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Gov. to Ditch Bike for Now

Times Staff Writers

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will stop riding motorcycles until he gets the appropriate license. Or at least his staff thinks so.

“He won’t ride until he has the proper endorsement.... That’s our goal,” said spokeswoman Margita Thompson, referring to her notoriously hard-to-control boss.

For two decades, the governor has traversed the roads of Pacific Palisades and Malibu Canyon during his weekend Harley-Davidson rides -- even though he does not hold the required M1 license.

His crash Sunday on Mandeville Canyon Road in Brentwood made authorities aware that he lacked the motorcycle license, and police officials said they would have a duty to stop him in the future if he failed to get one.

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Schwarzenegger, brandishing 15 stitches on his top lip from the crash, told reporters Tuesday that he hadn’t obtained a California motorcycle license because he had “never thought about it.”

“I just never really applied for it,” he said, adding that he did hold such a license while living in Austria in the late 1960s.

Schwarzenegger was injured Sunday afternoon after a Volvo SUV turned out of a driveway on the winding hillside road. The governor, riding with his son in a sidecar, hit the car. Patrick, 12, was not hurt.

Schwarzenegger joked about the crash Tuesday.

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“A car pulled out in front of me; it was right there in front. And I just couldn’t make a decision which way to go,” he said. “I knew, I knew if I would turn left, that the Republicans would get mad. And if I turned right, my wife would get mad, so I just crashed right into the car. I said, ‘This is a safer thing to do.’ ”

Los Angeles Police Department officials said Tuesday that traffic detectives investigating the accident would ask the city attorney’s office to decide whether Schwarzenegger was properly licensed and, if not, whether he should be cited.

But officials at the state Department of Motor Vehicles and other experts said a citation was unlikely because of a loophole in the law. The motor vehicle code states that an M1 license is required for drivers of all “two wheel” vehicles. Because Schwarzenegger was driving Sunday with a sidecar, his bike had three wheels.

The state motorcycle manual clearly exempts motorcycles with sidecars from special licensing. Schwarzenegger has a regular Class C license, all that is required to drive a motorcycle with a sidecar, according to the manual.

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Safety experts said Tuesday that sidecars can make motorcycles more dangerous, despite the law’s exemption for them.

“Sidecars take a little bit of a special touch,” said Hugh H. Hurt Jr., a professor emeritus of safety science at USC. The weight and position of the sidecar complicate braking in ways that would make it more difficult to avoid a crash with a car that suddenly blocked a motorcycle’s path. “There’s not a lot of options. You can’t swerve or stop very well,” he said.

Sunday’s crash occurred about four years after another motorcycle accident in which Schwarzenegger broke six ribs. It is unclear whether he was driving solo or with a sidecar in that crash. But his spokesman acknowledged that the governor had driven solo numerous times without the proper license.

Schwarzenegger’s Sunday rides with movie-industry movers and shakers had become a regular paparazzi stakeout.

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“I love riding my motorcycle along the Pacific Coast Highway -- the freedom of the road and the smell of the sea,” the governor said in his State of the State speech last week.

Schwarzenegger has long embraced the biker image. His use of a Harley Davidson Fat Boy in the movie “Terminator 2" is credited with helping to popularize the bike.

In November, he used such a bike in an ad with Jackie Chan aimed at deterring consumer piracy.

“You and I are on a mission to stop piracy,” said Schwarzenegger to Chan as they rode motorcycles swerving to avoid exploding, toppling cars on a soundstage.

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At one of the governor’s biker hangouts in Pacific Palisades, some brushed off his license problems.

“There are more pressing things to worry about,” said Silvio Moreira, 37, a manager at Patrick’s Roadhouse on PCH. “We are all human beings and make mistakes.”

But Mary Jane Shippen, 81, a PCH resident, was less supportive. “If everybody else has to have a license, he should too,” she said.

An initial police report indicated that the SUV driver may have been at fault by failing to yield to oncoming traffic. The governor said he was going about 20 mph when the woman backed out of her driveway. (The police report, however, says she pulled out front-first to make a left turn onto the road). LAPD Lt. Paul Vernon said no citations have been issued because the investigation is continuing.

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Times staff writer Peter Y. Hong contributed to this report.


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