NHTSA’s 5-Year Motorcycle Safety Plan

four motorcycle riders safely enjoying scenery

On May 14th, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) posted its official Motorcycle Safety 5 Year Plan.

According to this document, “Overall traffic fatalities are increasing, and motorcyclist fatalities also continue to increase and are near their highest level in over 35 years.”

Despite advances in vehicle technology and road design, fatalities continue to increase because of the ever growing volume of vehicles on the road. The number of registered motorcycles in the United States has more than doubled over the past 20 years.

NHTSA identified core objectives for motorcycle safety in 1997 that remain relevant today:

  • Increasing access to rider education programs;
  • Increasing the proportion of motorcyclists who are properly licensed;
  • Reducing the number of motorcyclists riding while impaired;
  • Increasing motorcyclists’ visibility/conspicuity;
  • Increasing enforcement of motorcyclist safety laws;
  • Incorporating motorcyclist safety into the design of roadways;
  • Increasing the survivability of motorcyclists who are involved in crashes;
  • Increasing the use of personal protective equipment;
  • Increasing helmet use; and
  • Increasing motorists’ awareness of motorcyclists’ riding behaviors.

These objectives take into account that design and technology can only go so far in protecting the rider; he or she will still be on two wheels, without the airbags, seatbelts, and roll bars provided by other types of motor vehicles.

How Will the Plan Improve Motorcycle Safety?

The new 5 Year Plan describes the four key areas where NHTSA will work to reduce motorcycle accident fatalities.

Motorcycle-Specific Data

Accurate, high-quality data is needed to help legislators and grantees understand where to invest funding for the most positive impact. Though broad traffic data is available, few studies have been done to complete the whole picture of motorcycle safety risks. Over the next five years, NHTSA will seek to understand things like:

  • How many miles do motorcyclists travel?
  • Under what conditions do they travel?
  • How well do non-riding motorists understand motorcycling behaviors and characteristics?
  • How well can a motorist appraise a motorcycle’s speed and predict the course of action?
  • Can States and communities be persuaded to conduct more motorcycle-specific surveys?

Getting accurate answers to questions like these will enable more focussed decision-making and more effective programs.

State Support for Motorcycle Safety

State governments typically use a portion of their grant funds for developing educational material, often with ineffective messaging. By combining resources with other states, or using the federally supplied educational materials, states could potentially put those funds to better use.

A better understanding of funding parameters and updates to program guidelines are two more ways that state governments can maximize their resources for motorcycle safety.

Motorcycle Law Enforcement

Motorcycle safety laws vary from state to state, especially those regarding helmet use. The plan explains, “Currently 19 States and the District of Columbia require all motorcycle operators and passengers to wear helmets when riding. Twelve of those States and DC specify that helmets meet FMVSS No. 218, but seven States do not. Meanwhile, 28 other States have partial or age specific helmet use laws, with 16 specifying FMVSS 218. Three States have no helmet use law.”
Some state helmet laws are even dependent on level of insurance coverage.

Other motorcycle safety concerns include laws around permitting, engine displacement, and checkpoints. For states that have nuanced variations in each law, enforcement can be difficult. The NHTSA plans to focus on in-depth training to help law enforcement officers recognize violations and safety hazards.

Federal Programs

There are two motorcycle safety concerns to be addressed at the Federal level: three-wheeled vehicles and novelty helmets. Certain three-wheeled vehicles are sold as motorcycles but look more like small cars. The safety concern is that users will drive them like small cars instead of taking the extra precautions needed for safe motorcycle riding.

Novelty helmets are any helmets that don’t meet FMVSS No. 218 safety standards. Some riders prefer to use helmets that are more comfortable, lighter weight, or more ventilated, but even in states where this is legal, these open up the opportunity for severe head injuries in case of a motorcycle accident.

As a possible solution, “NHTSA is currently coordinating a Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) grant to examine the feasibility of a helmet ventilation system that improves comfort
while also complying with FMVSS No. 218.” Outreach and education are also named as strategies for promoting safety around three-wheeled vehicles and helmet design.

Ride Responsibly & Get Help When You Need It

With the number of registered motorcycles at an all-time high, and since motorcyclists are greatly overrepresented in traffic-related fatalities, it’s good to know the NHTSA has a comprehensive plan for addressing safety issues. In the meantime, if you or someone you love will killed or injured while riding a motorcycle, please contact our office for a free, compassionate case evaluation.

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