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The Murkowski Amendment Makes Motorcycle Safety History
A Rebuttal of Claims Made November 11, 2003, by "Advocates
for Highway and Auto Safety"
Contrary to claims made by the Advocates for Highway
and Auto Safety (AHAS), the Motorcycle Safety Amendment
offered by Senator Lisa Murkowski to the highway spending
bill will prevent accidents, thwart injuries and save
lives. Indeed, it will make motorcycle safety history.
the Murkowski Amendment
Senator Murkowski's Motorcycle Safety Initiative is
a comprehensive agenda that is built on the
"National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety." The "National
Agenda" is a milestone document written to chart the
future course of all motorcycle safety efforts. The
agenda is the result of a collaborative effort by
the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
(NHTSA), the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF), the
National Association of State Motorcycle Safety Administrators
(SMSA) and a host of groups representing the insurance
industry, law enforcement, riders and other entities.
The Murkowski Amendment literally fulfills dozens
of the most important initiatives and recommendations
of the "National Agenda."
the Murkowski Amendment is built on the principle
of crash prevention - a principle of action
supported by NHTSA. In its Motorcycle Safety Program
issued January 2003, NHTSA stated, "crash prevention…offers
the greatest potential safety benefit for motorcyclists."
the American Motorcyclist Association and State Motorcyclists'
Rights Organizations nationwide support the Murkowski
Amendment. Additionally, Mr. Ronald E. Shepard, Chairman
of the SMSA, wrote on November 26, 2003: "The SMSA
strongly supports and endorses the Murkowski Amendment."
below are tied to specific claims made by AHAS.
Comment #1: "The Motorcycle Advisory Program would
be in the wrong federal agency." AHAS argues that
NHTSA, not FHWA, has jurisdiction over traffic safety,…crash
causation, alcohol use…," etc.
First, the Murkowski Amendment establishes a "Motorcyclist
Advisory Council," not a "Motorcycle Advisory Program."
Senator Murkowski designed the Council to tackle one
important piece of the motorcycle crash puzzle - namely,
crash barriers, road maintenance practices and integration
of the Intelligent Transportation System (ITS), all
of which should accommodate all road users. Indeed,
Senator Murkowski places the Council in the correct
federal agency to mitigate these concerns.
the topics AHAS addresses in its critique (e.g., "alcohol
use") are indeed important factors under the auspices
of NHTSA, and they remain so under the Murkowski
Amendment. (The Murkowski plan addresses these
other challenges as well.)
in a letter to MRF dated October 9, 2003, regarding
the establishment of the Council, the Federal Highway
Administration wrote that "Administrator Peters and
the [FHWA] Office of Safety…share[d] [MRF's] concern
for motorcycle safety. [MRF's] interest in barrier
design, road maintenance practices, and the architecture
and implementation of Intelligent Transportation Sysem
(ITS) technologies are well aligned with many of our
Comment #2: "[B]arrier design and road maintenance
practices…are not the reasons for motorcycle highway
False. The "National Agenda" states that "poor road
design and maintenance contribute to motorcycle crashes,
injuries and fatalities" and lists road hazard mitigation
among the agenda's "ESSENTIAL" recommendations. The
House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee found
that, of 42,000 annual traffic fatalities, "nearly
one-third…are caused by substandard road conditions
and roadside hazards." Irrespective of the figures,
these challenges are well worth addressing, and the
"National Agenda" is very clear on the action plan:
it urges the government to "develop and revise highway
standards on all levels," calls for "a working group
to recommend changes to highway standards to increase
motorcycle safety" and urges the education of "road
design and maintenance personnel about conditions
that pose hazards to motorcyclists." (Additionally,
the "National Agenda" recommends "Includ[ing] motorcycles
in the design and deployment of Intelligent Transportation
Systems.") The Murkowski amendment accomplishes all
Comment #3: The membership of the Motorcycle Advisory
Council…is not fairly balanced…and does not include…all
of the stakeholders interested in motorcycle safety."
First, the Murkowski Amendment establishes a "Motorcyclist
Advisory Council," not a "Motorcycle Advisory Council."
the aim of the Council is to foster dialogue between
FHWA (especially road design engineers) and motorcyclists,
particularly motorcyclists who have road design and
maintenance expertise in academia, research or by
virtue of their work in State transportation departments.
While their comments and observations are doubtless
welcome on a variety of issues, most of the entities
recommended by AHAS for the Council (e.g., Mothers
Against Drunk Driving, emergency doctors) may not
have expertise germane to the specific work of the
Council, namely road design, road maintenance and
Comment #4: "The amendment would give the Motorcycle
Advisory Panel…the right to 'review proposed regulations'
conferring unprecedented general authority to a non-governmental
advisory group. This is an extraordinary infringement
of agency regulatory authority."
