”Safer Motorcycles,” More Helmet Regulations and More Study

Washington, D.C. – Within days of a pro-helmet-law physician being named as its new leader, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched a poorly veiled attack on motorcyclists in the form of a plan to enhance motorcycle safety.

“[R]iding a motorcycle continues to be a risky endeavor,” warns the Motorcycle Safety Improvement Plan, published in the June 25, 2001, edition of the Federal Register. “It is in fact the most hazardous means of travel in the United States.” Now open for public comment, the plan seeks to reduce motorcycle-related fatalities by 5 percent by 2005 “by making progress in these areas:
Improved rider and passenger safety
Safer motorcycles
Improved motorcycle crash data and analysis
Safer riding environment.”

The plan reflects the imbalance that has governed thinking in the agency throughout must of its 35-year history, with training taking a back seat to vehicle improvements, more research and more analysis. (See the June 8 MRF MRF RIDERS’ ALERT 01NR20 that discusses the revelations in the June 11, 2001, NEW YORKER article). Meanwhile, State Motorcyclists’ Rights Organizations (SMROs) and the MRF are in their fifth month of advocating to Congress an aggressive, straight-forward approach to motorcycle safety, including a no-strings resource injection to state-run rider training programs and a national program of enhancing motorist awareness of motorcycles. Throughout the USA, the waiting period for vital safety training often reaches 10 months and more. And, year after year, 6 out of 10 fatalities involving a motorcycle and a car is the fault of the motorist, not the motorcyclist.

To these realities, the NHTSA plan generally calls for more study and assessment of rider training and crash avoidance skills, with dissemination of “best practices” on training slated for Summer 2005. In MRF’s view, that training and those skills should be imparted now by giving State Motorcycle Safety Administrators the resources they need to do the job. On motorist awareness, NHTSA calls for completion of a demonstration project by the Fall 2002. In MRF’s view, that’s one more riding season too many for riders to face car drivers who are clueless, distracted and aggressive.

SMROs are way ahead of the federal agency in this regard, with motorist awareness training advancing in states like Massachusetts led by the Modified Motorcycle Association of Massachusetts (MMA of Mass.) and a “Vehicular Assault” statute in Washington state. Championed by a host of groups including the Washington Road Riders Association, the new law prescribes felony penalties for negligent or reckless drivers whose misconduct causes injury. The MMA has filed a lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which among other issues, seeks Court action to enjoin its Governor's Highway Safety Bureau from squandering pending public money (its Motorcycle Safety Fund) on such brochures as "How to tell an Unsafe Helmet." MMA’s goal is to put the money where it belongs – by directing the $2 each of the more than 116,000 annual motorcycle registrations into rider education and the promotion and advertising of motorcyclist safety and motorist awareness.

Lobbying for helmet laws tops NHTSA’s list. “Wearing a helmet that meets the federal safety requirement will save the lives of motorcycle riders,” NHTSA proclaims flatly, citing a study of Texas and Arkansas soundly debunked by ABATE of Massachusetts. “As NHTSA tracks motorcycle crash experiences in states which repeal their helmet laws, the agency will use the results of Texas and Arkansas studies to publicize the protective value of helmet use. This will position NHTSA to implement similar studies in Kentucky, Louisiana, Florida and other states that may repeal mandatory helmet use laws.”

The agency is also considering revising the federal helmet standard “to strengthen the standard’s enforcement effectiveness (e.g., to distinguish ‘fake’ helmets from legitimate helmets).” Mandatory helmet laws and so-called “standards” for “enforcement effectiveness” have led directly to widespread abuse of riders’ civil rights, as documented forcefully all year by ABATE of Massachusetts.

Is attire control next? The agency announced it will “partner with appropriate organizations” and embark on a “five-year protective gear promotion campaign

Regarding “safer motorcycles,” the agency announced it will study braking technology and “hopes to use the test data to support its motorcycle brake harmonization proposals” (e.g., linked brakes and anti-lock braking systems).

Motorcyclists nationwide must read this document and make their voices heard. This is a draft of the U.S. Government’s plan for your safety. And – agree or disagree, in whole or in part – you must let this agency and your U.S. Congressman know where you stand. On December 14, 2000, MRF reviewed the National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety (NAMS) and found some elements with which we agreed but found the priorities for action bewildering. (See the Dec. 14 MRF news release #00NR21 on NAMS). Similarly, we believe the thrust, priorities and many of the actions prescribed by NHTSA’s Draft Motorcycle Safety Improvement Plan are faulty, ill-timed and will cost freedom while delaying action on critical training and motorist awareness issues. And MRF believes firmly that delays in training and awareness will cost lives.

Act today.

Here’s what to do:

1. Read the plan.
2. Submit written comments not later than August 9, 2001. You must refer to “Docket Number NHTSA-2001-9595” in your letter:
A. via mail (two copies) to Docket Management System, U.S. Department of Transportation, PL401, 400 Seventh Street, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20590-0001.
B. Via e-mail by logging on to http://dms.dot.gov. Click on “help & Information.
3. Send a copy of all your correspondence to your Congressman.
4. Pass this MRF RIDERS’ ALERT along to 3 other riders.

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- 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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