2/6/2012Leading Advocate for Motorists Moves On
After thirty years, founder of National Motorists Association steps aside.
Jim Baxter, the founder and president of the National Motorists Association (NMA), has stepped aside, leaving Gary Biller to take the reins of the largest organization in the US focused solely on drivers' rights. Since 1982, NMA has fought against the national 55 MPH speed limit, photo enforcement, suspicionless roadblocks and similar policies that appear more focused on revenue generation than actual safety.
NMA originally formed under the name Citizens' Coalition for Rational Traffic Laws to challenge the federally mandated 55 MPH highway speed limit that had been imposed in 1974. With a handful of activists, the organization gradually built its membership and laid the public policy foundation for a partial repeal of the blanket speed limit law in 1987 when Congress allowed rural interstates to boost their limit to 65 MPH. This spurred Baxter to broaden his group's focus.
"I believed the victory in 1987 would prove that our organization was effective in the political arena, and more importantly that there was a need for a permanent drivers rights' organization, one that would fight for realistic speed limits, fair traffic laws, the end of revenue-driven enforcement, and real due process in traffic courts," Baxter wrote in NMA's Driving Freedoms.
In 1995, Republicans took control of Congress for the first time in four decades and decided to adopt NMA's suggested repeal of the speed limit as a "Christmas present to the American people." The full repeal was added to the highway bill over a veto threat issued by then-President Bill Clinton. Though the insurance industry claimed at the time (and still claims) that this repeal would have caused "blood in the streets," the country is currently enjoying an all-time low in road fatalities.
Traffic tickets represent significant revenue for the insurance industry, as insurers impose surcharges of hundreds or even thousands of dollars on citation recipients. Many think of AAA as a pro-motorist organization, but the group lobbies in favor of photo enforcement and other ticketing schemes because selling insurance is a major source of income for that group. NMA, on the other hand, is funded by its members with a bit of support from two radar detector companies, an alliance that has caused no conflict of interest.
"The leading companies, most notably Escort and Valentine, continue to support the NMA through advertising and donations," Baxter wrote. "In exchange we give them 80 MPH speed limits wherever we can. Go figure."
NMA now assists members in fighting traffic tickets, even providing legal support for high-profile cases. It manages the National Speed Trap Exchange to warn drivers about predatory enforcement locations. The main NMA website serves as a clearinghouse of information about how adhering to proper engineering principles is a better solution to the safety problem than solely relying on enforcement.
"If speed limits are properly set, using known traffic-engineering principles, there will be good compliance and improved safety. Of course, there is an overriding problem that prevents application of this knowledge," Baxter wrote. "Properly operated traffic signals and properly established speed limits do not generate ticket revenue, nor do they appease those with a command-and-control mentality. And so the battle continues, but it is a battle we will win. Time, science, and ethics are on our side."
Gary Biller steps up from the role of NMA's executive director to take on the job of president.