NHTSA Responds to AMA’s Criticism Over Motorcycle-Only Checkpoint Sponsorship Program

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After the AMA’s urging of the NHTSA to abandon plans to fund a national incentives program for motorcycle-only traffic stops, modeled off those used recently by the State of New York, NHTSA Administrator David L. Strickland has responded to the Edward Moreland’s (Vice President of Government Relations at the American Motorcyclist Association) letter regarding how motorcycle-only traffic stops increase motorcycle safety. In his response, Strickland cites the State of New York’s findings of motorcyclists at one particular checkpoint (226 motorcycles inspected) were using unsafe tires (11%), illegal handlebars (1%), and illegal helmets (36%).

Strickland also goes on to mention the efficacy of such traffic stops in enforcing seat belt usage in automobiles and generally deterring drivers from driving while intoxicated. However the letter fails to address Moreland’s concerns about probable cause in these motorcycle-only traffic stops, which stop riders without discretion, and solely because of the fact their vehicle uses only two wheels instead of four. We have to agree with the NHTSA on the fact that the efforts to decrease rider fatalities must extend beyond merely crash prevention, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s supposition that motorcycle-only checkpoints further this goal still remains questionable, even with this response.

It is not clear why Strickland cites the results of only one traffic stop, since a sample size of 226 motorcycles at one traffic inspection point clearly cannot be held to represent the motorcycling population as whole. Despite this very serious deficiency, these statistics really boil down to a legitimate concern for why motorcyclists in New York are able to buy non-DOT certified helmets (we’ll wait for a definition on what an “unsafe tire” is defined as before postulating on that statistic). It is interesting to note that no statistics were quoted on instances where motorcyclists were found to be riding under the influence of alcohol or drugs at these this particular checkpoint (likely because there were none), which along with the lack of seat belts on motorcycles, would seem to defeat the NHTSA’s likening of motorcycle-only traffic stops to their automotive counterparts.

Since motorcyclist fatalities dropped in 2009 for the first time in 11 years, which happened to coincide with a substantial down-turn in new motorcycle purchases (especially by new riders), it would seem that at the very least there is a correlation between new riders buying motorcycles and motorcycle fatality rates (shocking news we know). Perhaps instead of funding programs that single-out motorcyclists at traffic stops, and adopting a broken windows policy on motorcycle modifications, the NHTSA can redouble its efforts on indoctrinating new riders (and current riders) into a safer motorcycling lifestyle with increased rider education and higher licensing standards.

Here’s a freebie fellas: if you want riders to wear DOT approved helmets (we’re generally for this idea, although libertarians might disagree), make proof of ownership compulsory when getting a Class M license. It seems to work pretty well in making drivers carry adequate liability insurance.

David L. Strickland’s (NHTSA) Response to the the AMA:

Thanks for the tip Doctor Jelly!