ABATE of Indiana’s relationship with the state agency responsible for rider education has certainly changed in the last few years. After more than 20 years of teamwork to create a nationally acclaimed, award winning program, the tone, mood and sprit changed. Ultimately, this resulted in ABATE of Indiana’s Board of Directors voting unanimously not to respond to the request for proposals (i.e. bid for contract) from the BMV. This is certainly not a decision that was taken lightly.
Since October of 2014, we have had a number of people ask “why didn’t ABATE submit a bid?” The following is offered to provide some background and insight to address our concerns and perhaps answer that question. It is not our desire or intent to point fingers or place blame, we merely wish to provide an explanation. Frankly, for several years now we have attempted to cooperate and make compromises while “biting our lip” and not making a big deal out of things in an effort to get along. We minimized a number of situations, hoping that things would get better. Perhaps we could have shared more of this “as it happened” but we were trying to do what we thought best served the needs of Indiana riders.
Rider education, the most important component of motorcycle safety, has recently changed dramatically. From its beginnings in the 1960’s, the basic concept was essentially unchanged for about 4 decades.
With the “Japanese invasion”, the 1960’s introduced America to motorcycles that were inexpensive, reliable and fun. This, combined with the marketing campaign of “You meet the nicest people on a Honda”, increased the popularity of motorcycling in the United States. The result was climbing sales, more riders and ultimately, greater exposure.
The crashes, injuries and fatalities that came from larger numbers, began to reveal some of the dangers of a vehicle that left the operator vulnerable. Desperate to squelch the negative perception of a dangerous sport, the industry sought ways to make motorcycling safer.
The rise in crashes also had the attention of the federal government. In 1968, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) identified operator licensing as the primary countermeasure to reduce motorcycle fatalities. Keys to the licensing process were training and testing. The next 15 years or so developed and launched the foundation of rider education as we would know it for about the next 30 years.
In the mid to late 1990’s, several things occurred that started a transformation. The leadership changed at the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF), the MSF replaced the curriculum used for the previous 13 or so years with the Basic Rider Course (BRC) and the Harley-Davidson Motor Company introduced their own version of rider courses.
The new curriculum was not universally supported and served as the catalyst for Oregon State University to develop the Basic Rider Training course (BRT). This controversial move divided the training community and initiated a years long legal battle. The MSF felt the need to protect what they considered to be “their product”, despite the fact that much of what had been used was initially created using public funds.
Perhaps the biggest difference was the MSF’s evolution from a source of curriculum development, certification, and program support, to that as a training provider. The MSF’s new role ended up putting them at odds with several traditional providers, and potentially created a conflict of interest.
Meanwhile in Indiana, ABATE of Indiana (ABATE) had been offering training since 1979 and lobbied to create the state legislated program in 1987. Things went extremely well until about 2009 when a new superintendent at the Indiana Department of Education (DOE) decided that motorcycle safety did not belong there any longer (after about 23 very successful years under the legislated program and independently for many years prior to that). The environment at the DOE was not conducive to rider education remaining there.
Over the years, there had been four primary providers of training in the state. Indiana State University (ISU), Kokomo School Corporation and Gary Stevens of the Fort Wayne Police Department each had programs in their communities and ABATE had sites state-wide. The Gold Wing Road Riders Association offered courses for experienced riders. Some sibling rivalry aside, all of the contractors got along extremely well.
The “new” DOE decided that a request for proposal (RFP) process would improve the program by stimulating competition, rather than ABATE just running everything (ABATE had purchased the Fort Wayne program and ISU and Kokomo were still operating). This was in contrast to the “sole source” contract process that had been in use successfully since 1987. In the end, ABATE was the only proposal submitted. The DOE’s actions had limited competition, rather than expanding it. ABATE offered the others the opportunity to sub-contract and ISU did that for two years. The administration at the DOE continued to demonstrate that the motorcycle safety program should look for a new home.
In 2005, the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) had approached ABATE to take over motorcycle license examinations (skills tests for endorsements). They didn’t really like doing them (training and scheduling branch employees), and admittedly, they weren’t very good at it. They asked, “Since you’re doing all this training anyway, is the licensing something you could take for us?” There is a lengthy “rest of the story” here, but we did take on licensing and things went pretty well with that until 2015.
