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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Motorcycle Helmets Make A Difference

Story first appeared in USA Today.

As highway deaths overall have fallen with improved safety in cars, motorcyclists have seen just the opposite: a higher death rate.

Motorcyclist fatalities have more than doubled since mid 1990s to about 4,550 last year. And a lengthy report by FairWarning.org, an independent nonprofit public-interest investigative news website, says the rising death toll comes as biker groups have urged Washington to repeal states' motorcycle helmet laws.

Now the groups are going a step further, advocating for a rule that would prevent the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, or NHTSA, from providing any more grants to states to conduct highway stops of motorcyclists to check for safety violations such as wearing helmets that don't meet federal standards.

Also, FairWarning.org says the groups, backed by major motorcycle manufacturers, are:

Seeking to preserve what essentially is a gag rule that since 1998 has prevented NHTSA from advocating safety measures at the state and local levels, including promoting life-saving motorcycle helmet laws.

Trying to derail a measure lawmakers envisioned to reinstate financial penalties for states lacking helmet laws.

By doing so, the groups can help keep pressure on state legislatures to repeal helmet laws, which save lives but impede on what bikers' consider to be their wind-in-the-hair freedom. Says FairWarning.org: "With Michigan's repeal in April of its nearly 50-year-old helmet requirement, only 19 states have helmet laws covering all riders, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In the late 1970s, by contrast, 47 states had such requirements."

NHTSA estimates that motorcycle helmets saved 1,483 lives in 2009, and that another 732 deaths could have been avoided if all riders had worn them, the site says.

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