to Position Papers Listing
Public Comment to NHTSA on the draft of Motorcycle Safety
Improvement Plan (MCSIP)
August 8, 2001
Highway Traffic Safety Administration
C/o Docket Management System
U.S. Department of Transportation, PL401
400 Seventh Street, S.W
Washington, D.C. 20590-0001
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF) appreciates the National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration's request for
public comments on its draft Motorcycle Safety Improvement
Plan (MCSIP) (Docket Number NHTSA-2001-9595).
by motorcyclists in 1988, the Motorcycle Riders Foundation
was the first national advocate for motorcyclists' rights
and safety to establish a presence in Washington. MRF
is proud to count among our members the very founders
of the motorcyclists' rights movement in America. To
this day, these members --- and member organizations
like State Motorcyclists' Rights Organization (SMROs)
nationwide --- continue to shape MRF, pursue our joint
commitment to education and advance our joint agenda
to advance motorcycle safety while safeguarding freedom
of the road.
Motorcycle Riders Foundation is unique among other rider
advocacy groups, some of whom we value as long-standing
partners, because MRF is the exclusive advocate in Washington
for the street rider. Ours is an association with no
ties to business, an association of riders who view
the motorcycle as their primary means of transport and
the core element of an American lifestyle.
several months now, the MRF-SMRO team has worked with
the Bush Administration and the 107th Congress to advance
an ambitious rights and safety agenda. To date, SMROs
have dispatched, at considerable personal and organizational
expense, dozens of citizen-lobbyists to Washington.
Together, our team has briefed nearly 20 U.S. Senators
and 70 U.S. Representatives on our legislative and administrative
goals. MRF also briefed the national policy staff of
the White House in company with ABATE of Illinois. More
briefings of more officials are ahead.
respect to our safety agenda in particular, we have
found uniform, 100% support by both the Bush White House
and by Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.
see no sign of "motorcycle awareness" of this agenda
in the MCSIP.
it is with considerable dismay that we read, prior to
the confirmation of a new NHTSA Administrator, this
agency's plan for street riders that fails to reflect
the safety agenda of this nation's most committed and
best organized street riders.
we believe NHTSA's MCSIP fails to prescribe sufficient
action (and, in some cases, no action at all) on strategies
that will save more lives quickly. We further assert
that those actions which MRF and the SMROs might be
inclined to support are inadequately shaped, untimely
or both. Accordingly, we strongly recommend that the
draft plan be recalled for reconsideration and re-composition
under the leadership of the new administrator who, only
days ago, was nominated by the President and confirmed
by the United States Senate.
offer one general comment of broad application throughout
the MCSIP or any follow-on rework of the plan: the MCSIP
should carry a clear, unequivocal statement that all
research, focus groups, studies and attendant underlying
data sets will be available for public and peer review.
comments, keyed to major sections of the MCSIP, follow.
Introduction (Page 1). "... NHTSA and the Federal
Highway Administration (FHWA) believe that a renewed
national effort needs to take place at all levels ---
federal, state and community --- in order to reduce
the number of motorcycle crashes, fatalities, and injuries."
We concur in the need for a renewed national effort
to prevent motorcycle crashes.
"The United States Department of Transportation's strategic
plan for 2000-2005 includes a new goal to reduce motorcycle-related
fatalities by 5 percent by 2005."
we would applaud any reduction in rider fatalities,
MRF objects to this goal as bureaucratic, arbitrary
and untimely - and one that fails to reflect the partnership
in governance arrived at between MRF and the Bush Administration.
we believe 5 percent is insufficient and 2005 is too
long to wait at the cost of too many lives.
as a framework for national action, the MCSIP is not
up to the task of a 5 percent fatality reduction in
4 years. In light of the MCSIP's most salient initiatives
--- federal studies, a federal marketing program, and
a federal repository of rider skills --- it is far more
likely that in the next 4 years, the accidents will
be prevented, injuries reduced, and lives saved will
be the result of the bold innovations at the state level
being pursued and enacted into law now by SMROs. We
will discuss some of these initiatives later in this
Safety Overview (beginning on page 2). We object
strenuously to the sensationalistic spin placed on injury
and fatality data by this federal agency.
example, on page 2, NHTSA makes the following statement:
The motorcycle "is in fact the most hazardous means
of travel in the United States." This is not a fact,
but an assertion.
