Mar. 10, 2008 – New legislation could impact training funds

By Karin Gelschus
Associate Editor
U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters has proposed legislation to allow states to use federal funding to promote the use of motorcycle helmets.
While some industry members believe this is a step forward, others think it’s a significant step back, believing it could take away funding from current motorcycle safety training and awareness programs.
Eric Anderson, vice president of Scorpion Sports and chairman of the Helmet Task Force with the Motorcycle Industry Council, says although the helmet legislature is a good idea, it’s not going to get the behavioral changes advocates are hoping for.
“It establishes a cool idea, but I don’t think it changes viscerally the way people think. The training does,” he said. “When you have a CHP office or a retired sheriff who’s teaching training and he talks to you about helmets, he’ll change you for life. I think sometimes it (a public service campaign) makes us all feel better. We’re trying to do something responsible — communicate that you should wear helmets — but in terms of behavioral modification, I don’t think it works very well.”
Due to the dramatic increase in motorcycle deaths in recent years, Peters believes states need additional resources to reduce motorcycle deaths. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that in 2006, 1,658 motorcyclists survived motorcycle crashes because of their use of helmets. An additional 752 lives, however, could have been saved if the motorcyclists had worn helmets.
Richard Kimes, national marketing manager of distributor Helmet House, says even if the potential helmet funding would not benefit the company, he would still believe it’s a positive step for motorcycle safety.
“I can see where she (Peters) is coming from. I think she’s doing a good thing from a helmet perspective,” said Kimes.
Although, some industry officials believe this is a positive step to help minimize motorcycle deaths, the American Motorcyclist Association has concerns since the legislation would potentially take away from funds attempting to accomplish the same things.
AMA Vice President Ed Moreland says the possible change concerns him because transferring funds could harm rider-training courses and motorcycle awareness programs that are already under-funded in many states.
“Helmet use is certainly one part of a comprehensive approach to motorcycle safety,” Moreland said in the press release. “But this step is a direct raid on funds that were appropriated by Congress to address the specific safety concerns of the motorcyclists’ rights community. Furthermore, the use of motorcycle helmets is already advocated in existing motorcycle safety initiatives.”
Anderson of Scorpion Sports believes the training is essential to addressing motorcycle safety.
“The helmet issue is topical; the training runs deep,” Anderson said. “Training is really important at a state level. Within that realm, of course, motorcycle helmets are supported right down to a visceral level. To spend some of that money for what would amount to a public service campaign might not be well spent.”
Moreland went on to voice his concern of already thin motorcycle safety funding.
“Funding for rider-training courses is frequently under threat in cash-strapped states, and cutting the same-size pie into thinner slices is not the comprehensive, thoughtful, national motorcycle safety strategy we need.”
Moreland also expresses concern that Peters’ proposal could contradict sections of transportation bills passed in 1998 and 2005 that ban the use of federal motorcycle safety funds to lobby state legislatures in favor of mandatory helmet laws and could effectively reverse those bans. Anderson also questions the legality of changing the funds’ tasks.
“Is that even an option? It’s earmarked for training,” he said. “It’s going to vary from one state to the next because you can bet your life that those safety trainers and those programs are going to want to hold on to their funds at all costs. They raised them; they earmarked them; they justified them through local state law. If the [National Transportation Safety Board] and Mary Peters tell them they have to take 15 percent of that and put it toward a public service campaign for motorcycle helmets, they’re going to get a lot of static.”

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