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!

  • buellracerx

    just remember, 80% of statistics are b.s. made up on the spot.

    Definitely & wholly agree w/ the proof of ownership of a helmet, but I vote Snell-approved, as in racing.

  • PeteN95

    I would be curious what the findings would be of similar automobile inspections? I’ll bet plenty of bald tires and broken lights would be found. I also agree with the call for improved rider education and higher licensing standards.

  • Tommy

    I read that letter a few times and it sounds to me that the two main contributions to motorcycle deaths are:

    1) No helmet or useless skull cap
    2) DWI

    So I guess from now on they can just stop Hells Angles and Pagans.

  • Neil

    Sounds like just another way to drum up money for the state.
    If our “Government” continues to do these types of things people will stop riding motorcycles and continue to hurt the motorcycle industry which is already hurting to begin with.
    Although, I do agree with having to wear a helmet and safety gear.

    But why just motorcycles? Certain states don’t even have inspection stations.
    New York has a motorcycle inspection, so why would you have to go through a safety checkpoint?
    That should be covered when your bike is inspected once a year.
    (Tires, signal lights, etc…)
    It’s all about the money….

  • JSH

    Why random checkpoints instead of once a year inspections? Considering the number of people that either remove illegal components for their inspection then reinstall them, or simple slip the inspector an extra $50 to pass an illegal vehicle, annual inspections aren’t very effective. On the other hand, there is not much you can do to hide your straight pipes if you come over a hill to find a checkpoint.

    As far as mandatory helmets or rider training, you will find the AMA is against these common sense solutions.

  • Keith

    what load of rotting bovine excrement…I seriously doubt if he or anyone else at NHSTA could identify A) unsafe tires B) Unsafe helmets C) unsafe riding gear or anything else wrong on a motorcycle…without needing a library to look it up. Sheesh, I expect his kind of stupidity from an elected official, he’s just another hired (FSVOH) flunky and is SUPPOSED to knwo WTF he’s talking about or know who to ask that would know.

  • If I understand correctly a Traffic Stop is a “trap” where traffic is lead to a parking and everything is checked (tyres, car, license, alcohol, etc). Over here that is a pretty common thing and I think it is a good idea. Over here ALL traffic is pulled over, regardless of vehicle type.

    What I find interesting is that there apparently is a difference between 2 wheels and more. This baffles me. Everybody is a part of traffic, and it is in everybody’s interest that things are checked.

    Bikers don’t want to be hit by unsafe cars. Cars don’t want to be hit by unsafe bikers. Pedestrians don’t want to be hit by either. So. Traffic stop for all, or no traffic stop at all.

  • 76

    all or nothing, not just 2 wheels, period

  • BikePilot

    As a libertarian, I’d like to note that I’m very much in favor of wearing a quality helmet. I’m not in favor of a bureaucrat forcing me to do so or deciding for me what constitutes a quality lid.

    The response is so analytically pathetic as to be insulting. As noted, statistics from one traffic stop are meaningless. Further, without a point of reference re # of problems found with stopped cages in comparable traffic stops, it provides no basis for motorcycle-specific discrimination – which, I guess, was supposed to be the point of the response.

    Re proof of DOT helmet ownership, its an idea, but I think not a great one (even putting my libertarian objections to the whole notion aside). The problem is, unlike insurance, ownership of a DOT helmet doesn’t mean the rider will be covered by the DOT helmet when riding. Second, also unlike insurance, there isn’t an established method of ownership verification. I suspect that an attempt to implement this policy would result in either tremendous expense in establishing a formal reporting system or a bunch of useless red tape that will be easily circumvented by anyone opposed to DOT helmet ownership – much like the TSA BS.

    A larger issue is the absurdity of the amount of effort the government spends protecting us from ourselves wrt vehicle usage. As a libertarian I’d argue that I personally have better ways of spending my money. If I pretend to be a commie I’d still argue that there are much better governmental uses of these resources. Child abuse, rape, vehicle theft and other crimes that actually hurt innocent parties are much too common.

  • BikePilot

    For the record, I’ve been singled out and pulled over more than 25 times. Not once has a citation been issued (or any infraction found). At my current billing rate, that’s about a $700 tax for riding a motorcycle. This doesn’t include the cost of paying the “enforcers” or traffic delays that inevitably result.