First, the Murkowski initiative establishes a "Motorcyclist
Advisory Council," not a "Motorcycle Advisory Panel."
if the three words in the Murkowski Amendment to which
AHAS objects were deleted (namely, "review proposed
regulations"), their deletion would in no way infringe
on the current right, exercised by citizens and associations
like AHAS alike, to "review proposed regulations"
and provide comment. The Murkowski Amendment does
not change that right one iota. Moreover, it confers
no authority on the Council beyond discussion and
information sharing on the issues of road maintenance,
road design and ITS.
Comment #5: "The amendment also states that the Motorcycle
Advisory Council shall 'coordinate with planners'
of the FHWA, another unprecedented intrusion…to directly
control agency policy planning and actions."
The Murkowski Amendment establishes the Council with
one goal in mind: dialogue. Both the FHWA Administrator
and her staff engineers with whom dialogue ensues
are free to disagree with the Council and reject any
comments the Council may provide. This merely creates
a forum for discussion recommended by the "National
Agenda," which states in part, "Roadway engineers
and other traffic designers need to elevate the placement
of motorcycle safety dynamics as a consideration in
design, construction and maintenance of roadways at
all levels of oversight…This may also benefit the
safety of other vehicles."
Training and Motorist Awareness
COMMENT #6: "The 'Motorist Awareness' program is essentially
a means of blaming passenger vehicle drivers for motorcycle
False. Surely AHAS does not advocate that we ignore
the operators (of any type of vehicle) whose misconduct
claims life or limb. There is no "blaming" assessed
here or anywhere else in the Murkowski Amendment,
just the outpouring of effective initiatives to tackle
extant problems. As stated before, the Murkowski Amendment
tackles the wide array of motorcycle safety challenges.
One of those challenges is motorist awareness, and
the "National Agenda" is unequivocal: "Motorists should
be aware of motorcycles and take special care to identify
and acknowledge their presence. Motorists should avoid
distractions and compensate for visual obstructions."
Moreover, of the 82 action recommendations of the
"National Agenda," four are marked "URGENT." One of
the four "URGENT" recommendations is "Motorist Awareness."
COMMENT #7: "The Amendment ignores the fact that 45
percent of all motorcycle fatalities….occurred in
single vehicle crashes not involving another vehicle"
(emphasis in original).
It is true that single-vehicle crashes are a real
concern, but it is patently untrue that the Murkowski
Amendment "ignores" them. On the contrary, the Murkowski
Amendment recognizes and addresses the challenge of
single vehicle motorcycle crashes directly through,
among other initiatives, rider training and, to the
extent that road hazards contribute, the Motorcyclist
COMMENT #8: "Other studies…concluded that no more
than 20 percent of two vehicle crashes involved a
second vehicle that 'could have claimed not to see
the motorcyclist'…and…motorcycle operator error was
a contributing factor…"
Again, irrespective of driver vision, percentages
or the relative merits of one study over another,
crashes involving just motorcycles, and crashes
involving motorcycles and other vehicles, are all
problems we must solve, and the Murkowski Amendment
addresses them directly. Moreover, the fact that rider
error contributes to crashes argues forcefully for
immediate adoption of the Murkowski Amendment, because
it addresses rider error directly. Moreover, the "National
Agenda" states, again without equivocation, "When
motorcycles and other vehicles collide, it is usually
the other (non-motorcycle) driver who violates the
motorcyclist's right of way (NHTSA, 1998)."
"Motorcycle Safety Incentive Grant" - and the Facts
About Rider Training
COMMENT #9: The Murkowski Amendment "wastes federal
taxpayer funds by authorizing over $25 million (over
5 years) for motorist awareness programs that seek
to shift the burden for motorcycle crashes onto the
drivers of passenger vehicles, and for motorcycle
training programs which have not been proven to be
effective in reducing motorcycle crashes."
Not true. As the "National Agenda" states, "There
is a continuing need to help other motorists 'think
motorcycles' and to educate motorcyclists to be aware
of this problem."
number of fallacies underlie the AHAS claims.
