by Don Scott

Napa Valley Register

September 24, 2014

I have written letters to newspapers on this subject for several years now, due to the continuous noise from motorcycles with illegal exhaust systems on the streets and roads in upper Napa Valley.

The noise created by these very loud bikes is a disturbance in what is otherwise a tranquil area, but there are issues beyond the noise that are also important. By declining to stop motorcycles, the police are practicing a type of economic profiling in which unlawful behavior is ignored. The riders are given special treatment as valued “tourists” who may spend money here on fuel, meals, or beer. This gives the appearance that political pressure has been exerted so that motorcyclists avoid proper police scrutiny.

A 2007 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that motorcyclists were overwhelmingly responsible for causing accidents with passenger vehicles. In nearly three-fourths of the two-vehicle motorcycle crashes involving passenger vehicles, the motorcycle was the striking vehicle. Motorcyclists were 2.5 times more likely to be impaired by alcohol than auto drivers, were 6.8 times more likely to be speeding, and three times more likely to have an invalid license.

After reading this study, I asked a friend who is a retired police officer in a large city, what his experience was when stopping motorcycles. His response, and I quote, was: “I will say that a large number of bikers ride illegally; no motorcycle license, no insurance, expired registration or inspection, missing required equipment, illegal equipment (ape-hanger handle bars being common). Both bikers and auto/truck drivers with modified exhaust mechanisms were more apt to have outstanding warrants.”

A comment from a friend prompted me to write this letter. He said that he witnessed a group of about seven Harley riders stopped at the wide pullout area just east of Calistoga across the street from T-Vine. He noticed that the riders were passing around what looked like a marijuana cigarette. This was in plain sight, during midday in the middle of the week. Apparently, these riders know they are above the law if they can be that cavalier about doing this in broad daylight where anyone can see what they are doing.

I have been told by Calistoga’s city manager that the loud motorcycles would not be addressed as long as he holds that position. This did not seem to be in agreement with what the chief of police told me saying that his officers could cite the loud bikes if they wish to do so.

This creates confusion as to a policy on the issue. The result is that motorcyclists do not receive citations for having illegal exhaust systems. Since the Calistoga Police Department has a budget of over $2 million, giving preferential treatment to riders of motorcycles is fiscally wrong, besides being morally and legally wrong. Refusing to deal with this problem is giving a higher priority to commerce than to public safety, the environment, and the quality of life for those who live here.

Don Scott