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Apr 13, 2001

Parents Who Let Their Children Ride Or Race Motorcycles Guilty Of A Felony?

Copyright 2001 Roadracing World Publishing, Inc.<BR><BR>According to an article appearing in the May 2001 issue of the official AMA magazine American Motorcyclist, a government official in Connecticut thinks that allowing minors to ride motorcycles is against the law and could lead to felony prosecution of their parents. The article bases that conclusion on a January 3 letter from Mary Galvin, the Connecticut State's Attorney for the Milford area, to the Milford Riders Motorcycle Club, which operates a motocross track in Milford. In the letter, Galvin states that anyone allowing children under age 16 to ride on the track is guilty of a felony crime.<BR><BR>According to the letter from Galvin, parents who allow their children to ride motocross are putting their children at risk of injury and are breaking Connecticut's General Statutes Sec 53-21 (1) "Injury or risk of injury to, or impairing morals of, children. Sale of children", a felony crime.<BR><BR>In her letter to the Milford Riders Club, Galvin stated that she "has received several complaints about minors operating motorcycles and All-Terrain Vehicles" at the Milford track and has been made aware "of five reported accidents since 1998, some involving minors operating vehicles on your track". The letter also states that "children as young as four or five years of age operate vehicles" and "Milford Police Chief and Fire Chief have pointed out that some of these vehicles actually carry warnings that no one under 16 years of age should be an operator." In the last paragraph of her three-paragraph letter, Galvin wrote, "You should have your attorney review this statute because it could be applicable to people who allow minors to operate on your track." <BR><BR>According to the AMA, after Galvin's office would not answer American Motorcyclist magazine writer Bill Kresnak's request for clarification, the AMA sent a letter dated April 4 to Galvin's boss, John M. Bailey, Connecticut's Chief State's Attorney. In that letter, written by AMA Legislative Affairs Specialist Royce Wood, the AMA pointed out that Galvin may have used incorrect information when she formed her position. In her letter, Galvin referred to ATVs being ridden at the Milford track even though ATVs have not been allowed on the track since a fatal accident involving a 15-year-old in October of 1999. The AMA pointed out that ATVs carry warning labels against operators below 16 years of age, but that off-highway motorcycles like motocross bikes do not carry such warning labels. The AMA letter closed by stating "We respectfully request that you review this matter and tell us whether the opinion expressed by State's Attorney Galvin is the official position of Division of Criminal Justice, and whether the parents of Connecticut youths who ride motorcycles in Milford, or elsewhere, should fear felony criminal prosecution."<BR><BR>On April 12, Royce Wood said the AMA had still not heard back from Bailey, and that the Milford Riders Club has been forced to put youth riding on hold. <BR><BR>Contacted by Roadracing World at her office April 12 and asked if parents would be in danger of felony criminal prosecution if a child got hurt during the Milford Riders Club's first event of the year (scheduled for April 20) Galvin said,, "I think you have a copy of my letter (to the Milford Riders Club), right? I'm not sure where the overreaction on some of the motorcycle press has started, but all we said at the time we met with them (the Milford Riders Club) and addressed what I was writing to them was there is a line that gets crossed where unsafe conditions become reckless and they've done a lot to try and straighten that out. So we're very glad if they take the appropriate safety measures. But I really couldn't answer your question. <BR><BR>"We're not looking to shut a track down, Galvin said. "We're not saying that a particular class of people cannot ride a motorcycle. All we're trying to say is that at the time that I wrote that letter, the track record at that track was horrible. A child had died. They needed to clean up their act and hopefully they have. No, there's no definite answer. Just like if you asked me if someone gets killed on the highway tomorrow, will there be an arrest? I couldn't answer that question. But there may be accidents where it's just an accident, but there may be a situation where someone is acting totally recklessly.