one has died because of the discrepancy between tire speeds and truck speed limits. His comments followed an investigation by his agency that found tire under-inflation and/or heavy loads were at fault for the tire failures.

Biller observed, “Larger trucking firms are already speed-limiting their fleets and yet it is the trucks without artificial limiters that are much safer on the road. So why do the big guys want to regulate everyone, cars and one-truck or small fleet carriers alike, down to their less-safe level?”

Todd Spencer, OOIDA Executive Vice President, said, “While the big carrier executives who are proponents of speed limiters talk about improved safety, when you talk to professional drivers, the first thing they mention is how speed limiters compromise safety and increase risk of accidents between trucks and cars.”

Spencer added, “When trucks operate slower they burn less fuel. However the trade-off is the driver’s time. Since virtually all over-the-road carriers pay only for miles driven and nothing for the driver’s time, it’s easy to see who wins and who loses economically. Nearly all of the big truckload motor carriers work tirelessly to grow regulations and mandates that they claim will improve safety. However crash numbers show just the opposite.”

OOIDA sent a letter and supplemental document to FMCSA and NHTSA last week urging the agencies to review relevant research before implementing a rule.


Gary Biller, President
National Motorists Association

Todd Spencer, Executive Vice President
Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association

About the National Motorists Association (NMA):
Founded in 1982, the National Motorists Association is a North American grassroots advocacy organization dedicated to the protection of motorists’ rights and freedoms. The NMA was instrumental in repealing the 55 mph National Maximum Speed Limit. Since then, the organization has continued to fight for reasonable speed limits, due process rights for defendants in traffic court, and practical engineering solutions to protect the motoring public. The NMA opposes the use of tactics that are designed to generate traffic ticket revenue rather than improve safety.

About Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA):
OOIDA is the international trade association representing the interests of independent owner-operators and professional drivers on all issues that affect truckers. The over 150,000 members of OOIDA are men and women in all 50 states and Canada who collectively own and/or operate more than 240,000 individual heavy-duty trucks and small truck fleets.

NMA E-Newsletter#328: SCOTUS Ruling May Limit Use of Drug Dogs

Posted on April 26th, 2015 in , , , , | Comments Off on NMA E-Newsletter#328: SCOTUS Ruling May Limit Use of Drug Dogs

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The U.S. Supreme Court’s record on motorists’ rights has been a mixed bag lately, so we’re pleased with the court’s latest pro-motorist decision in Rodriguez v. U.S.

In Rodriguez, handed down last week, the court ruled that police may not prolong a routine traffic stop to search for evidence of crimes unrelated to the purpose of the original stop. The case stems from an incident in which a Nebraska police officer pulled over a motorist for driving on the highway shoulder. After writing the driver a warning ticket, the officer asked to run his drug dog around the exterior of the vehicle. The driver refused, but the officer proceeded with the sniff after calling a second officer to the scene for backup. The sniff turned up methamphetamine, and the driver was subsequently sentenced to five years in prison.

At issue was the extra seven or eight minutes it took for the second officer to arrive as well as for the actual dog sniff. Writing for the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “Absent reasonable suspicion, police extension of a traffic stop in order to conduct a dog sniff violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures.”

Ginsburg pointed out that an officer’s mission during a traffic stop, beyond determining whether or not to issue a ticket, includes routine checks for outstanding warrants, proof of registration and insurance. She said police authority over the stop ends when the mission has been—or reasonably should have been—completed.

“These checks serve the same objective as enforcement of the traffic code: ensuring that vehicles on the road are operated safely and responsibly,” she wrote. “Lacking the same close connection to roadway safety as the ordinary inquiries, a dog sniff is not fairly characterized as part of the officer’s traffic mission.”

It’s important to note that the Rodriguez ruling will not curb all dog sniffs. The court has previously ruled that dog sniffs are constitutional, even without reasonable suspicion, as long as they don’t unduly lengthen the duration of the stop. This is welcome news for police agencies around the country that rely on drug dogs to justify questionable vehicle searches that ultimately lead to civil forfeitures.

Here’s how the scheme works. A police officer pulls over a driver for a routine traffic stop, becomes “suspicious” of possible illegal activity (usually drug-related) and asks if he can search the vehicle. If the motorist refuses, the officer calls for a trained drug dog to sniff around the exterior of the vehicle.

Invariably, the dog alerts to something, which gives the officer probable cause to search the vehicle. The problem, though, is that drug dogs are not very reliable and can be trained to alert to their master’s cue, even if no drugs are present. No matter, the search and seizure ensue, subjecting many innocent drivers to the abuses of civil forfeiture.

And civil forfeiture is big business. The U.S. Justice Department took in a record $4.2 billion in civil forfeitures in 2012—much of it thanks to the hard work of local and state police agencies around the country. With so much at stake, law enforcement will not easily give up such an effective, valuable tool (the dog sniff). Police officers are nothing if not resourceful and will likely find workarounds to Rodriguez like calling for the dog earlier in the stop just to keep the duration down to a “reasonable” level.

If a police officer pulls you over for a routine traffic stop and asks to search your vehicle, politely refuse. If he wants to run a dog around your car, politely object. He’ll likely do it anyway. Track the duration of the various steps of the stop and the total elapsed time of the stop. If you have to wait for the dog, note how much time that takes; ask if you are being detained and if you are free to leave. Keep asking.

The police cannot detain you indefinitely. If the delay extends beyond the time it would normally take for the officer to perform his routine duties, the use of the dog becomes constitutionally suspect. The key is to assert your rights throughout the stop. It may not prevent a search of your vehicle, but it may protect you down the road and lead to a better outcome in the courtroom.

NMA Tennessee Alert: Tell Governor Haslam to Veto Fake Camera Ban

Posted on April 24th, 2015 in , , , | Comments Off on NMA Tennessee Alert: Tell Governor Haslam to Veto Fake Camera Ban

The Tennessee Legislature is trying to pull a fast one on you by passing the now-gutted “Tennessee Freedom from Traffic Cameras Act.”

The act in its original form was essentially a complete ban on all camera-based enforcement (red-light and speed cameras) throughout the state. But thanks to the vagaries of the legislative and lobbying process the bill sent to Gov. Haslam is a sham and should not be enacted. It would actually allow the following:

  • Use of red-light cameras
  • Use of manned photo radar vans
  • Use of speed cameras in school zones and along “S curves”

The act would also allow cities to renew contracts for unmanned speed cameras for 99 years, if done so by July 1st, 2015. Get more details here.

We see no “freedom from traffic cameras” here. In fact, this thing is so bad camera company ATS has come out in favor of it. Check out this ATS press release.

Quite frankly, we’re disgusted, and you should be, too.Contact Gov. Haslam now and tell him to veto this terrible legislation. Here’s his contact information:

Gov. Bill Haslam
1st Floor, State Capitol
Nashville, TN  37243
Primary (615) 741-2001

There’s no time to waste. The bill is on his desk!

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