  • BikePilot – If helmets are not regulated, the “libertarians” with a lesser eye for a good helmet are going to hurt themselves, end up in the hospital, taking up a bed and using healthcare money which could be used to help people with a real illness.

    I hate bureaucracy, and I hate it when I see governments spending public funds differently than I would have, but it’s not just the cost of the regulation. Regulation is usually prevention of a bigger, costlier problem. In the States, that probably translates to the umpteenth silly lawsuit where a poor sod charges some random company for his own stupidity (btw keep it up US, we can use a good laugh every now and then :-).

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  • Bikepilot, you can lead a horse to water…

  • BikePilot

    Rolf, only if those libertarians do so in a socialistic state. If I’m making helmet laws, presumably I’m making other laws too ;) By your logic we should also outlaw smoking, being fat, drinking heavily, being old, not exercising, motorcycling generally and anything else that increases average expected cost of needed medical care. That slope is too slippery for my tastes. Legal liability is just another form of regulation and often it goes bad too.

    All that said, as a matter of strategy in a world where I don’t make the laws, fighting the government over helmet-related issues is foolish. There are far more critical areas where the AMA and other MC interest groups could more usefully spend their time and resources. Then there’s also the public perception thing as well.

  • Until we can police ourselves a little better, this is what you can expect.

    I’m worn out to seeing the fat Harley guys with their little dog-bowl helmets and aftermarket pipes that would wake the dead. I tired of seeing kids in shorts and muscle shirts wheelying their GSXR’s down the interstate in rush hour traffic. Do you really need a stretched Hyabusa with nitrous and enough chrome for twenty 57 Chevys and a fat enough back tire to do asphalt work trying to do ‘stunts’ at the mall?

    I live in Tennessee where you can walk in without a valid Motorcycle Operator’s License and/or proof of insurance, buy an R1 Yamaha for instance, crash it before you get out of sight, and nobody thinks anything is wrong with this arrangement ! ! There’s been four moto fatalities here in the last three months that were utterly preventable BY THE RIDER.

    So, if this sort of thing slows this carnage down, OK by me.

  • Dau Tieng 59

    When FL went to a helmet optional rule there was a major increase in motorcycle deaths. The NHTSA testified in Congress that 45% of the deaths were people without helmets, which leaves 55% that are wearing what?
    If helmets are such a beneift why don’t they require automobile drivers to wear them? BECAUSE wifey would kick their buttts for the inconvenience. This is another government display of “look, look, we’re doing something about the problem. The DOT “approved” helmets fail the 14 mph drop test over 60% of the time.
    I bet in TN you can buy a horse withouit a license and ride off and as “Superman” found out they are dangerous too.

  • The number one cause of single vehicle motorcycle wrecks:RIDER DOES NOT KNOW THE BASICS OF COUNTERSTEERING.Read The Soft Science of Motorcycle Riding and A Twist of the Wrist.Now how are MC only stops going to reduce crashes?They are not!They are intended to catch a few fish in a large ocean.Gang Unit LEOs are at these stops.This is a clear violation of our civil rights.If you have been stopped,contact a lawyer.

  • BTW Joey Wilson………..WHY ARE YOU CONCERNED WITH WHAT OTHER PEOPLE WEAR OR RIDE,as long as it doesn’t affect you.However,the open pipe noise bullies and suicide wheelie jockies do make all of us look bad.The non-riding public refers to all riders as “YOU GUYS”.As far as helmets are concerned,LET THOSE WHO RIDE DECIDE.Just remember to fill out the organ donor portion of your licence. LIVE FREE-RIDE FREE

  • Troy Cardenas

    What ever happened to being responsible ones self and having to account for your own actions. You ride without a helmet and end up a veggie then it’s your own damn fault. I don’t want to live in a nanny state and that’s just where we are heading. Why don’t we just give up and wear padded suits and stay inside a little bubble where nothing can hurt us.

    Point is; life is dangerous enough. Anyone of of could walk out of our home and get hit by a bus but since we have the built in instinct of self preservation they haven’t had to outlaw busses yet.