States may qualify for the $100,000 Motorcycle Safety
Incentive Grant only if they maintain or increase
their commitment to rider training from one year to
the next over the life of the highway bill. Clearly,
not all States will qualify. The District of Columbia,
for example, has no motorcycle safety training program,
and several States have reduced or eliminated motorcycle
safety programs this year alone. In fact, it is this
erosion of safety training that prompted the Murkowski
Amendment in the first place - an erosion that motorcycle
safety experts assembled this year termed "the greatest
threat facing motorcycle safety today."
a State may choose to expend the $100,000 grant to
rider training or motorist awareness or a combination
thereof, depending on the needs determined by that
the federal contribution to motorcycle safety urged
by the Murkowski Amendment should be understood in
the context of how motorcycle safety is funded. In
almost every State, riders pay more than car drivers
for license and tag renewals. A self-imposed tax,
these funds are devoted to rider training and motorist
awareness (except, of course, when diverted, reduced
or eliminated). Moreover, the students of rider training
pay tuition, as much as $300 per course. Rather than
a waste, as AHAS claims, it is a proper use of taxpayer
dollars to provide a small but effective contribution
to motorcycle safety to arrest and reverse the tragic
accident trend. After all, like other road users,
riders pay the gas tax and thus contribute to the
Highway Trust Fund, and like other road users, riders
should have a say in how a small portion of their
tax dollars are spent. The Murkowski Amendment constitutes
a small but meaningful federal contribution that prevents
accidents, thwarts injuries and saves lives.
motorcycle skill training does prevent accidents.
The "National Agenda" states, "Motorcycle rider education
and training comprise the centerpiece of a comprehensive
motorcycle safety program." The "National Agenda"
further indicates that formally trained riders are
less accident-involved and recommends that we "expand
motorcycle safety programs to accommodate all who
need or seek training." The guidance is clear: the
"National Agenda" lists ten separate action recommendations
- all marked "ESSENTIAL" - that are fulfilled
by the Murkowski Amendment's "Motorcycle Safety Incentive
Grant," including motorcycle rider training.
in its review of AHAS comments dated November 26,
2003, the SMSA reinforces the effectiveness of rider
safety training and underscores the importance of
the Murkowski Amendment in the strongest possible
motorcycle rider education community trains well over
200,000 new riders every year and has trained close
to 3 million students since 1974. We hold the intellectual
capital when it comes to understanding the needs of
our community. When one considers that research shows
that 92% of accident-involved riders were self-taught
or taught by friends or family, the case for formal
rider education is a strong one….
education does work. The California Motorcyclist Safety
Program (CMSP) concluded a landmark nine-year research
project in 1997 to determine the effectiveness of
rider education. The California program had, at that
point, trained over 93,000 motorcyclists since its
implementation in 1987. The following excerpts highlight
the nine years the CMSP had been in operation, fatal
motorcycle accidents in California dropped by 69 percent,
falling from 840 fatal accidents in 1986 to 263 fatal
accidents in 1995. At the same time, total motorcycle
accidents fell from 29,742 in 1986 to 9,710 in 1995,
a drop of 67 percent.
decline in accident rates was even more dramatic for
those under 18…Accidents among this group dropped
88 percent, while accidents among riders over 18 dropped
conservative estimates of the costs of accidents and
fatalities, a savings of 2,374 accidents and 117 fatalities
per year represents an annual savings of $173 million,
more than one hundred times the cost of the program
itself. (Emphasis added.)
is unfortunate that the AHAS feels this amendment
is a waste of money," SMSA concludes. Addressing AHAS's
false charge that the Amendment is somehow an effort
"to blame the passenger vehicle drivers for motorcycle
crashes," SMSA asserts that "nothing could be further
from the truth. We believe in sharing the road and
in educating road users to be better, more informed
drivers and riders. We believe in preventing the crash
in the first place….
life-long motorcycle safety instructor, SMSA Chairman
Shepard adds, "I would like to commend…Senator Murkowski
for…this powerful piece of legislation."
Reckless Who Maim or Kill: Should They Be Coddled
Comment #10: Without expressly citing an objection,
AHAS seems to condemn an incentive in the Murkowski
Amendment that encourages States to get tough on reckless,
dangerous operators of every sort of motor vehicle:
"Amendment would insert a motorcycle crash reduction
element as part of the Section 402 highway safety
grant program but…requires license suspension of vehicle
operators who recklessly or negligently cause a crash
with a motorcycle or other vehicle that results in
injury or death…"
Correct. The Murkowski Amendment does encourage States
to toughen sanctions against reckless, negligent vehicle
operators who maim or kill, as well it should. Motorcyclists
particularly believe that we should not coddle drivers
whose misconduct leads to injury or death. At the
very minimum, licenses should be suspended.
