Mandatory training bill in North Carolina—now with mushy language

Two years ago, the Concerned Bikers Association/ABATE of North Carolina successfully beat off a mandatory training bill—but you can’t keep a bad bill down. It’s back and its passed the Senate and is before the House.

Last time, the bill would’ve abolished permits altogether, and the problems with that are both obvious and were obviously heeded. This time it does allow a rider to have a motorcycle permit—a rider just can’t renew it. This makes sense—a rider needs a permit to practice but should move on to endorsement or give up a privilege that was only meant to be temporary.

What’s most interesting about this year’s rendition is the editions it has gone through and how the language has changed—and what happens as a result.

Under NC’s current law, to obtain a motorcycle endorsement, a rider must prove competency to “drive” a motorcycle by passing a road test, passing a written or oral test and paying a fee.

Senate Bill 64 was introduced with this key new text: “To obtain a motorcycle endorsement, a person shall demonstrate competence to drive a motorcycle by passing a riding skills test administered by the Division or by providing proof of successful completion of the North Carolina Motorcycle Safety Education Program Basic Rider Course or Experienced Rider Course.” And pay a fee.

While it still includes a skills test, it removes the requirement it be a road test. In this version, a written or oral test is removed and not included in any other way.

Note the difference a few words make. The rider must pass a riding skills test but only has to successfully complete a training course to get a motorcycle endorsement. While one can assume that there’s no difference between the two that’s not what is says and this is exactly how loopholes are created.

Whether it’s meant or not, the effect is to remove the legal requirement to have to demonstrate the skill and competency required to operate a motorcycle—in addition to having to prove one can operate that motorcycle in traffic.

The second edition—and third—change that language is even more radical ways: “To obtain a motorcycle endorsement, a person shall demonstrate competence to drive a motorcycle by passing a written or oral test concerning motorcycle and providing proof of successful completion of one of the following:

(1) The Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic Rider Course or Experienced Rider Course.

(2) The North Carolina Motorcycle Safety Education Program Basic Rider Course or Experienced Rider Course.

(3) Any course approved by the Commissioner.

The second edition adds the written or oral test back in but makes competency to drive a motorcycle a matter of passing either a written or oral test.

This time, however “or” is replaced by “and”—taking a course is now required but the rider still has to only prove successful completion of a course.

From having to prove competence on the road, to having to prove competence in skills—all mention of the necessity of skill has been removed in the text of the bill.

Once again, we trust that skills testing is essential to passing the course because we trust that the state motorcycle safety program would allow nothing else—and we have means, as citizens, to insist that be so. But it’s no longer just the state program that has the right to set the standards for successful completion.

The bill adds not one but two other avenues to taking a course that would yield a motorcycle endorsement at the end: The Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic Rider Course or Experienced course or “Any course approved by the Commissioner.”

In what is surely an accident, MSF is given first place above the NCMSEP, but, at this time at least, the NCMSEP teaches the MSF course. It would appear, then that it is redundant to mention both. However, it allows any provider—including dealerships—that uses MSF curriculum to operate apart from the NCMSEP without any oversight or approval. Or I allows MSF to set up its own system of franchises.

But more importantly, this isn’t the driver’s license-waiver—this is the endorsement itself. As such, anyone who teaches MSF curriculum can hand out motorcycle endorsements for “successful completion” of the course without any outside authority determining what “successful completion” is. Unless, of course, MSF is going to start operating a state or national system to provide oversight to providers who are not part of the state system. Say, for example, from MSF’s regional “campus” in Georgia.

Even so, we know what the MSF courses teach and that there are evaluations as part of successfully graduating from the course. We know that actual riding skills are minimally tested. That is now, however, and no guarantee that the standards will remain the same in the future.

One of the more subtle effects of the bill is to remove the power of the state to determine what the standards of competency are for motorcycle operation in any way. The Division of Motor Vehicles no longer is responsible and those through the NCMSEP apply only to that option for getting a motorcycle endorsement.

Instead, a trade group of motorcycle manufacturers who have a financial interest in more people “successfully completing” the course and buying motorcycles have the power to determine the standards for a state and to exercise what has been—and still is—seen as a necessary government function—granting a motorcycle endorsement.

While I realize that many motorcyclists are antagonistic to government regulation, do the riders of North Carolina really want the motorcycle manufacturers regulating what it means to “successfully complete” and thus be endorsed instead?

And these standards can differ from those the state sets through the state program but be equally legal—and that presents its own set of problems.

