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Biker in Florida Pulled Over for Wearing a Gladiator Helmet

January 13, 2010
Pam Guenther was enjoying a Saturday morning ride on the back of her husband’s motorcycle in Ocala, Fla., when a cop driving in the other direction abruptly turned around and pulled them to the side of the road.

“I knew we weren’t speeding,” Guenther told Asylum. “So my first question was why is he pulling us over? [The officer] just pointed to my husband and said, ‘He’s wearing a mask, and it’s illegal to cover your face when riding a motorcycle.'”

Luis Santiago’s motorcycle helmet, a custom-modified gladiator-style head protector (pictured), is certainly a bit different. Yet, as Guenther pointed out to the officer, it doesn’t obscure the face any more than the typical tinted-visor biker helmet would. Nevertheless, the officer wrote Santiago up a warning for “wearing a mask prohibited.”

Asylum investigates the validity of this seemingly arbitrary traffic stop on the next page.

How Guenther responded
Irked by what had gone down, and sure her husband hadn’t done anything approaching illegal, Guenther contacted the Florida Highway Patrol. She was eventually told that Santiago was in violation of Florida statute FL 876.12.

“876.12 is a criminal statute based on an old (anti-) Klan law where you are not allowed to cover your face or head,” says Guenther, who has sought legal counsel. “It isn’t suppose to be a traffic rule that applies to people on motorcycles.”

What we found out from the Florida Highway Patrol
When we got in touch with Captain Mark Welch, the Chief of Public Affairs for the Florida Highway Patrol, he also cited FL 876.12. In addition, he speculated that the officer may have pulled Santiago over because he wasn’t sure if Santiago was wearing eye-protection, which is required by state law. (Although, again, it’s hard to see how Santiago’s helmet differs from some more traditional ones in that respect.)

While it is true that a literal reading of 876.12 would prohibit face masks, we asked Welch if it’s typical for bikers to be cited or warned on that statute. “This is somewhat unusual,” he admitted. “In fact, it’s the first case that I know of.”

What Guenther wants
Guenther feels that she and her husband were unfairly targeted by what she describes as “a young officer jealous of a cool bike and a cool helmet looking for a reason to pull us over.” What she wants is for the department to apologize and make clear that a biker protecting his face is not breaking any laws.

Florida law doesn’t require adult bikers to wear helmets at all. So maybe the best way to limit the risk of being pulled over while riding the streets of the Sunshine State is to throw caution (and hair) to the wind and go without any head protection.
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