Surface Transportation Policy Project asserts that "walking
is far more dangerous than driving or flying, per mile
traveled. The fatality rate per 100 million miles traveled
was 1.4 deaths among automobile users, and 0.16 deaths
among people aboard airplanes. But almost 50 pedestrians
died for every 100 million miles walked in 1997."
data underlying NHTSA's statements which condemn motorcycles
as a mode of transport are, in fact, condemnations of
bad practices on the part of some motorcyclists. Absent
an operator who is skilled and sober, any vehicle is
hazardous, and there is no question that passenger cars
and trucks are, in one important sense, more hazardous
as size increases --- that is, far more likely than
motorcycles to inflict more serious injury to other
manufacturer or national operator advocate endorses
unskilled operation, and all prescribe sober operation.
Skill and sobriety are not optional extras. Again, SMROs
are pursuing innovative solutions to reduce unlicensed
operation and increase sober riding.
mode of the motorcycle is safer than the U.S. Government
is willing to admit. Stripping the 1997-1999 data of
fatalities relating to illegal behavior (e.g., those
involving alcohol-impaired or unlicensed riders), the
motorcycle -- the mode itself -- is found to be on a
par with the fatality involvement rate of passenger
cars and better than the fatality involvement rate of
light trucks. And, if the Surface Transportation Policy
Project is to be believed, the mode of the motorcycle
is not "the most hazardous means of travel in the United
States." Walking is.
"Recent Trends in Fatal Motorcycle Crashes" (RTFMC)
(DOT HS 809 271, June 2001), much is made of the increase
in fatalities over the past 3 years. Overall motorcyclist
fatalities increased from 1997 to 1998 by 8.4 percent
(2116 in 1997 to 2294 in 1998) and again from 1998 to
1999 by 7.8 percent (2472 in 1999). The report also
states that the "fatality rate per 100,000 registered
motorcycles [went from historic low] 55.3 in 1997 [to]
59.5 in 1999."
has been a tragic spike in fatalities from 1997 to 1999.
Each one is a tragedy that should have been prevented.
However, over the decade, fatalities have decreased.
Comparing 1990 with 1999, the rate is down across the
decade, from 76.16 per 100,000 registered motorcycles
in 1990 to 59.53 in 1999.
asked Dr. Linda J. Andes with the Sociology Department
at Southern Illinois University Carbondale to review
the MCSIP and the National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety
with an eye towards the significance of recent trend
data. In her view, "the fatality rates have been relatively
stable since 1992. Between 1997 and 1998, the change
in fatality rate was only 4 per 100,000 registered vehicles.
Given the standard deviation of the rate, this is not
a statistically significant increase."
than toy with public relations, NHTSA should be enjoined
to provide public information and refrain from embellishment,
allowing observers to draw their own conclusions and
writers to write their own editorials.
a time when the U.S. government has refused to protect
potentially millions of motorcyclists from the denial
of health care benefits in case of accident, the tabloid
nature of NHTSA "conclusions" and "overviews" is far
more than a matter of style. Agency sensationalism results
in inaccuracies in media coverage. That, in turn, feeds
misjudgments on the part of other agencies of government
and key private entities, particularly insurers. The
result is more discrimination against motorcyclists
who are increasingly paying for health care coverage
that is utterly worthless in accidents - accidents they
are the least likely of all major road users to cause.
The National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety (page 5).
MRF has been on record as supporting and being involved
in the development of the National Agenda for Motorcycle
Safety (NAMS). Upon its release in December 2000, however,
MRF was also vocal in raising serious questions about
the priorities of various NAMS initiatives. In December,
MRF questioned why more federal studies were assigned
greater priority than direct efforts to rescue rider
safety training and advance Motorist Awareness of Motorcycles.
Not surprisingly, NHTSA's MCSIP makes the same mistake:
front-loading federal studies while giving short-shrift
to training, particularly the hazardous training shortfalls
in rider safety education that exist throughout the
nation. Indeed, most of the MCSIP initiatives related
to training are, in fact, study or research initiatives.
Improvements in Rider and Motorist Behaviors (Beginning
on page 8).
Rider Licensing, Training and Crash Avoidance Skills.
