CDC to Promote Mandatory Helmets Laws in All States


Contact:Jeff Hennie, Vice President of Government Relations and Public Affairs, Motorcycle Riders Foundation

CDC Task Force to Recommend Mandatory Helmet Laws

The Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF) reports that the rumors are true. A Centers for Disease Control (CDC) task force is set to issue a report calling on all 50 States to enact mandatory helmet law.

The task force, known as the Community Preventative Services Task Force, is a 15 member, non-federal, independent group that utilizes CDC staff and resources to develop "Findings and Rationale Statements". These statements make recommendations that run the gamut of topics from asthma control to work place safety. The past recommendations have included motor vehicles, focusing on seat belts, child seats and alcohol use. This is the first time the task force has recommended anything to do with motorcycling. Task force members are appointed by the Director of the CDC and serve a five-year term. All current members are doctors, with one exception.

The report claims that mandatory helmet laws will save lives and money. This is the same tired, lopsided theme used by the CDC in their last report about motorcycle safety. According to the CDC website the six main safety tips for riders are: always wear a DOT helmet, never drink and ride, don't let friends drink and ride, avoid tailgating, wear bright colored protective clothing, and don't ride fast on gravel. There is not one mention of rider education or licensing. It is not a surprise that the CDC's answer to motorcycle safety are helmet laws, it is their go to answer. The new report was drafted by associates of the individuals that issued the last CDC motorcycle safety report. The repetition is to be expected. In conversations with the MRF, the CDC clearly expressed their opinion that rider education does not work. Strangely lacking from the long list of prior recommendations of the task force was distracted driving.

One would think that a group of highly educated individuals may appreciate that education should play a role in motorcycle safety. The motorcycle safety community has proven that rider education works. Over the first 10 years of the New Hampshire State motorcycle safety rider education program, more than 23,000 motorcyclists were trained and since then only one person from the 23,000 has been in a fatal crash.

In addition, the CDC asserts that fatalities have nearly doubled since 2000 while failing to take into account the increase in registered motorcycles. In fact, in 2000 there were 2,862 fatal crashes for 4.9 million registered motorcycles. This means in 2000 .058 percent of all registered motorcycles were involved in a fatal crash. In 2010 there were 4,502 fatalities for 8.4 million registered motorcycles, which puts just .053 percent of registered motorcycles in a fatal crash. A slight decrease in the ratio of registered motorcycles to fatalities with 3.5 million more motorcycles on the road. These are just some of the facts presented from the CDC research that have been presented at all four MRF conferences going back to fall of 2012.

The CDC solution to motorcycle safety is safer crashing. We at the MRF have been urging the government to shift the focus of motorcycle safety to crash avoidance, not safer crashing. The best crash is the one that does not happen.

The task force report will try to convince their reader that states with choice helmet laws experience a higher amount of health care costs. That's just not true. In 2010, the Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a study of inpatient hospital expenses by state. Of the 12 most expensive states for daily inpatient hospital expenses, seven had mandatory helmet laws. The 12 least expensive states for daily inpatient hospital expenses, four had mandatory helmet laws. Mandatory helmet laws do not save money.

Members of Congress recently sent a letter at the request of the MRF, asking the CDC to discontinue this sort of research. The letter asks the CDC director to focus on such issues as heart disease and not motorcycle safety. The letter was authored by Mr. Tom Petri (WI) and was publicized and promoted on Capitol Hill by the MRF. The MRF sent numerous releases asking the motorcyclists to help get congressional support. The CDC Director's response is sure to be weak, but will be reported on.

The MRF learned from CDC staff that the task force report is expected to become public sometime the first week of December. The MRF is working on obtaining an embargoed copy of the report. This is certain to be national news. Even the staff members at the CDC are aware of this and are calling the report "controversial".

Use the MRF's latest "Fact or Fiction" piece, which was made public at the most recent Bikers Inside the Beltway event in Washington D.C. in May of 2013 to educate your legislators. The one page document has information about the CDC and the misconception related to the effectiveness of helmet laws. The MRF encourages you to use this information and contact your friends in Congress to let them know this is coming.

You can view the "Fact or Fiction" piece here: Fact or Fiction

Be armed with the facts, its likely that you will be contacted by media reporters, friends and family members asking you why you support helmet law choice. Be informed and vigilant. We need to stand up for our rights. You have to defend yourself because no one else will.