Mark Roman | July 12, 2023 | Florida Law
Florida passed a law in 2023 directed to motorcycle safety education. This law shifts a fee collected from motorcycle owners to an education program operated by private non-profits rather than the state.
Reasonable minds differ about whether this change will improve motorcycle safety. The bill’s supporters believe private organizations can create a more effective program than the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV). But the bill also effectively de-funds the state’s oversight of motorcycle education programs.
Motorcycle Education Before 2023
Florida law requires FLHSMV to collect a $2.50 fee when motorcycle owners register their bikes. This fee is collected from both new registrations and registration renewals.
This fee was called the “motorcycle safety education fee.” Since the state has 650,670 registered motorcycles, this fee raised $1,626,675 in 2022.
To understand how FLHSMV used this fee, you must first understand Florida’s motorcycle licensing requirements. Every motorcyclist must have a motorcycle license to ride on public roads in Florida. To get a motorcycle license, applicants must pass a motorcycle safety course.
FLHSMV does not run these courses. But the department sets the requirements for the course and monitors compliance. It also ran several advertising campaigns and public school programs to encourage motorcycle safety.
Some specific uses for the motorcycle safety education fee included:
- Creating the curriculum for the state-required motorcycle safety course
- Training and certifying instructors to teach the course
- Auditing programs to ensure they complied with the curriculum
- Maintaining the section of the Driver’s Safety Handbook about motorcycle safety
- Conducting rider safety programs in high schools
- Participating in the Florida Motorcycle Safety Coalition, along with private groups
FLHSMV has nine full-time employees to handle these tasks.
The Changes Imposed by SB 838
On its face, SB 838 seems like a motorcycle safety education law. But it does not create any new education programs. Instead, it defunds the state’s motorcycle safety education programs. It replaces the state programs with programs funded by the state but operated by private non-profit organizations.
The law does not specify the content of those programs. Nor does it give the state any explicit authority to withhold funding for non-compliant programs. Instead, it orders the state to send the funds collected from the $2.50 motorcycle safety education fee to three non-profit organizations.
The non-profit organizations must include:
- One organization that has existed for at least 30 years and has at least 5,000 members dispersed throughout the state
- Two organizations that have existed for at least 20 years and have at least 1,000 members each dispersed throughout the state
The organizations selected by FLHSMV must promote motorcycle safety and education. The law sets an aspirational goal of reducing injuries and deaths from motorcycle accidents. It authorizes the organizations to distribute their messages by:
- Public service announcements
- Social media
- Digital media
- Grassroots motorcycle events
The law also authorizes the organizations to engage in advocacy. They can also spend the state’s money on reasonable administrative expenses.
The Effects of Florida’s New Motorcycle Safety Education Programs
The law was passed unanimously through both houses of the Florida legislature. Specifically, the state senate passed the bill 39 to zero, and the state house passed it 114 to zero. The governor only had the bill for two days before signing it into law.
But despite the universal support for the law, how it will affect motorcycle safety in the state remains an open question. Opinions may differ about whether a private organization can promote motorcycle safety better than the government. But several facts remain about the legislation that do not rely on opinion:
First, the legislation defunds FLHSMV’s motorcycle safety education programs. It does not, as legislators claimed, create new safety programs. Instead, the law creates replacement safety programs. The privately-run programs will take the place of the defunded state programs.
Second, without the fee, FLHSMV cannot maintain the other programs funded by it in their current state. The most critical program that lost funding is the oversight of motorcycle safety courses.
As a result, FLSHMV faces an unenviable choice. It will need to either find alternate resources for regulating motorcycle safety courses or end its oversight of these mandatory programs.
Third, less money will be available for motorcycle safety education. The entire amount raised by the fee gets transferred to three private organizations. But since the law allows each of the three organizations to spend money on administration, some of the money will be spent:
- Hiring workers and paying supervisors
- Buying office equipment and supplies
- Distributing materials
Some or all of these costs could have been avoided if the programs had been left with FLHSMV. Even if you accept that FLHSMV would have some administrative expenses paid from the fees, it would not spend these expenses three times the way three separate non-profits will.
Areas Unaffected by the New Law
The state has promoted the privatization of motorcycle safety education as a path to reducing motorcycle crashes. But the law only affects two primary areas — oversight funding for motorcycle safety courses and discretionary funding for motorcycle safety programs like materials distributed at high schools.
The law does not change any of the following:
- Applicants for motorcycle licenses must still pass a motorcycle safety course
- FLHSMV must still review and license motorcycle safety courses and instructors
- Motorcyclists must still follow the same laws, including Florida’s helmet law
In this sense, the new law does not directly affect the substance of Florida’s motorcycle safety laws. Instead, it only affects outreach programs to the public to educate them about these laws. As a result, this law will probably have little to no effect on motorcycle safety in Florida.
The Impact on Motorcyclists
What does this mean for motorcyclists? Probably not much. You might notice a change in the billboards you see or social media posts you read about motorcycle safety. But you will not need to change anything you currently do while riding your motorcycle.
Contact the Clearwater Motorcycle Accident Law Firm of Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers for Help Today
For more information, please contact the legal team of Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers for a free initial consultation with a motorcycle accident lawyer in Clearwater. We have five convenient locations in Florida: Clearwater, New Port Richey, and Tampa.
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