NHTSA proposes workshops with training specialists,
state assessments and a survey of "braking and lane
positioning training/capabilities of motorcyclists"
through 2004 with the dissemination of "best practices"
on training and licensing by the Summer 2005.
we have discussed with the White House and with Members
of Congress, the waiting period for motorcycle safety
training ranges upwards of 10 months to one year in
most states. Most programs turn away at least as many
riders as they train in any given year. Some states
lack training bikes, some lack instructors, some lack
facilities. The program cries out - and the joint MRF-SMRO
team has appealed to Washington -- for a no-strings
resource injection so states can put the resources where
they are needed the most to eradicate the deadly waiting
period for training.
MCSIP is silent.
NHTSA pursues a radically different tack. The MCSIP
states that NHTSA will study, evaluate, and accumulate
"best practices" in training and accident avoidance
skills and create in NHTSA a repository for accident
avoidance skills by the Summer of 2005.
question the value - to the individual street rider
- of a federal repository of rider skills in 4 years.
The repository for accident avoidance skills already
exists where it belongs -- in the minds of certified
safety instructors. The challenge is to make that instructor
available to riders in the quickest possible time and
in innovative ways (e.g., Virginia's mobile rider training
MCSIP must contain, as a primary legislative initiative,
a no-strings resource injection to get life-saving safety
training to riders.
TEA-21 prohibits NHTSA from lobbying and thus may prohibit
use of "resources to assess state licensing and training
practices and then disseminate 'best practices' as models
for use by other states." The optimal entity to disseminate
best practices is not NHTSA but the National Association
of State Motorcycle Safety Administrators (SMSA). SMSA
can, in conjunction with rights and safety advocates
like MRF, approach the American Legislative Exchange
Council, the National Council of State Legislators,
the National Governors Association, and other entities
with lessons learned and propose, through state legislators
as sponsors, "model legislation" for consideration by
all the states on training matters.
b. Alcohol and Other Impairment. Referring back to NHTSA's
preference for sensationalism, the case can be made
for further reductions in alcohol-involved riding without
misrepresenting the facts about successes achieved to
the June 2001 RTFMC, NHTSA states, "Alcohol involvement
among motorcycle operators has been declining over the
last ten years. The percent of fatally injured operators
who had been drinking in 1999 was 38 percent compared
with 52 percent in 1990." The RTFMC then goes on to
note the incidence of high BAC among fatally injured
contrast, the June 2001 MSCIP states that "NHTSA and
its partners" succeeded in "reducing the fatality toll
associated with impaired driving by operators of other
types of vehicles" but not motorcyclists -- who have
"higher alcohol involvement in crashes."
statements cannot be correct. Either NHTSA was wrong
in the RTFMC or it was wrong in the MCSIP. If we hope
to make further progress in cutting alcohol use, progress
noted in the RTFMC should not be ignored by the MCSIP
but framed as a step forward.
while MRF is serious about reducing impaired riding,
we are equally serious about civil liberties issues
underlying several initiatives. NHTSA reports that it
will study "the likelihood of crashes at various BAC
levels and to more effectively target those who drink
and ride," to be completed by 2004. Targeting a rider
for lawful vehicle operation (i.e., with a BAC below
the legal limit) is tantamount to targeting a law-abiding
citizen for a crime he or she has not committed and
has no intention of committing.
should approach this issue with care if it expects to
make progress without adding to what might be termed
the agency's "reputation deficit" with large segments
of the motorcycling community. For, in other aspects
of the motorcyclists' rights issue, NHTSA initiatives
have led to sanctions, not safety, in the states. States
with restrictive helmet use laws, for example, have
already used those laws to "target" riders believed
to be wearing non-approved helmets. Other states demand
that riders wear helmets from a state-approved list
while refusing to publish a list. Riders are challenging
the harassment in court and prevailing. It would be
counterproductive to the goal of reducing alcohol-impaired
riding if NHTSA studies [and follow-on "innovative techniques
for deterring rider impairment (in) 'best practices'
guide(s)"] result in more harassment and no reduction
in alcohol involvement.
this section particularly, MCSIP should state that all
research, focus groups, studies, and attendant underlying
data sets will be available for public and peer review.
