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GAO Asks For Flexibility In Combating Motorcycle Fatalities

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has said that the only strategy that has proven to be effective in reducing motorcycle fatalities is to pass laws requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets. According to NHTSA data, fatal motorcycle accidents doubled from 1997 to 2008 and increased slightly in 2010. This has led the Government Accountability Office to ask Congress to allow federal grant money given to the states to be used for helmet law advocacy. Currently, it is Congressional policy that grants to states only be used for motorcyclist training and motorist awareness campaigns.

In the states where helmet laws are in place, 19 states in total, those laws are often under attack by lobbyists. Despite motorcycle fatalities doubling during a time period in which car accident fatalities dropped by five percent, anti-helmet law advocates have been highly successful in preventing states from acting. Helmets could prevent as many as one out of every three motorcyclist fatalities, according to the NHTSA. A motorcyclist is 30 times more likely to die in a traffic crash, per mile driven, than a person in a passenger car.

The GAO believes that federal regulators should have the flexibility to choose any program, including those advocating helmet laws, when distributing grant money to reduce motorcycle accident deaths. As part of its mission, the NHTSA works with states to help them design and implement motorcycle safety measures. From 2006 to 2012, the NHTSA awarded a total of $45.9 million in grants for motorcyclist safety.

A helmet is the best way for riders to protect themselves in case of an accident. Whether helmets should, therefore, be required by law is a hot-button issue. Riders prefer the freedom to choose to wear a helmet, or not wear a helmet, as they see fit. Many safety advocates believe that helmets, like seatbelts for automobile drivers, should be required by law.

Source: The Detroit News, "GAO: Give states more flexibility to reduce motorcycle deaths," by David Shepardson, 28 November 2012

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