NTSB Advocates Universal Helmet Laws

November 17, 2010
Bryan Harley
Bryan Harley
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Our resident road warrior has earned his stripes covering the rally circuit, from riding the Black Hills of Sturgis to cruising Main Street in Daytona Beach. Whether it's chopped, bobbed, or bored, metric to 'Merican, he rides 'em all.

The National Transportation Safety Board has motorcycle safety in its sights after reports stating motorcycle fatalities are on the rise and is advocating that all states mandate a helmet law.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced yesterday that motorcycle safety is on its radar as one of the most important current issues and is lobbying for a universal helmet law for all riders. It is encouraging all states to enact legislation requiring riders to wear DOT-approved helmets. In the past nearly all states enforced helmet laws when they were necessary to receive full federal highway funding, but changed their stance in the 1990s when Congress repealed the requirement, allowing adult riders in numerous states to make the choice whether or not they wanted to wear a helmet. 

NTSB’s Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements, announced yesterday at a press conference in Washington, D.C., added motorcycle safety to the list while dropping recreational boating, an area it reports substantial progress has been made. Currently, 20 states, the District of Columbia and four U.S. territories mandate that all riders wear a helmet. Twenty-seven states and one territory have partial laws, generally targeting minor and passengers. Three states – Iowa, Illinois and New Hampshire, have no helmet laws.

The NTSB is seeking to improve motorcycle safety based on reports stating that between 1997 and 2008, motorcycle fatalities more than “doubled during a period when overall highway fatalities declined.” Comparative figures between motorcycle and car fatalities were not given, though. The NTSB continued by stating that “Although the number of motorcycle fatalities fell in 2009, the 4400 deaths still outnumber those in aviation, rail, marine and pipeline combined.”
“State governments are in a unique position to effect the most significant improvement in certain areas of transportation safety,” NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said in official PR. “Our Most Wanted List spotlights those states that have made noteworthy progress in better protecting the traveling public – and those that have not.”

The NTSB validates their position by stating that “According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, head injury is the leading cause of death in motorcycle crashes” and “therefore recommends that everyone aboard a motorcycle be required to wear a helmet that complies with DOT’s Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218.”

Of course, the report doesn’t include the fact that the number of motorcyclists on the road has also grown exponentially during that timeframe, increasing the odds that motorcycle riders will unfortunately be involved in fatal accidents. Though rider error is often at fault, it is not always the case. Look at the four motorcyclists who were killed in California this past weekend. They were members of a motorcycle club who were riding responsibly in a group when a car crossed into their lane and hit them head-on. The NTSB’s assertions might have more credibility if they would have broken down the motorcycle fatalities into specific categories, noting how many involved helmetless riders and how many were victims of collisions caused by other vehicles.