with rider training and Motorist Awareness of Motorcycles,
innovations at the state level hold the greatest promise
for further increases in sober riding. Some innovations
are now being undertaken as demonstration grants, but
virtually all stem from the sheer voluntary action by
SMROs and their members. For our part, MRF intends to
cameo those state innovations for consideration by other
Enforcement and Adjudication (Beginning page 10). While
Motorist Awareness of Motorcycles and standardized bike
crash reporting is touched on, the thrust of this section
seems inappropriately weighted toward intervention with
motorcyclists (riders) and not sufficiently weighted
toward motorists (drivers). A page from an advocate
of another road user might be instructive:
fault with pedestrians is akin to "blaming the victim,"
the Surface Transportation Policy Project asserts. "Pedestrians
are often considered at fault in crashes, obscuring
the real issue… Police reports are often designed to
describe vehicle-pedestrian collisions in terms of what
the pedestrian did wrong. Seldom do reports of pedestrian
fatalities, particularly in the media, record the actions
of the driver, describe how fast the car was traveling,
or note whether the motorist was paying attention. Yet
[while] research has concluded that the fault of pedestrian-vehicle
collisions frequently rests with drivers.... many pedestrian
safety projects are aimed at pedestrians rather than
same statements can be made about motorcyclists.
regard to NHTSA actions planned from the Summer 2001
through Winter 2004, MRF and the SMROs would be very
interested in receiving all information on licensing
and alcohol issues that NHTSA provides to the Law Enforcement
Television Network. Inasmuch as state-level motorcycle
advisory councils to governors perform the same function,
MRF seeks a voice in this process and in the incorporation
of "motorcycle awareness and safety issues in updates
to judicial and prosecutor training."
will discuss recent state innovations in motorcycle
awareness - one of which directly impacts law enforcement
and the judiciary -- later in this public comment.
Personal Protective Equipment. (Beginning on page 11).
In its MCSIP, NHTSA announces a "five-year protective
gear promotion campaign" - including testing potential
messages for riders, conducting research, staging pilot
tests, etc. Essentially what is being talked about here
is a five-year federal marketing and advertising campaign.
recognize and appreciate the many considered viewpoints
among motorcyclists on the interplay between law and
protective gear. The issue we raise, however, concerns
the proper role of the federal government, the importance
of individual choice, and the wisdom of NHTSA's long-standing
"passive safety" approach to crashes.
any funds expended on this five-year marketing campaign
could be better spent on a no-strings resource injection
for state-run rider safety training, or the first-ever
national program of enhancing Motorist Awareness of
Motorcycles (two key elements of the joint MRF-SMRO
protective gear is part of the rider safety curriculum,
so any boost to state-run rider training automatically
boosts protective gear.
a very ambitious protective gear promotional effort
is already underway in the private sector. Popular motorcycle
magazines are just one example where readers find makers
of helmets and armored riding apparel doing a fine job
promoting their products. Readers will also be influenced
by editorial support, too, as the gear is encouraged
by columnists, covered in "compare" features and highlighted
in "new products" stories.) The prominence of popular
racers and their replica helmets, leathers and boots
attests to the popularity of the gear among riders and
the effectiveness of private sector marketing and advertising
short, gear manufacturers have already done and continue
to do an extensive and expensive job in marketing their
products - testing messages, conducting research staging
pilot tests, etc., long before placing costly, full-page
ads in national periodicals.
prominence of a federal marketing program in a motorcycle
safety plan raises again the question of NHTSA's approach
to crashes. Although we may be the first voice critical
of the agency's emphasis of vehicle/device over operator,
the Motorcycle Riders Foundation and our member SMROs
are hearing new voices critical of the agency's passive
approach to safety.
the Partnership for Safe Driving: "During the past decade
alone, more than 400,000 people died on U.S. roads.
Millions more were badly injured. Studies indicate that
most serious car crashes could be prevented through
safe driving. Yet, ironically, most traffic safety dollars
currently are being spent on research and education
to promote safe crashing (e.g. seatbelts, air bags,
vehicle crashworthiness)." Instead of "safe crashing,"
the Partnership wants to make "crash prevention a priority
for the nation" by reeducating motorists on the rules
of the road, discouraging dangerous driving and other
initiatives aimed at operators, not vehicles.
Alternatives advocates bicycling. While by no means
adverse to helmet use, the organization notes that mandatory
use laws reduce bicycling and may divert resources from
crash avoidance programs. "[H]elmet-law advocates rarely
promote helmet use as part of a comprehensive set of
safety, education, and facility-development measures
aimed at cyclists and motorists alike."
the unyielding nature of collisions between cars and
bicycles in metropolitan areas, the group would probably
share MRF's skepticism if a five-year federal campaign
to promote personal protective gear were aimed at bicyclists.
