In a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) earlier this week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) set forth its proposal to modify the current safety standard for helmets, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218 (FMVSS 218). The proposal focuses mostly on the least important part of any helmet, the DOT label. The NPRM outlines what NHTSA would like to see on the back of your helmet. A new label to replace the current football shaped sticker with the letters DOT printed in a contrasting color to the background. NHTSA claims that due to entities printing and selling "Doing Our Thing" that closely resembles the DOT sticker the federal standard has been undermined and needs an upgrade to a bigger better sticker.
The changes the proposal outlines will require including the word "certified", the manufacturer's name, and the model of the helmet. The proposal also calls for the sticker to be larger and placed higher up from the bottom of the helmet. The new sticker has one other change, it's not a sticker. The NPRM calls for the new label to be a "water decal" to be applied under the helmet's final clear coat.
A few problems arise with this portion of the proposal. What about helmets that don't have a clear coat such as leather clad or the popular matte finish? What about the cost to manufacturing, which will certainly be higher than the government estimates? Lastly, how does this affect the 30 helmet choice law states? The answer to that one is, it doesn't - other than the fact that when you choose to wear a helmet it would have to be DOT certified.
NHTSA also called for some changes to the testing of helmets. None of the changes provide for a more real world condition, just adjusting some of the allowable ranges for helmet puncture and retention.
What is troubling about the proposal is the underlying theme of "safer crashing". We at the MRF believe that it is best to focus on crash prevention instead of injury mitigation. Helmets do not prevent crashes, educated riders and motorists do.
It's true that motorcycle fatalities are near historic levels, but so are new unit sales and registrations. With the soaring price of fuel, expect that to continue for the foreseeable future.
So what does NHTSA expect this proposal to do in the real world? Let us refer to some of NHTSA's own numbers from the proposal. First since this only really affects the 20 mandatory universal helmet law states and the District of Columbia where according to NHTSA's numbers 15 percent of the riders in those jurisdictions use "novelty" helmets that don't meet the current FMVSS 218. Reading further NHTSA says that this proposal, if enacted, would realistically reach 5 percent of the 15 percent of riders who now use "novelty" helmets in universal helmet law states. Using NHTSA's method of guessing at helmet effectiveness, that amounts to about 17-32 lives a year. Now we can certainly all agree that any life saved is a huge success, but the original reason for this proposal was to bring down fatalities significantly. The low double digit decreases don't really dip the numbers down enough to make this necessary. Again, all life is precious but with government resources running on empty, The MRF believes this is time and money better spent on motorcycle safety programs that focus on avoidance of the crash.
The MRF encourages you to provide your own public comment to this NPRM. You can read the entire 66 page proposal that includes instructions on how to apply. The comment period is open for 60 days. Use the link to view the document:
Motorcycle Riders Foundation
236 Massachusetts Ave. NE Suite 510
Washington, DC 20002-4980