Are We Heading to A Mandatory National Helmet Law?

Victory Cross Country

The head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) told a congressional panel on Sept. 28 that he wants to work with Congress to promote helmet use among motorcyclists across the United States.

Addressing the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said that to reduce motorcycling fatalities “the most important step we could take would be to assure that all riders wear a DOT-compliant helmet, which are 37 percent effective in reducing fatalities.

“We estimate that helmets prevented over 1,800 fatalities in 2008, and that more than 800 additional fatalities could have been avoided if all riders wore helmets,” he said. “NHTSA will actively work with Congress to promote helmet use.”

Strickland’s comments were part of his overall testimony regarding how safety provisions in the transportation reauthorization bill (SAFETEA-LU) played a role in reducing highway fatalities.

The American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) is concerned that Strickland may be recommending that Congress try to pressure states into passing mandatory helmet-use laws. In the past, Congress tried to force states to approve such laws by withholding federal transportation and safety dollars to states without mandatory helmet laws.

The AMA supports states’ rights to determine their helmet policies free from the threat of federal sanctions. Congress affirmed this right as recently as 1995 in the National Highway System Act, when lawmakers removed federal penalties placed on states that didn’t have mandatory helmet laws.

“The AMA believes that the best way for the NHTSA to reduce motorcycle crashes is through programs such as rider education and increasing motorcycle awareness among vehicle drivers,” said Ed Moreland, AMA senior vice president for government relations. “These programs would help reduce the likelihood that a crash will happen in the first place.”

In addition, said Moreland, motorcyclists would be much better served by applying any funding that may go toward requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets to the national motorcycle crash causation study that is currently under way at Oklahoma State University.

This is a sentiment supported by U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and many of his congressional colleagues through recently introduced H. Res. 1498: Supporting Efforts to Retain the Ban on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Ability to Lobby State Legislators Using Federal Tax Dollars and Urging the NHTSA to Focus on Crash Prevention and Rider Education and Training.

To urge your U.S. representative to support H. Res. 1498, and to ask your U.S. Senators to prevent the NHTSA from focusing on federal helmet-mandate legislation and, instead, employ proven strategies to reduce motorcycle crashes from occurring in the first place, go to > Rights >  Issues & Legislation, then enter your zip code in the “Find your Officials” box.

AMA Seeks Clarification About Helmets

NHTSA Administrator David Strickland

On March 25, Administrator David Strickland of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) made comments about helmet use to U.S. Representative John Olver (D-Mass.). These comments were made at a Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies of the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations hearing regarding the fiscal year 2010 Budget Request for the NHTSA.

The American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) sent Administrator Strickland a letter, dated April 2, 2010, seeking clarification on his comments. It is the AMA’s understanding that Strickland stated the following: (1) safety grants are important and need to be continued; (2) the “core” of motorcycle safety programs is to instill helmet use; (3) helmet use has a direct correlation to motorcycle fatalities; and (4) anything Congress can do to get folks to wear helmets is welcomed, including possible penalties.

In our letter, the AMA asked, “What is meant by your reference to the “core” of a motorcycle safety program is to instill helmet use? Additionally, you advocated the use of possible penalties if adult riders choose not to wear protective gear. Does this mean administrative and/or legislative action towards states and/or individual riders if adults choose not to wear protective equipment?”

The AMA needs your help to seek clarification of Administrator Strickland’s comments. The fastest way to reach Strickland is to send a pre-written e-mail to him immediately by following the “Take Action” option and entering your information.

For more information about how to protect your right to ride, please visit the “Get Involved” section of the AMA web site.

We urge you to write Administrator Strickland today and ask him to clarify his comments made at the March 25 hearing. To send an email click here