Did ABATE of PA forget what the “E” means when it comes to PAMSP?

For those of you who don’t know, ABATE of PA is a Pennsylvania motorcycle rights organization in Pennsylvania best known for their efforts to change to PA helmet law. Contrary to popular belief PA does still have a mandatory helmet law – it just has a few notable exceptions where helmet use is not required by all riders/passengers, their choice.

The name stands for Alliance of Bikers Aimed Towards Education and while they do a lot more than just focus on helmets one of the tenets of the organization is their ‘promotion of motorcycle safety through motorist and rider education’.

Friction limits engagement:

You would think there was a natural synergy between ABATE of PA and PAMSP – and there should be – but frictions have existed that impact that potential partnership.

For some time now there has been a curious animosity between PAMSP and ABATE of PA members. It’s well known, still exists, and is a contradiction in the stated mission of ABATE of PA. This creates a disruption between an established motorcycle rights organization and Instructors, especially those Instructors who are also members of ABATE of PA (and are in a position to help talk about the Organization to the motorcycling community, new and old).

Attempts to resolve these issues have not always been successful and historic animosities still remain. With the cancellation of the 2019 PAMSP contract some of the first reactions of some ABATE of PA members were not of alarm but of pleasure that the current PAMSP training provider, an ABATE of PA Corporate Sponsor, had been kicked out of PA.

The contract termination was a historic event – the first time it had occurred in the over 30 year history of the Program and would cripple Motorcyclist Safety/Skills training in PA for 2020 and years to follow.

The simple fact is that the contract was canceled by PennDOT for convenience, not for cause, with zero mediation or public comment violating 2 statutes in the process – including mandatory on-bike motorcyclist skills training for those under 18 – which ABATE of PA had supported.

The response should not have been glee, it should have been a clarion call.

Missing a call to action:

You would think the loss of the potential to train upwards of 20,000 motorcyclists per year via PAMSP would galvanize the efforts to repair the issue, but that wasn’t the case.

Attend an ABATE of PA meeting or speak to members and if you know anything about the current state of PAMSP – especially if you read PA Motorcyclist – you’ll hear an alarming level of incorrect information provided at the chapter/member level.

Investigate further and you’ll quickly see that timely & accurate information or any organizing principles to advocate for motorcycle skills/safety training are not flowing from the top down to the rank and file.

Reach out to the ABATE of PA leadership and you’ll be lucky to hear platitudes of how they are ‘dealing with PennDOT’, if you can get someone to respond to you, or how they are powerless to do anything.

Curiously there is not a single official position statement regarding the continuation of motorcyclist education in reaction to PennDOT decisions which creates a lot of confusion around what could and should be happening in response. It’s difficult for members to act if they don’t know the facts and aren’t organized effectively to respond.

Imagine the impact of +5,000 members of ABATE of PA calling on the legislature to make them aware of the plight of the PAMSP program? It could have been epic. Instead, it was a non-issue to anyone not within a small circle and a missed opportunity to address historic problems with PAMSP, engage the members, community & legislature.

Little subject matter expertise:

ABATE of PA has little relevant functional experience with the PAMSP program operation, or motorcyclist safety/skills training in general. Very few ABATE of PA members are current Instructors. ABATE of PA is not always seen as a neutral arbiter when it comes to Program Administrators/Curricula. While this can be rectified it will require a change in attitudes and competencies in order to address.

ABATE of PA apparently has an ‘oversight’ capacity of the PAMSP funds (known as the “Motorcycle Safety Education Account” or MSEA). This “oversight” has never yielded any public visibility and has done nothing to stop the changes to the program in 2020 and 2021 which effectively ended 35 years of Commonwealth-wide motorcycle training via the PAMSP, or the earlier problems ending in 2017. This is a fiduciary responsibility that ABATE of PA should not ignore, but embrace.

Forgetting the “E”:

With regards to PAMSP it appears that ABATE of PA has forgotten the “E”, “Education”, in their name.

The August 2020 (on the cover) “Behind the Lines” ABATE of PA periodical included the following about PAMSP in the State Coordinators comments: “it looks like PennDOT is moving forward with the Motorcycle Safety Program…[but] we can pretty much say 2020 is a wash”. A “wash” in which PennDOT will spend funds from the PAMSP funds repainting existing ranges to provide locations for completely new curriculum, motorcycle maintenance for machines not taken care of for months, administrative costs, etc.

Of course a few pages later the in notes from the July 2020 Board meeting appear, from the Legislative Coordinator, “we have no motorcycle program at this time”. Other than offering an Amendment to a moot bill, no other action, no further Legislative updates. PAMSP related items are, however, are still listed as ABATE of PA accomplishments which, at this point, is like taking credit for the Ford Pinto.

