How to send under aged motorcycle riders into harm’s way, PA-style

This week PennDOT announced a way to address a legal issue they created when they cancelled the PA Motorcycle Training Program (PAMSP) training contract in April of 2020: Per Act 84 of 2012 those under 18 must follow strict graduated licensing guidelines including completing PAMSP training.

Cancelling the PAMSP contract… no PA Motorcycle Safety Program… No PA Motorcycle Safety Program, no under 18 M class (motorcycle) licenses can be issued.


How can those under 18 normally get a motorcycle license?

The only way under 18 M class (Motorcycle) permit holders can achieve their M class license in PA is to:

  • Apply for an M class permit (with parental/guardian permission)
  • Take the test for the M class permit
  • have held their M class permit for 6 months,
  • Have a parent or guardian certify they have completed 65hrs of practical driving experience,
  • Take a PA Motorcycle Program Safety Course
  • Produce a form certifying they are ready to take the licensing examination (which in person PAMSP courses generate, and administer the tests)
    • “For a Class M license to operate a motorcycle, present evidence of successful completion of the department-approved motorcycle safety course“.
  • Take and pass a Motorcycle skills evaluation

The part in italics is the heart of Act 84 of 2012.

What has been the historic training requirement for those under 18?

On the PAMSP web site it has said the following for years:
“Students under 18 years of age must take and successfully complete a Pennsylvania motorcycle safety program Beginner Riding Clinic before the student can receive a motorcycle license.” which also appears in the FAQ section here.

The BRC (Basic Rider Clinic/Course) is based on 15 hours of classroom and riding instruction and is made up of:

  • 5 hours in the classroom,
  • passing a knowledge test with 80% or better
  • 10 hours of riding,
  • passing a skills examination – twice
    • For those under 18 their first BRC is training only, they need to wait 6 months (or until the end of their eligibility period)
    • the formal skills evaluation once their eligibility period has ended or they turn 18 years of age.

So while a PennDOT licensing center could administer a skills test (and wouldn’t need to with the PAMSP) until now they could not administer it to those under 18.

What does the change mean?

The PennDOT announcement now states that virtual training will be provided via (2) 2hr [web] sessions at which students will have to take and pass a test with a 70% or better. If they do they will receive a certificate they can later take to a PennDOT licensing center to take the skills test.

According to PennDOT “The mandatory motorcycle training for individuals under 18 years of age looking to obtain their motorcycle license will be completed virtually.”

Yep, you read it right:
4hrs on line. No actual on motorcycle skills development or training – pass the online test (current tests require 80% to pass…), wait until the end of your eligibility/skills building period (6 months), have your parents sign the 65hr training attestation and go straight to the licensing center to get a license.

So we’re sending the most vulnerable out to face 38x greater risks on a motorcycle without actual rider training.

But hey, they are able to get their license & hit the road, right?

What curriculum is PennDOT using?

Absolutely no idea, and that is a critical question.
Likely one of the big providers with an eClassroom module already available…

Is this Instructor-led?

Absolutely no idea, no Instructors we’ve talked to are taking part.

Who approved the new curriculum?

No idea – but in order to use PAMSP funds PennDOT would have to…

Who is paying for this?

Why you, the tax payer, of course.
Likely out of PAMSP funds… which means, specifically, PA Motorcyclists are paying for this.

Aren’t parents concerned?

What do parents/guardians know about motorcycle training?

Parents typically sign the 65hr practical riding experience form (DL-180) regardless of their child’s actual riding experience. It’s a formality and most parents can’t competently train their child how to ride a 2 wheeled bicycle let alone a motorized 2 wheel vehicle that could achieve well above 100mph.

Look back at your experience of learning how to ride a bicycle via parent or guardian.
It generally went something like this:

  • Start out on a tricycle – 3 wheels, direct steering.
  • Graduate to a bicycle with training wheels – 4 wheels, direct steering.
  • Parent moves the training wheels up or removes them, gives you a nice push and says “don’t crash” – 2 wheels, counter steering.

Call your parent right now if able, ask them to accurately define counter steering, how to initiate a turn on a two wheel vehicle and how two wheel vehicles actually turn.
Yep, they can’t explain it now, and they could not explain it then.

How, then, did you learn to ride a 2 wheel bike?
Necessity – crashing sucks.

Operating 2 wheel vehicles is inherently counter intuitive.

Parents typically bring their children to PAMSP courses specifically for the training curricula & environment that it provides.

They also have NO idea how to properly train anyone how to ride a motorcycle.
Not even a bicycle.

Most parents don’t have an M class license and as such they aren’t legally permitted to supervise their M class permit children. This is a benefit of the PA Motorcycle Program – all Instructors are M class license holders, supervising training of under aged M class permit holders.

Ok, so why is this workaround a problem?

Ignore the fact that this workaround ignores the spirit of the law, the emphasis on formal, approved, training, etc.

Ignore the fact that operating a motorcycle requires unique skills a novice – and even many intermediate and/or experienced – riders do not possess. Those 29 & under make up 1/3 of all motorcycle deaths. That’s a shocking number.

Ignore the fact that risks facing motorcyclists are very different from those operating automobiles. People don’t see motorcycles. Turning & Intersections remain among the most deadly locations for riders with untrained riders having no real idea how a motorcycle actually turns, how and when to properly operate the brakes, or how far it takes to stop.

