NHTSA Meeting April 25, 2011

Last week The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) held meetings in DC with stakeholders in motorcycle safety. While many things were discussed there were a few items of particular interest to motorcyclists. I’m sure that by now everyone has heard about the motorcycle only checkpoints that were done in Georgia the week of Daytona Bike Week. According to attendees at the meeting it was reported that these weren’t actual traffic stops but rather rolling checkpoints. Which is to say that most people didn’t stop, only slowed down through a closed truck weigh station to be observed by officers and then stopped if the police felt they had reason to inspect more closely. Things being observed were lighting, exhaust systems, valid tags and of course “non-compliant” helmets. $70,000.00 in federal grant money was spent on these stops and normally these grants require matching state funds bringing the total to $140,000.00. All this money and manpower and to date we have not had confirmation of a single ticket being issued. We have confirmed numerous warnings but no tickets. We will keep looking.

Besides the monumental waste of money and the intrusion upon the citizens right to travel free from governmental interference, the manner in which these check points were operated raises some serious constitutional issues. As you know from the previous article that I wrote on this issue, one of the restrictions that the United States Supreme Court has placed upon checkpoints is that the officers operating the checkpoint must not have discretion as to who they stop. They must stop every vehicle or every third vehicle etc. They cannot have unfettered discretion as to who will be stopped. It appears that that particular rule was ignored in Georgia. We’ll keep you posted as we find out more about these and other similar stops around the country.

On another note, it appears that another issue being studied by NHTSA is license plate lighting and mounting. Apparently NHTSA is concerned about tags mounted on the side of bikes, tucked deep underneath luggage or surrounded by bright lights. I am not quite sure why this is an issue for NHTSA in that their focus is supposed to be highway safety. I have yet to hear of a motorcycle accident that was caused by the manner in which the license plate of the motorcycle was mounted. At the end of the day this is not a safety issue. However, automated enforcement equipment such as red-light cameras are becoming increasingly popular with state legislators. Tags mounted on the side of a bike, tucked deep underneath luggage or surrounded by bright lights can make it difficult to issue automated tickets as the cameras can have a hard time getting a good picture of the tag. Once again, this does not seem like a safety issue so I question why NHTSA is involved. We will continue to watch this issue.