States are well ahead of the federal government in
this regard. This language is based on a "vehicular
manslaughter" measure backed by law enforcement and
signed into law in Washington State. Other States
are following suit.
in criticizing a measure that gets tough on reckless,
negligent vehicle operation, AHAS fails to place this
measure in context. It is only one of six provisions
in the 402 grant language established by the Murkowski
Amendment. To qualify for a 402 grant under this section,
a State must comply with just three of the six
elements, not all six. Moreover, each of the six
elements is not only backed by the "National Agenda"
but satisfies a specific motorcycle safety objective
set by the "Agenda." The Murkowski Amendment establishes
subparagraph (A), which we discuss here, that sanctions
reckless operators who injure or kill; subparagraph
(B) encourages States to reduce motorcycle crashes
(and, thereby, injuries and fatalities); (C) encourages
States to fund rider training; (D) promotes motorist
awareness; (E) separates drinking from riding and
(F) encourages States to reduce unlicensed riders.
Practices in Training
COMMENT #11: "Permits DOT to contract using taxpayer
funds…to review, determine and disseminate 'best practices'
in motorcycle safety…"
This is a common practice when a private entity is
uniquely suited to provide a service. Fulfilling several
recommendations of the "National Agenda," this provision
provides $50,000 annually, over the life of the highway
bill, to the National Association of State Motorcycle
Safety Administrators (SMSA) to determine "best practices"
in motorcycle safety and provide them to State lawmakers
and agencies. SMSA is the ideal entity to review,
determine and provide best practices, as it was created
to do just that ("a forum for the exchange of information
among state-sponsored motorcycle-education programs."
Source: "National Agenda.") Moreover, while Title
49, U.S. Code, Section 30105 ("Restriction on lobbying
activities") prevents NHTSA from acting in this role,
SMSA coordinates with NHTSA on numerous matters of
mutual interest and is ideally suited to continue
that coordination in fulfillment of this vital role.
Murkowski Amendment Prevents the Crash, Thwarts
the Injury, Saves the Life
COMMENT #12: "Amendment would insert a motorcycle
crash reduction element as part of the Section 402
highway safety grant program but…does not include
State enactment of all-rider motorcycle helmet legislation…"
Correct. A review of the six elements discussed above
will reveal that all six conform to the guiding principle
behind the Murkowski Amendment - namely, the NHTSA-ratified
principle that "crash prevention…offers the greatest
potential safety benefit for motorcyclists" (NHTSA,
2003). Thus, the Murkowski Amendment "offers the greatest
potential safety benefit for motorcyclists."
the Congress has already decided that questions involving
mandatory helmet use are properly the province of
State action without federal government interference.
September 1997, supported by a strong bipartisan majority,
then-Science Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner
(R-Wisconsin) explained the need for a prohibition
on federal lobbying. Citing a NHTSA "grant to influence
state and local government enactment of mandatory
helmet laws," the Chairman emphasized the right of
"States…to determine [such] measures without federal
in a March 11, 1998, colloquy between Senators Ben
Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colorado) and Carol Moseley-Braun
(D-Illinois) on an amendment to S. 1173, the following
statement was entered into the record by Senator Moseley-Braun:
amendment is simply designed to ensure that NHTSA's
efforts are…no longer in conflict with the stated
intent of Congress, which was to leave the decision
of whether to enact mandatory motorcycle helmet laws
entirely to State legislatures." (Emphasis
harmony with the law and the spirit of Congress, the
Murkowski Amendment leaves the question of helmet
laws "entirely to State legislatures" and "without
federal government intervention."
by increasing rider training in America, the Murkowski
Amendment encourages helmet use, as helmets and other
riding gear are important aspects of the rider training
curriculum. The Amendment also "reinforces safe behavior…encourages
motorcyclists to enhance their conspicuity" and a
host of other "ESSENTIAL" recommendations made by
the "National Agenda."
Call to Action: Make Motorcycle Safety History
motorcyclists and motorcycle safety administrators
of America urge the U.S. Senate to adopt the Murkowski
Amendment, and we urge the U.S. House of Representatives
to adopt companion legislation advanced by U.S. Rep.
Stephen LaTourette and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio.
we can make motorcycle safety history - by preventing
accidents, thwarting injuries and saving lives.
by the Motorcycle Riders Foundation
November 26, 2003
also invite you to view and print the following .pdf
version of this document to forward to your Senators
in urging them to vote to adopt the Murkowski Amendment
and to forward to your Congressman urging him/her
to vote to adopt companion legislation advanced by
U.S. Rep. Stephen LaTourette and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio.
*Note: You need the Adobe
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Here to download and print the MRF's Rebuttal
of Claims Made by "Advocates for Highway and Auto
Safety." (size = 30.2 KB)