Motorcycle Riders Foundation -- MRF RIDERS’ ALERT
PO BOX 1808, Washington, DC 20013-1808
202-546-0983 (voice) 202-546-0986 (fax)
wyld@mrf.org (e-mail) http://www.mrf.org (website)

June 8, 2001 #01-20 Phone: 202-546-0983

Also, New Report on Dangers of NHTSA Culture of “Passive Safety”

Washington, D.C. -- At a time when State Motorcyclists’ Rights Organizations (SMROs) are in the midst of lobbying Washington to advance safety training for motorists and motorcyclists, the nation’s leading insurance association promoting its version of “highway safety” is telling the Congress and the President, “Why bother?”

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety – in a special report issued May 19th – attacks the value of motorist and motorcyclist training and education. That special report is in the hands of Washington policy makers now -- the very time when motorcyclists are lobbying for a resource injection to help state-run rider training and a national program of motorist awareness of motorcycles).

If you are a motorcycle safety instructor – if you value vehicle operator training of any kind -- prepare to be shocked.

“Education can be risky,” IIHS warns. “[A]n education, persuasion or training program might make things worse, either by increasing exposure, engendering overconfidence, or somehow rewarding risky behavior.”

There is no question that this attack on education is in direct response to the training component of the joint MRF-SMRO legislative agenda that has found support in both the White House and the Congress.

There is also no question that you – and motorcyclists nationwide – must counter this attack on one of our bedrock principles.

The IIHS report cites select literature that, if heeded, all but suggests that rider and driver training be labeled as hazardous to your health, if not banned outright. “There’s no evidence that high school driver education reduces motor vehicle crash involvement rates for young drivers,” states one researcher quoted by IIHS. On rider education, another researcher finds “no compelling evidence that rider training is associated with reductions in collisions.”

For a copy of this special report, go to and click on “Status Reports Online.”

To counter this assault effectively, it helps to understand the origins of the arrogance. For that, turn to the June 11, 2001, edition of “The New Yorker” which takes a fresh look at the culture and policy direction of NHTSA (available at newsstands and most public libraries). (To order the June 11 issue, call The New Yorker at 1-800-753-7276.)

In a cover story titled “Wrong Turn,” the June 11th New Yorker Magazine examines the true believers behind a culture, if not a cult, that has dominated the self-styled “highway safety” movement and its creation, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, for over 3 decades. Written by Malcolm Gladwell, former science reporter for the Washington Post, “Wrong Turn” is a must-read for anyone who values accident prevention in general and motorcycle safety in particular.

The story of NHTSA begins with a man named William Haddon who, Mr. Gladwell relates, “changed forever the way Americans think about car accidents. Haddon was, by training, a medical doctor and an epidemiologist…convinced that what the field of traffic safety needed was the rigor of epidemiology.”

For 35 years, epidemiology has ruled the agency. Dr. Jeffrey Runge, an emergency room physician from North Carolina, is rumored to be the Bush Administration nominee to lead NHTSA, although, at present, the Administration has made no announcement. Runge would follow psychiatrist Sue Bailey and trauma surgeon Ricardo Martinez. All are devotees of a public health approach to traffic safety that emphasizes injury and fatality reduction to the exclusion of accident prevention. This is due, in part, to the fact that they do not believe in accidents.

"Traffic crashes are predictable and preventable and therefore are not accidents," Dr. Runge and other physicians wrote in September 1999. "We should treat motor vehicle crash injury like any other disease."

The focus away from operators -- and on to vehicles, air bags and helmets -- began in the 1950s when William Haddon captured the interest of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then a staffer with the Governor of New York. To Haddon, the focus on vehicle operators and education made no sense. “His goal was to reduce the injuries that accidents caused,” Mr. Gladwell writes. “In particular, he did not believe in safety measures that depended on changing the behavior of the driver, since he considered the driver unreliable, hard to educate, and prone to error. Haddon believed the best safety measures were passive.”