Transportation Alternatives concludes: "The best way
- the only way - to make city streets safer is to start
with the drivers of motor vehicles."
this view has any merit, "the best way - the only way"
to make streets safer for motorcycles is "to start with
the drivers." Aside from a demonstration project we
will comment on later and a brief discussion of judicial
action, NHTSA's plan fails to address drivers.
the most vulnerable of road users are pedestrians. All
advocates appear uniform in calling for driver reeducation,
sanctions for dangerous drivers and improved roadway
design - identical themes in the joint MRF-SMRO traffic
safety agenda. We have come across no pedestrian advocate
whose agenda includes a multi-year personal protective
gear promotion campaign for walkers. Perhaps the New
York State Department of Health stated it best: "Pedestrians
Are No Match for Vehicles Weighing More Than 2,000 Pounds."
Of Way," a New York City organization asserting the
rights of pedestrians and bicyclists to travel without
endangerment from motor vehicles, published "Killed
by Automobile: Death in the Streets in New York City
1994-1997." In its study of 1,000 cases of pedestrian
fatalities, Right Of Way found that while nearly 90
percent of motorists were culpable to some degree, police
issued moving violations in only 16 percent of cases
studied. (Notably, the study was critical of NHTSA's
emphasis on alcohol involvement over "sober, dangerous
driving." Drunk driving was known to be present in "only
4 percent of pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities, making
alcohol use by NYC drivers relatively unimportant compared
to sober, dangerous driving.")
remedy seems clear in the voices of advocates of our
nation's most vulnerable road users: not a personal
protection gear campaign, but better highway design,
reeducation of operators, and a crackdown on aggressive
and negligent driving. "It is long past time to stop
coddling drivers who kill," one advocate states. The
MCSIP may not coddle dangerous drivers, but, largely,
it ignores them.
oppose the MCSIP initiative of a marketing and advertising
campaign for personal protective gear as inappropriate
for the federal agency and duplicative of what manufacturers
and safety instructors are already doing. These dollars
should be re-channeled to boost state-run rider training
and implement a national program of Motorist Awareness
Helmets (Treated by MCSIP as part of protective gear,
but discussed separately here.) The MCSIP states, "Mandatory
helmet use laws have been shown to be effective in increasing
[helmet] use. These laws, however, continue to be very
unpopular with some segments of the motorcycling community.
This resistance to usage laws is related, at least in
part, to inaccurate information that permeates the motorcycling
community about the possible dangers associated with
helmet usage." Dr. Jonathan P. Goldstein, an economist
with Bowdoin College, conducted an econometric analysis
of the effect of motorcycle helmet use laws on motorcyclist
fatalities. He states, "while helmets reduce the severity
of head injuries, past a critical helmet impact speed,
estimated to be an ... impact of 13 mph, helmets increase
the severity of neck injuries … Thus, in the case of
cumulative injury induced fatality, the marginal benefits
in overall head injury reduction from helmet use can
be offset by increases in the severity of neck injuries."
as the work of a noted economist figures among the so-called
"inaccurate information that permeates the motorcycling
community" about helmets, NHTSA should remove these
and similar references and assertions. MRF believes
it is wholly inappropriate for a federal agency to impugn
scholars with whom it disagrees. It is not the role
of the U.S. Government to suppress dissent.
MCSIP also states, "We will continue to publicize the
scientific basis that exists for promoting helmet usage
as a means of saving lives and preventing injuries in
a crash." Again, the selective science of NHTSA should
be replaced by a more balanced view, including dissenting
scientific views, such as those espoused by Dr. Goldstein.
NHTSA should cease politicizing this issue.
MCSIP further states that the agency will track "motorcycle
crash experiences in states which repeal their helmet
laws" and "use the results of Texas and Arkansas studies
to publicize the protective value of helmet use."
usually reports fatalities as a function of some normative
number, say fatalities per 10,000 registrations, but
it did not present the data in this way in the Texas
and Arkansas studies.
overall fatalities did go up in both states following
liberalization of their mandatory helmet use laws, but
so also did motorcycle registrations. In Arkansas, fatalities
per 10,000 registrations were 17.77 before the repeal
and 11.33 after the repeal, based upon NHTSA's own numbers.
