Feds Say They Will Pressure States to Require Motorcycle Helmet Use

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal safety officials called on states Thursday to require all motorcycle riders to wear helmets, citing a surge in fatalities since the late 1990s.

Motorcycle deaths have increased over the last decade even as other traffic fatalities have declined, the National Transportation Safety Board said.

From the website jalopnik.com

There were 4,400 motorcycle deaths in the U.S. last year, more than in all aviation, rail, marine and pipeline accidents combined. That’s nearly twice the fatalities a decade ago. Head injuries are the leading cause of death in motorcycle crashes.

Board members said at a news conference they were elevating the helmet recommendation to their annual list of “most wanted” safety improvements to spotlight the issue and pressure governors and state legislatures to act.

“People have to get outraged about this safety issue that is causing so many deaths needlessly,” NTSB Vice Chairman Christopher Hart said.

Twenty states make all motorcycle riders wear helmets, the board said. Most states have limited helmet requirements, and three states — Iowa, Illinois and New Hampshire — have no requirement.

Nearly all states had universal helmet laws when they were necessary for full federal highway funding. But in the mid-1990s Congress repealed the requirement, leaving the issue up to states to decide. As states began repealing or weakening helmet laws, fatalities rose.

The safety board can’t force states to enact tougher helmet laws or offer money as an incentive. Its primary power is its bully pulpit.

Deborah Hersman, the safety board’s chair, promised to keep pressure on states and, if that doesn’t work, to seek help from Congress or the administration.

The call or tougher helmet laws comes after a new report showing the United States lagging behind nearly every other wealthy country in reducing traffic fatalities, despite bringing them down 9.7 percent last year to 33,808, the lowest number since 1950. In 2008, an estimated 37,423 people died on the highways, representing a yearly decline of 9.3 percent.

The dramatic declines were likely due to a sour economy as people drove less, rather than changing their behavior, the report by the Transportation Research Board said. Fatalities are likely to increase as the economy improves, researchers said.

Other countries are doing better. The U.S. had the lowest fatality rate in the world in the 1970s, but Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Norway, France and the United Kingdom have surpassed the United States.

While fatalities dropped 19 percent in the U.S. from 1995 to 2009, they dropped 52 percent in France and 38 percent in the United Kingdom. Rates fell 50 percent in 15 high-income countries with available traffic data.

“The United States can no longer claim to rank highly in road safety by world standards,” the report said.

Fatalities have fallen in other nations partly through programs that sometimes generate opposition in the U.S such as speed cameras and speed measuring devices, sobriety checkpoints and mandatory motorcycle helmets. Thousands of lives could be saved if such programs were widely adopted in the U.S., the report said.

More frequent checkpoints nationwide to detect drunk drivers could save 1,500 to 3,000 lives annually, researchers estimated. Systematic speed control programs could save 1,000 to 2,000 lives, and mandatory helmet rules for motorcyclists could mean 450 less deaths a year. Another 1,200 deaths would be avoided if seat belt use rose to 90 percent from 85 percent.

“Where is the public outcry against these preventable deaths?” Hersman asked.

“Americans should strive for zero fatalities on the road. We should be leading, rather than following the international community when it comes to roadway design and safety measures,” he said. “But it is a sad fact that the U.S. is in their rear view mirror and falling further behind the rest of the world when it comes to highway safety.”

Clinton Oster, an environment and public policy professor at the Indiana University-Bloomington and chairman of the committee that wrote the report, said there was no “silver bullet” program that stood out.

“I think we need to be much more systematic in developing clear goals, measuring results and making that information public,” Oster said. Other countries “work very hard to demonstrate these techniques actually do save lives.”

The Eye of a Storm – MB Fall Bike Week

The Eye of a Storm – MB Fall Bike Week by Everette “EZ” Short

True to its name, The Hurricane Alley Fall Bike Rally came in bringing a storm with it.  High winds, record rains and a state of emergency were declared in the surrounding areas of both North and South Carolina.  Still, tens of thousands of riders poured into the beach area for a week of celebration and relaxation.  On Wednesday, September 29th, I was at Myrtle Beach Harley Davidson, not expecting many to show up, but I was there to greet anyone brave enough to come. Was I ever surprised to see well over a 1000 rain clad riders rolling into the parking lot with big, wide smiles and rain soaked, dirty yellow slickers on.  The Wilmington area, north of the rally, experienced more rain than ever recorded and yet here they were – riders that couldn’t care less.  They just rode on.  That’s just how we are: when we want to get somewhere; there are no excuses or obstacles that we can’t get over, under, through or past.