Later, while serving in the Department of Labor under President Johnson, Moynihan “hired a young lawyer named Ralph Nader to work on traffic-safety issues. Nader, too, was a devotee of Haddon’s ideas, and he converted a young Congressional aide named Joan Claybrook….[I]n 1966 the Haddon crusade swept Washington…and a regulatory body, which eventually became the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, was established. Haddon was made its commissioner, Claybrook his special assistant….

“There is no question,” Mr. Gladwell continues, “that the improvements in auto design which Haddon and his disciples pushed for saved countless lives….What they did not do, however, is make American highways the safest in the world. In fact – and this is the puzzling thing about the Haddon crusade – the opposite happened. United States auto-fatality rates were the lowest in the world before Haddon came along. But, since the late nineteen-seventies, just as the original set of NHTSA safety standards were having their biggest impact, America’s safety record has fallen to eleventh place. According to calculations by Leonard Evans, a longtime General Motors researcher and one of the world’s leading experts on traffic safety, if American traffic fatalities had declined at the same rate as Canada’s or Australia’s between 1979 and 1997, there would have been somewhere in the vicinity of a hundred and sixty thousand fewer traffic deaths in that span. This is not to suggest, of course, that Haddon’s crusade is responsible for a hundred and sixty thousand highway deaths,” the writer warns, noting the complexities of traffic safety. “Still, Evan’s figures raise a number of troubling questions.”

“Joan Claybrook left the NHTSA in 1980 and went on to run Ralph Nader’s advocacy group, Public Citizen,” Mr. Gladwell relates. Haddon continued his activism after leaving NHTSA. “From the time he left government until his death [in 1985], he headed an influential research group called the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.”

What’s next at NHTSA? More of the same, especially if the nominee to head the agency is a follower of the agency’s 35-year romance with the public health approach to traffic safety. The focus will be on vehicles, not operators. Gadgets, not education. And despite the fact that TEA-21 made accident prevention job one for NHTSA, the focus will be on injury reduction to the exclusion of accident prevention.

Business Week Magazine (June 7, 2001) predicts more tire failures ahead on hot summer roads. Major auto and tire companies are slugging it out in the press. Pressure is mounting on the White House to make the NHTSA decision sooner rather than later, especially by so-called “highway safety” advocates who believe they have another trauma surgeon in the bag.

MRF and the SMROs call for a NHTSA chief committed to accident prevention. We advocate a problem-solving engineer to tackle the technically complex issues of vehicle and tire recall. We recommend a motorcyclist to help shape an effective accident prevention strategy in partnership with the states and end NHTSA’s pasttime of lobbying state legislatures. We are making our case to the White House and to our Champions of Motorcyclists’ Rights & Safety on Capitol Hill.

Weighing in against us is a small but potent army of lobbyists demanding that the 35-year reign of “passive safety” continue at NHTSA. Clearly, our opponents want a NHTSA Administrator from the public health field. Someone active on the “passive” approach to safety. In short, a charter member of the Haddon Cult.

The stakes could not be higher – for our safety and that of motorists nationwide. Mr. Gladwell’s conclusion should send chills throughout Washington: “Haddon and Nader and Claybrook told us, after all, that the best way to combat the epidemic on the highways was to shift attention from the driver to the vehicle. No other country pursued the passive strategy as vigorously, and no other country had such high expectations for its success. But America’s slipping record on auto safety suggests that somewhere in the logic of that approach there was a mistake. And, if so, it necessarily changes the way we think about car crashes…”

In April, we urged you to add your voice to the throng of motorcyclists advocating for a new direction at NHTSA. There have been reports that the White House has made a decision. Yet, there has been no announcement, official or otherwise.