In Texas, the fatalities per 10,000 registrations were
5.12 before the repeal and 4.18 after the repeal (based
on the years 1991-1999).
the Texas and Arkansas study conclusions are expressed
as a function of registrations, the agency should have
the intellectual honesty to abandon this "study strategy,"
if not, state its agreement with Dr. Goldstein that,
"helmet laws, regardless of whether they govern the
entire motorcycling community or a subset of that population,
have no statistically significant effect on the number
of fatalities within a state."
further states that it will use "the results of Texas
and Arkansas studies to publicize the protective value
of helmet use," as this will "position NHTSA to implement
similar studies in Kentucky, Louisiana, Florida, and
other states that may repeal mandatory helmet use laws."
Stated another way, if a state votes for rider choice,
it invites federal interference. As we've seen in normalizing
NHTSA Texas and Arkansas fatality studies to 10,000
registrations, it's a scrutiny that bears no fruit and
fails to make NHTSA's case, all at taxpayer expense.
In MRF's view, this is another form of lobbying, specifically
prohibited by TEA-21 and not in conformance with the
commitment, made to MRF by President George W. Bush,
that his Administration will be "a staunch defender
of all provisions" of TEA-21.
MCSIP should remove all references to the Texas and
Arkansas studies, discontinue its plans to harass other
states and sink its resources into crash prevention
rather than, as the Partnership for Safe Driving puts
it, "safer crashes."
the MCSIP contains the following sweeping statement.
"Wearing a helmet that meets the federal safety requirement
will save the lives of motorcycle riders." For reasons
stated above, the statement is patently false and should
not appear in any plan of this government purporting
to advance motorcyclist safety.
Understanding Motorcyclists' Behavior (Page 14). NHTSA
hopes to study "factors that affect and shape motorcyclists'
accidents and behavior and how they affect crash involvement;
and ... create programs that reduce dangerous behavior
and reinforce safe behavior." Dr. Andes with Southern
Illinois University Carbondale indicated to MRF that
NHTSA's contemplated research should include incident-free
riders for a more comprehensive understanding. "NHTSA
should study those who do not crash to understand not
only the characteristics of motorcyclists who are more
likely to be involved in a crash, but also those who
are less likely."
of the troubling aspects of NHTSA is the way in which
it safeguards study methodology and scope, treating
them like military secrets until a study is finalized
and ready for public release. We refrain from comment
on this section until NHTSA provides specific detail
to MRF and the SMROs about the envisioned studies, methodologies,
resultant programs and costs. We do, however, repeat
that the MCSIP is incomplete without action to reeducate
motorists and target dangerous drivers, and we repeat
the message sounded by other safety advocates: "It is
time to stop coddling drivers who kill."
Motorist Awareness (Page 14). In fatalities resulting
from multiple vehicle accidents, as many as 6 out of
10 are caused by the motorist, not the motorcyclist.
While seeing to the training of motorcyclists, we can
take the biggest bite out of motorcyclist fatalities
by targeting the motorist who is clueless, distracted,
reckless, or negligent. The joint MRF-SMRO plan is simple:
heed the message of awareness, or feel the muscle of
the State Motorcyclists' Rights Organizations have led
the way in Motorist Awareness of Motorcycles. Consider
just two examples from opposite ends of the United States:
The Message. Modeled after a similar measure in Virginia
advanced by the Virginia Coalition of Motorcyclists
and ABATE of Virginia, the Modified Motorcycle Association
of Massachusetts is working to pass "Nelly's Bill,"
in concert with law enforcement. Named after a rider
fatally injured by a teenage driver, the law requires
that Motorist Awareness of Motorcycles be taught in
Muscle. Also in concert with law enforcement and other
groups, the Washington Road Riders Association passed
"Vehicular Assault" earlier this year which toughens
penalties and creates two new felonies for reckless
and negligent motorists whose misconduct causes injury.
Alternately, ABATE of Wisconsin is working with state
officials there to send errant motorists through motorcycle
joint MRF-SMRO team continues to lobby this Congress
and the White House to appeal not only for a resource
injection for state-run rider training, but also for
a national program to enhance Motorist Awareness of
Motorcycles. The MCSIP falls far short of this mark,
by calling for completion of a demonstration project
by the Fall of 2002 with training and licensing initiatives
completed by Winter 2005. Even if the actions prescribed
by NHTSA were sufficient - and they are not -- its timetable
alone would postpone fatality reduction until after
the 2005 milestone. Choosing 2005 as the completion
date for Motorist Awareness is a clear sign that NHTSA
has little faith in any campaign to reeducate motorists.
