Federal Government Weighs National Helmet Law

In a controversial move, a federal task force is set to recommend a sweeping, nationwide mandatory helmet law for all motorcyclists, according to a spokesman for the AMA. The legislation for a national helmet law would be aimed at reducing injuries and deaths, and their concurrent economic impact.

Presently, states set their own helmet laws. In recent years, the trend has been to lift mandatory helmet laws or restrict enforcement to minors. Mandatory helmet use is required by all motorcyclists in 19 states; 27 states have an age requirement; two states have age and insurance requirements, and two states have no restrictions, according to the lobby group, BikersRights.com.

The charged issue represents a freedom of choice to enthusiasts. Medical opinions vary regarding the safety of helmet use, and the potential injury from their use or non-use. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration endorses helmets, believing they reduce crash-related head injuries, a leading cause of death among riders, according to a NHTSA spokesman.

“Motorcyclists would be best served if regulators and legislators focus on programs to prevent motorcycle crashes from occurring in the first place,” said the AMA spokesman. The association recommends the use of all safety equipment, including gloves, proper footwear and a motorcycle helmet certified by its manufacturer to meet DOT standards. Said Wayne Allard, AMA Vice President for Government Relations, “We also believe adults should have the right to voluntarily choose to wear a helmet.”

The Centers for Disease Control appointed the Community Preventive Services Task Force, a 15-member panel assigned to make recommendations to the CDC and Congress regarding preventative services, programs and policies to improve public health. It’s yet to be determined when the recommendation will be released, although the AMA expects the report will be issued “soon” and will urge adoption of a universal helmet law.

The CDC is a federal agency under the Department of Health and Human Services, is headquartered in Atlanta. Its mission is to protect the U.S. from health, safety and security threats, both foreign and domestic. It will be left to lawmakers to determine if not wearing a helmet poses a national heath and safety risk warranting new federal regulations.

“The AMA strongly advocates helmet use, but helmet use alone is insufficient to ensure a motorcyclist's safety,” said Allard. “There is a broad range of measures that can be implemented to improve the skill of motorcycle operators, as well as reduce the frequency of situations where other vehicle operators are the cause of crashes that involve motorcycles.”

Allard added, “The AMA supports actions that help riders avoid a crash, including voluntary rider education, improved licensing and testing, and expanded motorist awareness programs. This strategy is widely recognized and pursued in the motorcycling community.”

Regarding economic impact, Allard claimed injured motorcyclists are less likely than the general population to use public funds to pay for injuries sustained in crashes, “and are just as likely to be insured as other vehicle operators.” Additionally, motorcyclist injury expenses account for a small fraction of total U.S. health care costs while a smaller portion of these costs is attributable to non-helmeted motorcyclists, according to the AMA.

“In 2000, for example, approximately 1.55 percent of total U.S. health care costs were attributable to all motor vehicle crashes. Motorcyclists involved in crashes represented a miniscule percentage of this figure,” added Allard.

At RideApart, we strongly advocate the use of proper safety gear, including helmets when riding a motorcycle. The consequences of not doing so are simply too high for us to do otherwise. We don't need a federal law to wear a lid, we are going to wear one anyway. Where do you stand on this issue?

Related Links:
How To:Spot an Unsafe Motorcycle Helmet
Prevention:10 Common Motorcycle Accidents & How To Avoid Them
Advice:10 Things I've Learned From 10 Motorcycle Crashes

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