Then there’s the third option: “Any course approved by the Commissioner” can suffice to gain a motorcycle endorsement. Once again, we assume it means a training course of some kind with some recognizably sufficient standards. This could allow a completely different curriculum and perhaps a superior one. Otoh, it could mean a cooking class, if the Commissioner decided so or a “Wave a Magic Wand” class. While that seems ludicrous the vague wording creates an enormous loophole.

This bill, then, has several problems—not just the discrimination issue that adult motorcyclists are required to take training while adult car drivers are not—but the removal of “competency” being a matter of skill, the dumbing down of the standard of passing a road test and a written or oral test to passing a written or oral test and successful completion of “any approved course”. No longer do North Carolinians have to pass a test, they merely have to successfully complete a course. Not to mention the problems of setting up separate and equal standards for a trade group or “any other course” and granting a state function to manufacturers or dealers or, it appears, anyone else.

Not to mention that even NHTSA, in Countermeasures That Work, says most programs use some version of MSF curriculum but it’s uncertain what constitutes good training or whether training is effective at reducing crashes at all. But, by law, all North Carolinians will have it–however uncertain it is to show even competency–if this bill passes.

Otoh, it’s good news for the litigious among us. In other states—most noticeably Florida—lawsuits filed against training programs in particular often are summarily dismissed because the student signs a liability waiver. Courts have not seen motorcycle training, in particular, as a matter of necessity—the student doesn’t have to take it and therefore doesn’t have to sign the waiver–and that makes a hash of public policy arguments. But make training mandatory for adults—and Senator Rand will hand personal injury lawyers the goose and the golden eggs.

They say the law of unintended consequences means that an action will have least three unexpected, unanticipated results. That is likely to be one of them. I wonder what the others will be?

Oh, btw, did I mention that North Carolina also has another bill before it’s legislature that would prohibit government competition with private enterprise? At this time, SB1004 is solely concerned with the communications industry. But then SB64 used to require passing some kind of skills test, too.

But, hey, so what if there’s more lawsuits and if there’s two or three standards all equally able to grant an endorsement and the manufacturers and dealers determine who “successfully completes” but doesn’t have to pass and therefore gets an endorsement? It’s not like that stuff is going to happen, is it?

As long as the good riders of NC believe that there will be some skill level required to “successfully complete” some no-name or brand name course that should be good enough. Loopholes schmoopholes, right?

Explore posts in the same categories: Motorcycle Industry, Motorcycle legislation, Motorcycle licensing, Motorcycle Rights, Motorcycle Safety, Motorcycle Safety Foundation, Motorcycle Training, Motorcycle training lawsuits, State Motorcycle Safety Programs

6 Comments on “Mandatory training bill in North Carolina—now with mushy language”

  1. Dave Wilson Says:

    I think the “written OR oral test” criteria is there for “reading impaired” folks.

  2. wmoon Says:

    I assumed so. Is this an issue in NC? If so, how is the written test and the student liablity waiver, etc. handled in class?

  3. Steven Says:

    Could the written or oral have been a way to placate the ADA? Limiting it to one might have created problems, but if you couldn’t pass either one or the other then it wouldn’t fall within the “reasonable” clause

  4. wmoon Says:

    Steven, that may be the case, however, that option isn’t offered in other states–as far as I’m aware of at any rate. But this concentration on the oral part makes me wonder–why aren’t people commenting on the rest of it–particularly the change from showing competence by passing and passing a skills test and replacing that with “successfully completing” a course where the standards of evaluation are set by the very ones who make money by more people “successfully completing” the course?

  5. jimmyjon Says:

    Have you ridden the North Carolina “skills test” or “road test”? If you haven’t, take notice that it is administered in a parking lot. Take further notice that this test does not involve either moving or parked traffic while it is administered in a parking lot. Further notice that the test is successfully completed by negotiating the through a cone pattern. Please also note that the testee provides the motorcycle, and this testee is not limited to this motorcycle in the future.
    A successful test should be conducted upon a public road, with traffic, and administered by a certified motorcycle rider/tester. The rider must utilise for the test the motorcycle that he will be licensed to drive on the road.

  6. wmoon Says:

    Sounds like the Alt-MOST and, you’re right, it is inadequate. I would point out that the test at the end of the MSF’s BRC is also inadequate in testing real-life real-road skills AND it’s taken by all on tiny little bikes. It’s even less adequate, imo, than the Alt-MOST. I totally agree that riders should be tested in traffic on public roads and on the motorcycle they will be riding.

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