NHTSA has chosen to conduct its demonstration project
in Washington state. It would seem that if NHTSA is
testing the effectiveness of an educational or awareness-based
campaign, it should re-think its choice of Washington,
as motorists there might be reacting not to a message,
but to the muscle of a new law.
is clear that the innovators in Motorist Awareness of
Motorcycles are the SMROs - volunteers who have been
hard at work helping states hone the message and develop
the muscle to sensitize motorists to watch for motorcycles
and sanction those who do not.
single initiative - Motorist Awareness of Motorcycles
- cannot be postponed for 4 years, and it cannot be
relegated to "training and licensing programs" emerging
from a demonstration project. This initiative calls
for leadership and commitment. Accordingly, MRF proposes
that it assemble a team of experts from its SMRO ranks
to work with NHTSA, contractors and other experts as
an ad hoc team funded and commissioned to launch an
effective Motorist Awareness of Motorcycles campaign
beginning in April, 2002.
cannot and should not be expected to wait. Moreover,
an effective Motorist Awareness of Motorcycles campaign
will save the lives of more vulnerable road users, because
if motorists cannot or will not see a motorcycle, they
will not see a bicyclist or a pedestrian.
Vehicular Operational Safety (Beginning on Page 15).
Motorcycle Braking (Page 15). With respect to braking,
NHTSA notes, "motorcycle design characteristics have
changed dramatically over the past two decades,"… and
asserts that its federal standard may need revision.
The agency fails to make the following observations:
(1) Motorcycles with conventional brakes already stop
handily as compared to passenger cars, trucks and busses.
(2) Many incident-free riders prefer conventional brakes
over "technological advances."
(3) An aftermarket industry offers brake and pad options
over OEM parts which further broadens rider options.
(4) Made without government intervention, all new braking
system developments have been market-driven and, to
some extent, racing-inspired.
facts raise the question of why NHTSA holds anything
beyond passing interest in new braking technology. While
NHTSA is free to study linked brakes and anti-lock braking
systems, "any major modifications ... to motorcyclist
training curriculum to ... adequately train new motorcyclists"
should already be in place by the Motorcycle Safety
Foundation, an industry organization, without prodding
by a federal agency but in deference to its customers
and in response to its changing product lines.
concern lies in NHTSA's continued emphasis of vehicle
over operator. The MCSIP states that its use of "additional
brake testing ... will be used as a basis for comparing
the stringency of FMVSS 122, ECE R 78 and other national
motorcycle brake standards for countries such as Japan,"
adding that it "hopes to use the test data to support
its motorcycle brake harmonization proposals."
already out-brake passenger cars. While some riders
choose bikes with new systems (e.g., linked brakes),
others make informed decisions to buy bikes with what
they would argue are more flexible systems. That choice
should remain the rider's choice, not the government's
choice as influenced by Japan or other nations where
road conditions and the motorcycling and motoring cultures
are vastly different.
is the skilled rider who exacts an extra measure of
safety by practicing emergency braking maneuvers and
applying a street strategy that minimizes the likelihood
of those maneuvers. It is a training issue for motorcyclists,
but it is a training and enforcement issue for the motorist
as well. The infamous left-turning passenger car that
cuts abruptly into our path and strikes us down is not
a call for a new brake standard for motorcycles, but
a call to put the brakes on reckless, negligent, and
clueless motorists. It is a call for Motorist Awareness
of Motorcycles and the muscle that makes the message
Conspicuity. NHTSA cites the National Agenda for Motorcycle
Safety (NAMS) as the impetus for "reconsider[ation of]
state requirements that prohibit safe conspicuity-enhancing
modifications, including safe modification to lighting
systems." MRF and the SMROs embrace the practice of
customizing motorcycles, and this includes motorcycle
lighting. Generally, the process of customization enhances
lighting (read: conspicuity), as a bedrock principle
of customization is enhanced visibility for eye-catching
prominence on the street.
of its emphasis of vehicles over operators, NHTSA should
not to place too much confidence in conspicuity as an
accident prevention measure. Nearly 1.9 million crashes
of vehicles in motion (or 29.6 percent) involve the
rear-ending of a vehicle -- mostly cars, trucks, busses
hitting the broad backs of cars, trucks and busses.
(Traffic Safety Facts, 1999). All of them are far more
conspicuous than even the most conspicuous motorcycle.
