January 10th, 2008

Miami Herald - http://www.miamiherald.com/775/story/374730.html

Motorcycle riders could lose bikes for excessive speeding

Flying down the highway at 120 mph and popping a wheelie could soon cost a motorcycle rider more than a fine. It could cost him his bike.

Riders charged with reckless driving or exceeding the speed limit by 50 mph could be arrested and have their bikes seized under a bill filed in the Florida House and discussed Thursday. Riders later convicted of those offenses could lose their motorcycle licenses for 10 years.

The state needs to send a tough message to motorcyclists who drive recklessly on the highway, said Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami, the sponsor of the bill (HB 137).

"It's not just the riders putting themselves in danger," he said. "They're also putting other motorists in danger. They're riding little missiles."

In 2006, the Florida Highway Patrol investigated 119 deaths caused by motorcycles in urban areas. That doesn't include fatal crashes investigated by local authorities. All but 10 of those deaths involved careless or reckless driving at up to three times the posted speed limits.

Florida's chapter of American Bikers Aiming Toward Education (ABATE) objects to the proposed law. The idea of taking away someone's motorcycle, selling it and giving the money to law enforcement is ridiculous, said James "Doc" Reichenbach, the group's president.

"We're not saying there isn't a problem, but this isn't a problem that is going to go away by taking away someone's motorcycle," Reichenbach said. He then added, "(And that's) if they catch them. They can't catch them now."

Lopez-Cantera acknowledged the difficulty in chasing down a motorcycle going 120 mph or faster. But law enforcement officers can set up stings and follow bikers in helicopters or unmarked cars until they stop, he said.

Members of the House's Committee on Infrastructure on Thursday decided to postpone passing the bill out of their committee, however, until they can adress concerns about the severity of the punishments in it.

Rep. Gary Aubuchon, R-Cape Coral, the committee's vice chair, said he'd like to see a system where penalties become progressively more severe after repeat offenses, instead of taking a person's motorcycle the first time.

Reckless motorcyclists are a problem in South Florida, but it's not the case everywhere, said Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City. It's unfair to place such strict laws on all riders when only a relatively small group in one part of the state is a problem, he said.

Members of the committee agreed to take a closer look at the legislation and to work with motorcycle groups and others on the problem of speeding and reckless driving.