Inasmuch as we were looking for “a home”, and commercial and public driver education were moving to the BMV, at the time it seemed to be the only logical agency to house the motorcycle program.
Unfortunately, the tone at the BMV became unwelcoming almost immediately. A BMV employee was reported to have stated that it was his intent to get ABATE out of rider education. The spirit of cooperation that had made the program so successful in the past, had become noticeably absent. Divisiveness that we had never experienced previously, decimated the morale of the instructor corps.
There are countless instances of the BMV “being mean” or not creating an environment conducive to a productive partnership. We’ll not go in to all the pettiness, but will share a few of the situations that led us to where we now find ourselves.
Sometime in late 2014, or very early 2015, the BMV issued a memo to branches advising that classes conducted by ABATE were no longer valid for a waiver of skills test to get an endorsement. There were several problems with this statement and the memo actually should never have been sent. For one thing, at that time, the possibility that we may function as a subcontractor was still being considered. Secondly, students that passed a course conducted by ABATE in 2014, should have had their course completion document recognized for a period of one year (some as late as October 2015). Most importantly, ABATE of Indiana was still under contract with the BMV until March 26, 2015. Despite numerous requests, the BMV has refused to allow us to even see this memo. Whatever it said, it made such an impression on their branches and call center employees that we continue to have issues, even now, wherein BMV personnel refuse endorsements to students of an “ABATE course”. In fact, until our current contract expires on December 31, 2016, we have been under contract every season since the start of the state legislated program in 1987.
Prior to the start of the 2015 training season, the BMV’s new contractor, the Indiana Motorcycle Safety Program which was managed by the MSF, approached a number of ABATE’s sites and advised the property owner that either ABATE was not conducting training any longer, or that they could do it better. At a minimum, it created a great deal of confusion among hosts. There was also considerable confusion among instructors.
With a new contractor, we expected that they would need state owned equipment returned so they could use it to train students. We were advised to return motorcycles, two trailers that ABATE renovated, cones, some old helmets purchased by the DOE, and even the bumper stickers that are distributed to promote awareness. We did not expect the returned trailers to sit idle at our sites and be used by no one, but that is what happened. And we certainly didn’t expect motorcycles that Indiana riders had paid for to sit outside through the winter (something that never happened when we had responsibility for them). It appeared that the BMV would prefer that these bikes sit out in the weather and rot, rather than allow us to use them to train riders to be safer. The primary reason that we did not train more riders in 2015, was a limited number of motorcycles. (Note: ABATE spent approximately $250,000 acquiring motorcycles in 2015).
In spite of our long and very successful history of providing motorcycle skills tests to with greater access than had ever been offered before, the BMV required website for license test registration did not include a listing of ABATE locations. All other providers were listed, but ABATE was conspicuously absent. After repeatedly pointing this out to the BMV throughout the 2016 season, and with the BMV continuing to state that they would address it, we were never listed as a testing provider on the RSI/RES site in 2016.
Perhaps the greatest travesty to Indiana Motorcyclists was the BMV’s decision to do away with reciprocity. Since the program’s inception, there has been a mechanism allowing students that had completed a rider course from a provider other those under contract with the BMV to obtain their endorsement. This included out of state programs as well as commercial providers within the state. When ABATE initially made the decision not to enter into a contract in 2015, the BMV changed their policy and advised they would not accept a waiver from any provider that did not sign a contract. This was despite the fact that the Rider’s Edge program had been issuing waivers successfully for about 10 years without any sort of contract, and that hundreds of Hoosiers who had taken recognized courses outside the state for years had been provided waivers. These sources provided options to riders regarding locations and schedules and all at zero cost to the state.
There are countless other issues, but it is not our intent to “throw rocks” or pick a fight. I’ve never been divorced and don’t claim to know much about it, but it would seem a suitable analogy here. We really don’t want to have an adversarial relationship, we just want to get on with our life. However, we would like to keep the bass boat that we brought into this relationship and don’t want to get the short end of the stick when the house gets sold.
ABATE will continue to provide the best quality rider education for Hoosier riders just as we have for nearly 40 years, and having trained more than 125,000 riders.
We appreciate the patience and understanding of Hoosier motorcyclists through the challenges of the last couple years. ABATE of Indiana will continue to work hard to earn and maintain your confidence, support and trust.