The next day, with the rain lifting and the Helmet Laws becoming a dot in our historic rear view mirror, the beach area roared to life around sunup and the crowds in the southern ends started looking like “The Good Old Days” by the time the sun hit the noon sky mark.  SBB, The Beaver Bar, Cooters and the surrounding hot spots were filled to near capacity by night fall on Murrell’s Inlet.  Thousands tested the waters of Myrtle Beach proper early by venturing north to fill up The Swingbridge Saloon, Captain Poos, Harley’s Roadhouse, HB Spokes and all the surrounding venues that were featured on The Fall Rally Treasure Map in US Rider News.

By Friday, the party was on full swing mode when the city announced it would close all North and Southbound access to both the #17 bypass and Hwy #31, effectively forcing people to ride into Myrtle Beach through Kings Hwy.  The sudden closure of lifelines between the two ends was made to accommodate less than 2000 athletes that had come for a triathlon.  Like giant dinosaurs, the crowds ignored the mess, the politics and the city decrees.  They just wound their ways around it and went on about the business of finding one another in a celebration of communion on two wheels.  Meanwhile, on the North side of the Carolina border, in Little River, bikes roared through local bars like Rickey’s Dockside, invaded the waterway to gather at places like The Pilot House and slammed shots at Key West Crazy with no cares about what the city of Myrtle Beach had to say.  “There are two ends of this rally and we’re staying out of the middle,” said Tim Sauer who rides a 2005 Fat Boy. “We’re professionals, not teenagers, and we intend to ACT like professionals,” said Karen Coats, who rides and works as a Hospice nurse, as she sat smiling at a picnic table on the waterway at Captain Poos with her friends.  “If we did see a problem, we just went around it,” she added loudly over the noise of a full capacity crowd that stayed that way for the whole event.  Apparently, Captain Poos is no longer the best kept secret as there was hardly room to park a bike on the entire property, but everyone got along just fine, none the less.

By Saturday, massive amounts of motorcycles covered the entire beach area and while the city is not releasing any numbers or estimates, it appears that over 60,000 motorcycles showed up to prove that we are still here and we’re not going away.  “We’ve had a great time and we’re staying on though next week,” said Jana Thorton who rides with Rusty on a 2009 Big Dog motorcycle.  They were part of a group of almost 20 friends that had ridden in from the middle of North Carolina.  I heard them yelling “We’re in it ‘til the end,” when I left and I’m sure they are.  In a side note of what it’s all about, George “Catfish” Wertheimer told me that he had a problem with his chain while riding in Myrtle Beach proper.  Catfish took a chance and pulled into “Scooters” on Kings Hwy since he had no tools with him.  He said that they immediately took him into the shop and fixed the problem with no waiting and gave him a good price to boot.  When George paid him, the mechanic looked him straight in the eye, shook his hand and said, “Welcome back to Myrtle Beach and thank you for your business.”

On Sunday, most people had jobs to return to, but the feeling was good.  Two days before the event, Denise Triece from MBHD told me that suddenly vendors were ringing the phone off to get spaces, but it was too late.  The few vendors that came took in large rewards, but one rider said it best when he told me “The vendors follow us.  We don’t follow the vendors. We come to be with each other, celebrate life and the freedoms that make this country great.  We didn’t come to buy beads and trinkets.”  By the time you read this, a group of us will be gathering to plan for the Spring Rally.  A lot of innocent businesses didn’t make it through the storm, but to those of you who did, we take our hats off in gratitude.  Remember that you can help make a difference when you stop by any area merchant you see in this magazine and tell them “Thanks for wanting my business.”  I told you we’d be back and if you made it out for the rally, then I’m sure you are glad you did. We all look forward to next Spring so we can make it happen again, but feel free to come by anytime.  The beach is always here and it’s waiting just for you.