The safe rider always keeps a weather-eye aft as well
as forward, always looking for the clueless motorist
and always plotting an escape route, red-light cameras
notwithstanding. Again, even on the issue of conspicuity,
rider training and motorist awareness are the trump
supports a study of crash data to determine if adding
daytime running lights to passenger cars has had any
effect on motorcycle safety.
Crash and Injury Data and Analysis (Beginning Page 16).
MRF believes that the stakes are high in NHTSA-managed
injury data and analysis. We also believe that study
of the crash-involved rider as compared to the incident-free
rider may contain valuable lessons to be learned. Accordingly,
MRF wants to propose assembling a team of advisors from
the riding community -- including social scientists
-- who can participate in study formulation and methodology,
including development of standardized accident reporting.
In short, street riders want to be involved at the onset
of any study, not briefed in the final moments before
respect to "Research in Motorcycle Crashes" (Page 17),
specifically "research on potential impairment at lower
BAC levels; evaluating a campaign for helmet use; studying
advances in motorcycle braking; studying emerging technology"
and evaluating potential conspicuity enhancements,"
we repeat our request that all research, focus groups,
studies, and attendant underlying data sets be available
for public and peer review.
Roadway Infrastructure Safety (Page 18). We appreciate
the interest of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)
in making roadway infrastructure more motorcycle-friendly.
Lacing virtually every major thoroughfare and interstate
in the United States are crash barriers designed to
control a crash by a car, prevent cross-over, slow momentum,
minimize damage and lessen injury. Unfortunately, virtually
every crash barrier in America is dangerous to motorcyclists.
Their very design, placement and construction - with
exposed, sharp-edged metal posts, the height, profile,
design and composition of guard rails, proximity to
the roadway and even, in some cases, use of steel cable
as the arresting medium -- could not be more damaging
to a motorcyclist even if they had been designed with
that grim purpose in mind.
maintenance practices in the United States are just
as hazardous as crash barriers. Some asphalt patching
results in the creation of "tar snakes" - black ice
to the motorcyclist. Some crews fail to mix non-skid
with roadway paint, creating another slippery surface.
Bush has told the MRF that he believes that "all innovative
technologies employed on highways to increase safety
should be designed to benefit everyone who travels on
our highways, including motorcyclists."
Motorcycle Riders Foundation has recommended to the
Bush Administration that it establish a Motorcycle Advisory
Council - staffed by advocates and experts in both rider
rights and safety and highway design and maintenance.
Meeting periodically and working with experts in DOT
and the Federal Highway Administration, we believe the
Motorcycle Advisory Council can assist FHWA in achieving
our shared goals of advancing motorcycle safety.
looks forward to working with the new Administrator
of FHWA to establish this council to work through the
issues of concern to all road users.
Emergency Response System (Page 19). MRF heartily
supports not only EMT but bystander care awareness,
and our member organizations have included first-responder
training in seminars nationwide. MRF recommends that,
as part of a revised MCSIP, that NHTSA launch a brief,
low-cost survey of emergency care providers to determine,
by objective testing, the current level of competence
nationwide in removing a full-face helmet from a motorcyclist
accident victim and general knowledge among practitioners
of the dangers of further trauma by improper removal.
We believe this survey would underscore the need for
Conclusion. The Motorcycle Riders Foundation finds
NHTSA's Motorcycle Safety Improvement Plan lacking in
focus, timeliness, and approach. NHTSA's approach -
its obsession with the vehicle over the operator - is
termed "passive safety" by Malcolm Gladwell in "Wrong
Turn" (June 11, 2001, New Yorker Magazine), an essay
we comment to the agency's attention. The article is
now available on line at www.gladwell.com.
former science reporter for the Washington Post, Mr.
Gladwell writes that, over the years, NHTSA's policies
and approach "did not...make American highways the safest
in the world. In fact,...the opposite happened....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....[NHTSA leaders] 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."
asserts that there has been a mistake - a grave mistake
- in the federal government's approach to motorcycle
safety. Perhaps the recent tragic increases in motorcyclist
fatalities mark the grim limits of the capability of
NHTSA's "passive approach" to motorcycle safety as well.
To rephrase Mr. Gladwell's question, has NHTSA changed
the way it thinks about motorcycle crashes? In view
of the draft Motorcycle Safety Improvement Plan, the
answer is: not yet.
Vice President, Government Relations
Motorcycle Riders Foundation