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 AmericanMotorcyclist.com > Rights >  Issues & Legislation, then enter your zip code in the “Find your Officials” box.


NHTSA Funds Motorcycle Only Checkpoints

PICKERINGTON, Ohio — A federal traffic safety agency is offering law enforcement agencies hundreds of thousands of dollars to set up checkpoints that target only motorcyclists, and the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) wants to know why.

The AMA has asked the agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), to suspend the grant program until questions raised by the motorcycling community are addressed.

“How do motorcycle-only checkpoints increase the safety of motorcyclists?” Ed Moreland, AMA senior vice president for government relations, wrote in a letter to NHTSA Administrator David Strickland on Aug. 9. “Where do the selected states draw their authority to conduct” motorcycle-only safety checks?

“Will ‘probable cause’ be required to stop a motorcycle under the terms of this grant program?” Moreland asked. “If so, what will constitute probable cause?”

Under its Motorcycle Law Enforcement Demonstration grant program, the NHTSA will award up to $350,000 in total to be divided among as many as five law enforcement agencies to set up traffic checkpoints that target motorcyclists.

The demonstration program is modeled after a controversial program in New York where the state police set up a series of checkpoints that targeted only motorcyclists, raising the ire of the AMA and motorcycling community. In 2008, for example, New York State Police announced plans to set up 15 checkpoints near motorcycling events that summer.

The AMA questioned the potential discriminatory and legal nature of the program and sent a list of questions for clarification to the New York State Police. To date, New York authorities have not responded.

Moreland said that if the NHTSA is truly interested in motorcyclist safety, it should fund proven programs that help prevent crashes — rather than checkpoints that single out motorcyclists.

“The primary source of motorcycle safety is in motorcycle crash prevention, and NHTSA should focus on decreasing the likelihood of crashes from occurring in the first place,” Moreland said.

The AMA urges all riders to contact Strickland and ask that the discriminatory Motorcycle Law Enforcement Demonstration grant program be suspended until questions raised by the motorcycling community are addressed.

The easiest way to do that is to go to the AMA website at AmericanMotorcyclist.com > Rights > Issues & Legislation