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Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell's Letter of Concern to NHTSA

December 10, 2003

Dr. Jeffrey Runge
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Office of the Administrator (NAO-10)
400 Seventh St., SW
Washington, DC 20590

Dear Dr. Runge:

I write to express my concern and that of motorcyclists nationwide regarding activities of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration with respect to motorcycle safety.

Lobbying restrictions on the agency date back to the 1990s, notably efforts involving ISTEA II in the Senate (S. 1173) and BESTEA in the House (H.R. 2400). In September 1997, then-Science Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) emphasized the right of "States . . . to determine [such] measures without federal government intervention."

Similarly, in a March 11, 1998, colloquy between me and Carol Moseley-Braun (D-Illinois) on an amendment to S. 1173, the following statement was entered into the record: "Our 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."

In 2002, however, you testified, "NHTSA will continue to support State efforts to enact motorcycle helmet laws." (Transportation Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee February 7, 2002). Please explain the apparent disparity between your testimony and the stated intent of Congress.

On April 29, 2003, NHTSA sought public comment on a proposed study of the "Characteristics of Motorcycle Operators." In your Federal Register notice, the agency correctly observed: "Before a Federal agency can collect certain information from the public, it must receive approval from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) . . . [and] . . . before seeking OMB approval, Federal agencies must solicit public comment on proposed information collections . . ." Your agency, however, solicited bids for this study in July 2002 and awarded a contract in September 2002 - fully six months before the agency sought comments from the public and approval by OMB. I request that you explain why it was necessary to divert from policy and the law to pursue this study.

Finally, NHTSA originated and advanced as the policy of the United States of America a United Nations documented dated July 15, 2003. In it, the agency stated, "The U.S. is actively working to promote safer motorcycling . . . Some of the key areas of focus include . . . helmet laws." You traveled to Geneva in late September, 2003, to advance this document, which included a questionnaire to identify programs and particularly helmet laws and penalties in other nations.

Based on these foreign examples, your plan called for the U.N. body to "develop strategies that could be adopted by other member States and non-member States." Clearly, this phraseology was aimed toward adoption of such measures in the U.S. Contrary to the July 15 document, U.S. policy is that such matters be left to the individual States to decide. In light of the clear direction of Congress on this matter, please explain the rationale behind the July 15 document.

Thank you for your cooperation and attention to these matters. I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest opportunity.


Ben Nighthorse Campbell
U.S. Senator

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