We view that as still more time for you to make a difference. With the outrage of a direct attack on education and training and with the expose of the risks of NHTSA’s “passive” approach to safety, it’s time to make your voice count once more. Here’s how:

FIRST, call (202-456-1414), fax (202-456-2461) or email the President of the United States (president@whitehouse.gov). Include your name, address and SMRO affiliation. Feel free to use the information in this e-mail in your letters and faxes.

With traditional rider respect and courtesy, explain that you want a NHTSA Administrator with the engineering know-how to tackle the recall problem, someone who is open to your freedom and safety concerns and someone committed to accident prevention under TEA-21.

Inform the President that you are aware that the radical Insurance Institute for Highway Safety might oppose training for riders and motorists as ineffective – even “risky” – but, like the President did in Texas, YOU SUPPORT THE JOINT MRF/SMRO TRAINING AND EDUCATION AGENDA.

Inform the President you are aware that the June 11th issue of The New Yorker exposes NHTSA’s “passive approach” to traffic safety and concludes, “somewhere in the logic of that approach there was a mistake.” Tell him that, for safety’s sake, NHTSA should NOT be led by another doctor.

SECOND, write to or call your U.S. Senators and urge them to read “Wrong Turn” by Malcolm Gladwell in the June 11th issue of The New Yorker Magazine. Tell your U.S. Senators that, for safety’s sake, NHTSA should NOT be led by another doctor. Call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 or go to www.senate.gov to find you’re the e-mail addresses of your Senators.

THIRD, review the list of corporate sponsors of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (available at www.highwaysafety.org/support.htm). If your insurer is a corporate sponsor of the Institute, go to your company’s website (or consult your insurance papers at home) to obtain a list of your company’s Board of Directors. Write to the Directors of the outrage you feel at the direct attack on training and education mounted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Explain that most insurers wisely provide discounts for rider and driver training. In light of this, urge the Board of Directors of your insurance company to reevaluate its support of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and state its formal opposition to the Institute’s radical anti-training policy at the Institute’s next board meeting in September, 2001.

Appointing the new leader of NHTSA is the President’s call. Confirming the nominee is the U.S. Senate’s call. Influencing the President’s decision and informing your Senators of these major developments is your call. Make it today.

How else can you help?

Stay in the loop. As the strategy unfolds, motorcyclists will be kept informed through MRF RIDERS’ ALERTS. If you don’t already subscribe, click on this link so you can receive these alerts as they are broadcast. When action is called for -- phone calls, emails, faxes and personal visits to Members of Congress -- it is likely that action will be required IN A MATTER OF DAYS IF NOT HOURS.
To help now, you can join the MRF at or call 800-MRF-JOIN. Various membership options are available.
- MRF: My Ride is Freedom -

The first motorcyclists' rights organization to establish a full-time legislative advocacy presence in Washington. The Motorcycle Riders Foundation is the only Washington voice devoted exclusively to the street rider. MRF established MRFPAC in the early 1990s to advocate the election of candidates who would champion the cause of rider safety and rider freedom. MRF proudly claims state motorcyclists' rights organizations and the very founders of the American rider rights movement among its leading members. Motorcyclists worldwide can thumb-start their search for rider rights and safety on the web at www.mrf.org.

All information contained in this release is copyrighted. Reproduction permitted with attribution. The Motorcycle Riders Foundation, incorporated in 1987, is an independent, membership-based national motorcyclists' rights organization headquartered in Washington D.C. which operates in co-partnership with State Motorcyclists' Rights Organizations nationwide. The MRF is involved in federal and state legislation and regulation, motorcycling safety education, training, licensing and public awareness. The MRF provides individual and SMRO member-volunteers with guidance, support and information to protect motorcyclists' rights and advance motorcycling and its associated lifestyle. The MRF sponsors annual regional and national educational seminars for motorcyclists' rights activists and publishes a bi-monthly newsletter, THE MRF REPORTS.

Voice: 202-546-0983, Fax: 202-546-0986, E-Mail: wyld@mrf.org, website: http://www.mrf.org

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