A signature ABATE of PA program, Operation Save a Life, a motorcycle awareness program intended for school and civic groups, is largely shuttered due to the closure of schools and the limitations COVID has placed on group meetings. Little can be done about this, but COVID may provide an opportunity to review the program and how it will need to change based on the ‘new normal’. What could have restarted was the PAMSP program – and there was plenty of time to organize around what has and what should happen to the Program – but that never materialized.

PAMSP was not offering training in PA in 2020 – but riders continue to ride.

PAMSP has been suffering training losses for nearly a decade which has directly impacted motorcyclist education. Little has been done to stem these losses, even less to understand why the losses are occurring.

The Program issues in prior years, contract cancellation in 2020, the potential changes to the program in 2021 all occurred with no clear statements from ABATE of PA.

In 2020, following the contract cancellation, PennDOT released “under 18” training to address a legal issue they created for themselves. PA law requires that all M Class permit holders under 18 are required to take and pass a PAMSP Basic Rider class. If PAMSP is not running this requirement cannot be met.

To address this PennDOT offered a license waiver to those under 18 with ZERO physical motorcycle training required – all web-only ‘training’ of a ‘curriculum’ of their own design. ABATE of PA remained silent at this obvious workaround – in contradiction to their original support of the Law and the fact that an entirely web-based class, with no on motorcycle training, would provide M Class (motorcycle) licenses to minors.

The “web only” training for those under 18 also disenfranchised those 18 and above who didn’t have the opportunity to pursue training, to receive a license waiver.

Legislation was proposed by PA Representative Jim Marshal from western PA to “restart” the old PAMSP contract in 2020/2021. The ABATE of PA response? Work to have themselves added to what is now moot legislation as PennDOT has already “restarted” the Program for 2020.

Twice now PennDOT has released RFP to The most recent changes by PennDOT to create a motorcycle training “free for all” in the Commonwealth which will certainly have an impact on motorcycle education as well as budgeting & vendor compensation. Again ABATE of PA remains silent, seems totally unengaged.

Relevance requires reflection:

If ABATE of PA is concerned about their membership numbers relevance will be a key reason for the decline. Their lack of relevance to PA Motorcyclists, lack of effective communication to members/legislators/the riding community, hostility – or at least a lack of neutrality – to PA training providers, inability to attract motorcycle Instructors as members and the lack of focus on competent rider education are key aspects of a decline.

Another potential reason for decline is inactivity, as well as ineffectiveness. ABATE of PA either knows, at the top level, what is going on with PennDOT & PAMSP or they don’t. If they do are they complicit/in support of these changes and if so why, if they don’t why is that, why do they keep insisting that they are engaged. In both cases why aren’t the membership aware of what is going on – to inform, to organize, to act?

The simple fact is that ABATE of PA does not represent all PA Motorcyclists. The organization has ~5,461 members in a state of ~825,898 licensed motorcyclists – meaning that they represent less than 1% (0.6%) of all Pennsylvania licensed motorcyclists as well as all riding aged teens and adults (0.12%).

Perhaps ABATE of PA is at risk of fading into history because it simply can’t change with the times – but if they are willing to change perhaps they can help themselves, and the riders of PA, realizing that the “E” in the name is part of the core mandate and commitment to the motorcycle community at large and that their support of PAMSP, or lack thereof, is a key part of that commitment.

Putting the “E” back in Education:

In order to make ABATE of PA more relevant to motorcyclist safety/skills training, as well as to potential and existing members, ABATE of PA could consider the following:

  1. Operate in a transparent manner with regards to PAMSP, refrain from engaging in closed-door meetings with PennDOT.
  2. With regards to significant events impacting Motorcyclist skills/safety training state the Organization position, mission & goals to the membership in a call to action or request for restraint.
  3. Publish a public audit of the Motorcycle Safety Education Account on a quarterly and yearly basis.
  4. Publicly support or decry the actions of PennDOT to move to a “3rd party training model” for PAMSP or indicate their support for it. They must declare a position one way or another.
  5. End the culture of animosity/favoritism to specific curriculum providers or recuse themselves from PAMSP engagement.
  6. Leverage subject matter experts regarding Motorcyclist Skills/Safety Training in a working group to assist in the understanding, operation and state of PAMSP.
  7. Provide oversight and a regular, public, “state of the PAMSP program” report on an annual basis, as an independent review.

As with any organization ABATE of PA’s operational, organizational and managerial issues are things they need to address on their own.

As far as Motorcyclist Education in PA goes ABATE of PA could assist the Motorcycling community but only if they remove internal politics, silos and agendas and focus on an organized response to the issues facing PAMSP now and in the future – something they have not done effectively in the past, and may yet again fail to do in the future.

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