Ignore the fact that under aged students won’t be able to borrow a bike at a PennDOT center – they’ll either have to arrive on their own, borrow one and/or trailer one in. So they will be on the street without training just to get to the testing site.

Ignore the fact that those over 18 can’t receive the same waiver, specifically those over 21 who would like to exercise their choice to not wear a helmet in PA unless they wait for 2 years after getting their M class license.

It’s a problem because we’re not actually training novice riders.
We’re just giving them a pass to get a motorcycle license.

Act 84:
“Department-approved motorcycle safety course” wasn’t meant to be a free pass

The PA Legislature & Tom Corbett passed the Law to address injuries and fatalities of under aged riders in PA with the specific intent to train under-aged motorcyclists.

This spirit has been carried forward since the Law was enacted by a number of organizations within the State. Here are some examples.

The Commonwealth of PA included Act 84 information in their 2012 annual report – “Adding a Measure of Safety for Teen Motorcycle Drivers…” stating “The new law requires teen riders who are 16 or 17 years old to first complete the Basic Rider Course offered by the Pennsylvania Motorcycle Safety Program prior to getting a motorcycle license”.

PennDOT supported Act 84 via public communication upon its enactment:
“With this new law, Pennsylvania is ensuring that young motorcycle riders are given the tools and the knowledge to ride safely on our roadways,” said PennDOT Secretary Barry J. Schoch. “Roughly 400,000 riders have gone through this proven safety training program since it began in 1984 and graduates rave about how the training has improved their riding skills.”

PennDOT also produced an “Act 84 of 2012 Frequently Asked Questions” which appears here and states that the Act “requires that any person 16 or 17 years old who wants a motorcycle license must first complete the Basic Rider Course (BRC) offered by the Pennsylvania Motorcycle Safety Program (PAMSP)…”

PennDOT & the PA State Police, during Motorcycle Safety Month in 2014 touted, Act 84, and also included in its requirements the completion of a Basic Rider Course/Clinic – consisting of 15 of the 65 hour skills building requirement on their website: “including taking and successfully completing the Basic Riders Course offered through PAMSP in order to receive their motorcycle license.”

A well known PA motorcycle rights group supported the spirit of Act 84, posting the requirements – including taking, and passing, a BRC, on their website in 2014 – “Adding their messages of support for safety and training for experienced and novice riders were PSP Commissioner Frank Noonan and representatives from the Alliance of Bikers Aimed Toward Education…”.

In 2012 they had even listed introduction of the bill in an accomplishment update stating “In the 2011-2012 Legislative Session we have had the following bills introduced and as of this date are working on their passage…An Act amending Title 75 (Vehicles) of the PA Consolidated Statutes, making MSP course requirement for obtaining a Class M Junior Drivers License.”

Before the 2019 training season (2/13/2019) the a Commonwealth-wide communication was made by PennDOT announcing new training which included “Act 84 of 2012 put into place the requirement that all permit holders under the age of 18 successfully complete the BRC to receive their motorcycle license.”

Clearly those under 18 being required to take and complete a BRC – classroom and practical riding experience – has been a long standing component to meeting the Act 84 requirements. Until 2020.

Political expediency vs human lives:

You would think with the lesson of COVID fresh in our minds that we would have learned from it. Unfortunately Human nature shows us that we’ll stubbornly ignore that lesson time and again, especially where Government is involved.

Many decry “loopholes” they don’t find to be fair and equitable. In many of those cases they may not be actual loopholes, just sloppy lawmaking. BTW – if you are over 21 and facing a 2 year waiting period to not wear a helmet, you may want to contact your legislators and complain, get in on the waiver action as well.

Is the new 4hr on line course a “department-approved motorcycle safety course”, apparently. Does it fly in the face of the spirit of the Law and the many, many citations by the Executive & Legislative Branches of the Commonwealth as well as external group focusing on the need for formal rider training. Of course it does.

While teens may make up only 3% of motorcycle fatalities just as with motor vehicles generally they are injured and perish at rates disproportionate to the number of operators they represent.

Groups have called for “transparency and accountability” for PennDOT in its operation of PAMSP in the past, with little to show for it. This is transparently a workaround, and no one will be held accountable for it – fiscally, or educationally. But hey, kids will get their M class license. Right? Ah, politics.

As Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan said in 2014 – “One of the most difficult tasks of a state trooper is to inform a family member that a loved one was suddenly and tragically killed in a fatal crash,” he said. “Sadly, some of these crashes may have been prevented, had the driver exercised responsible driving practices. I encourage you to be properly licensed, know your driving capabilities, and most importantly, ride within your limitations and do your part to be safe when riding.”

As a motorcycle safety professional you quickly realize that you are a last chance safety professional.

You understand that they time you spend with a student may be the only formal training they will ever receive. You understand that getting them to come back for additional training is the key to keeping them healthy, alive. You understand that without training many will perish yet they will ride anyway – because they don’t understand the risks.

But at least now they’ll have a license to ride as sometimes politics are just more important than lives.

Contact your State Representatives, ask them if they are ok with this. Many of them said they were appalled that PennDOT could cancel the contract and effect what amounts to Legislative change without review or warning. Many of them have done nothing regarding PAMSP so far.

Perhaps teen lives being put at risk will cause them to act.

But, perhaps not.

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