Bikers, Civil Disobedience, and the Constitution
Article by FastFred Ruddock, January 15, 2007
First I will provide a little background information
to put everything in perspective. This article is the result
of a request from ABATE of WV to speak on the subject of civil
disobedience at their legislative seminar. Many have asked me
why I choose to ride without a helmet in helmet law states such
as North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Tennessee. Others
have asked how South Carolina bikers amended their helmet law
to remove the artificial consequences for those over 21 years
of age. It is my hope this article will help address and answer
I have been riding with or without a helmet as
I choose for several years. However early in 2006 several friends
in Western North Carolina and elsewhere asked me to write articles
describing these adventures. I had no idea writing articles
about my lidless rides would draw this level of interest to
the issue. I rode more than 7,000 miles without a helmet in
states with mandatory helmet laws during 2006 before finally
scoring a ticket at the Fall
Cherokee Rally. At the time of this writing I have a pending
court date in Bryson
City to fight the ticket.
Misleading Slogans of the Motorcyclists’
Rights Movement such as "Let Those Who Ride Decide"
and "Freedom of Choice" seem to infer that we have
not had choice all along. A decision is made each time any of
us throws a leg over a bike as to whether or not to don a helmet
regardless if the state has a mandatory helmet law or not. Many
of us have tickets for not wearing helmets to prove this point.
America was founded upon civil disobedience. The
Declaration of Independence and our Tea Parties were acts of
civil disobedience. While patriots in Boston threw tea into
their harbor patriots in Charleston took British tea and sold
it to buy arms for their minutemen. Other acts of civil disobedience
such as sit-down strikes have given us a 40 hour work week and
other rights we now take for granted.
The term civil disobedience was coined by Henry
David Thoreau in his essay which explained why he refused to
pay a poll tax and as a result was imprisoned. Thoreau opposed
the war in Mexico and the Fugitive Slave Act. Civil disobedience
is public, nonviolently, and conscientiously breach of a law
seen as illegitimate or immoral. Participants of civil disobedience
are willing to accept legal consequences to demonstrate the
fidelity of law.
"The only purpose for which power can be
rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community,
against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good,
either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant."
(John Stuart Mill, On Liberty)
The reason for using civil disobedience is to
shift the focus of debate from the device to the law. Our enemy's
battlefield of choice is arguing the device using statistics.
The device is the helmet. Statistics were developed by the royal
courts of Europe for the purpose of gambling. Gambling is illegal
in most of the United States; you and I are not allowed to gamble
with our own hard earned money. However the safety nannies and
legislators are allowed to gamble with our liberty using statistics.
Our enemies like to focus on the fear of what
might happen. A biker might have an accident. That biker might
get injured. That biker might get injured more severely without
using the device called a safety helmet. That biker might lack
sufficient medical insurance. That biker might cost tax payers
a little more money. It seems odd that bikers are not considered
tax payers when this argument is used. Also with the current
prices of motorcycles it is more likely the average biker has
a good job with sufficient insurance than most smokers or others
using dangerous devices. Our enemies choose the battlefield
where they have the high ground. Like Jesse McDugald once said
"Figures don't lie but liars can figure and our opponents
have a lot more practice figuring than we do."
Bikers have the high ground when the battlefield
is shifted from the device to the law. Try justifying punishment
for not wearing a hat. Our opponents are woefully unprepared
to explain and justify the arrest, incarceration, and fine of
a citizen for his own good.
The bikers of South Carolina in the past allowed
the enemy to choose the battlefield and take the high ground.
Time and time again the bikers of ABATE of SC would charge into
battle and have as much success as Pickett's Charge. However
in 1980 the bikers changed their strategy and argued the law
instead of the device and they won. Part of the strategy was
organized civil disobedience. Many ABATE members were stopped
and ticketed for not wearing helmets; they provided real examples
of the costs of enforcement.
For greater understanding consider a few other
devices. You must be at least 21 years of age to drink alcohol
or over 18 years of age to smoke tobacco. One would be hard
pressed to find good reasons to use either of these devices
especially before a legislative committee or sub-committee meeting.
However it would be even more difficult to create a list of
good reasons to arrest, incarcerate, and fine a citizen for
drinking or smoking in the absence of any other crime.
Civil disobedience allows us to move the debate
from the device to the law where we have the high ground. However
civil disobedience complements the legislative effort; civil
disobedience does not replace our legislative efforts. The civil
disobedience act of riding without a helmet and being ticketed
provides a measurable metric or cost. When many bikers take
part the costs to society and the state to enforce and prosecute
become harder to ignore. Even if you lose the court case you
can still create a victory by forcing the state to lose money.
Consider the cost to prosecute includes the courthouse lights,
and the salaries of the judge, clerk, district attorney, the
arresting police officer, and others. If your case only takes
an hour of time you have likely made them pay more than they
collected. The individual costs to conscientious citizens breaching
the illegitimate law are also highlighted. Rather than focusing
on the device we focus on the oppression of citizens based on
nothing more than hypothetical fears.
The risks of civil disobedience can be minimized.
First know and understand your constitutional rights. Be observant
at all times. Most importantly break only one law at a time.
Clean helmet tickets can help the cause. However dirty tickets
or those tainted with additional tickets such as speeding or
DUI will not help our movement.
Traffic Stop 101: be prepared for traffic stops
and police encounters. Keep private items out of view. Know
the location of all your papers; do not store your papers with
any contraband. Be courteous and non-confrontational. Ask why
you were pulled over. Do not apologize after a traffic stop;
any apology you make can be used as admission of guilt later
in court. Just say no to warrantless searches; exercise the
Fourth Amendment. Determine if you can leave. You have the right
to terminate a police encounter unless you have been arrested
or legally detained. Ask the officer: "I have to be on
my way. Am I free to go?"
Do not answer any questions without an attorney.
Refusing to answer questions cannot be used against you. The
Fifth Amendment guarantees your right to refuse to answer questions.
However any answers you give can be used against you and likely
will be used against you in court. Leave debating with officer
to the pros like Quigley; save your arguments for the court.
When the questioning begins the officer already knows what he
knows and nothing you say will make him know less; quite likely
what you tell him will just give him additional information
to use against you.
Do not physically resist during an arrest. Simply
remain silent or state "I am not resisting arrest but I
do not consent to any searches."
Remember civil disobedience does not replace legislative
efforts. Use civil disobedience to help choose your battlefield
and take the high ground. Avoid collateral damage; seek clean
no helmet tickets. Create defense packets and share with your
fellow freedom fighters. We begin to win when costs to the state
to enforce and prosecute exceed our fines and court costs so
share the wealth. Have fun! Fun is contagious others will join
the effort and your SMRO.