<BR><BR>"I think it's important to get the message out that no one is trying to shut a sport down. All we're saying is that sometimes there can be an extreme lack of safety that may amount to recklessness. We're just trying to help them find their way back from a track that was a regular stop on the EMTs' route. Nobody wants tracks like that."<BR><BR>Galvin said that, to support criminal prosecution, a racetrack must be of "…a design that is inherently beyond the limits of what is reasonable danger." When asked for her motorcycling background, Galvin said that it was "irrelevant." When asked her basis for judging that the design of a racetrack was unsafe, Galvin said that the source of the concern originally came from Milford Fire Chief Louis LaVecchia. Although he is the Chief of a Class A-rated fire department, LaVecchia's motorcycling background and expertise is also unclear, Galvin refused to answer questions concerning LaVecchia's background, and Roadracing World was told that LaVecchia was out of town when we attempted to reach LaVecchia at the fire department.<BR><BR> In Galvin's original letter to the Milford Riders Club, there was no mention of any concern regarding the design of the Milford track. <BR><BR>At post time, Milford Riders Club spokesman Randy Simpson had not returned a phone call from Roadracing World requesting comment.<BR><BR>In the April 12 phone interview by Roadracing World, Galvin said that there have been "…serious mis-characterizations of what I said." Galvin claimed that no one from the AMA or American Motorcyclist magazine had ever attempted to contact her.<BR><BR>Asked about that claim, AMA's Wood said that Kresnak, the author of the American Motorcyclist article "…talked to some staff member, and we were unable to come up with the name that we talked to. We explained who we were, what our concern was, the information that we working off of, what that told us, and told them that we wanted them to follow up on this and let them know what they were trying to do. And they never responded to that." <BR><BR>Wood went on to say, "I get the sense that somebody has said something to her (Galvin) because all of a sudden she is being very responsive. But again, I haven't heard anything official. So it kind of feels like she's backpedaling a little bit, but I don't have anything official to hang my hat on yet."<BR><BR>Kresnak's article in American Motorcyclist noted that other states have legislation pending to prevent minors from even riding as passengers on motorcycles. In fact, AMA Board of Trustees Chairman, Pennsylvania attorney Rick Gray, is aware of such a law pending in his state. In a telephone call from his residence to Roadracing World April 6, Gray said that there is a bill pending in Pennsylvania that would prevent children under the age of 18 from being a passenger on a motorcycle even though a 16-year-old can be licensed to operate a motorcycle.<BR><BR>BR>When informed of the AMA's actions to protect kids' rights to ride motocross, Vines added, "I'm happy to hear that the AMA is working for us like that. I'm glad that they are keeping this out of the courts and out of politicians' hands because ultimately it's not up to them. That's the reason we live in this country. We are free to do what we want."<BR><BR>The concern for road racers and the parents of young road racers is that it is a short step from declaring motocross too dangerous for kids to declaring road racing too dangerous for kids.<BR><BR>Many professional racers in all aspects of the sport started riding at a young age, including a long list of road racers who started on YSR50s. Many parents use motorcycle riding and racing as a behavior modifier for their children, making good grades and behavior the tradeoff for riding and racing.<BR><BR>Well-known road racers who started riding and racing when very young include Tommy, Nicky and Roger Hayden, John Hopkins, Ben Spies, Jason DiSalvo and others.<BR><BR>It has been well documented in the pages of Roadracing World how racing motorcycles motivated Chris Ulrich to transform from a pre-teen with poor grades and a pattern of after-school trouble into a B student who earned Student Of The Month honors en route to his high school diploma and a tobacco/alcohol/drug-free professional racing career.<BR><BR>For more information on the situation in Milford, Connecticut or any motorcycling related issues in your area, contact the AMA by calling (614) 856-1900 or visit the AMA website at www.amadirectlink.com. The AMA is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1924 to pursue, promote, and protect the rights of motorcylists, and the organization now has 270,000+ members.<BR><BR>Connecticut State's Attorney Mary Galvin's phone number is (203) 874-3361. The Milford Riders Club's phone number is (203) 877-7580.<BR>