NHTSA Proposes to Amend FMVSS No. 218

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to amend Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 218, which concerns motorcycle safety helmets. NHTSA proposes to modify the existing performance requirements of the standard by adding construction requirements. The reasoning behind this is to aid state and local law enforcement officers in enforcing FMVSS No. 218, allowing an officer to visually determine whether a helmet meets the safety standard. NHTSA is currently accepting public comments on this proposal, and will continue to do so until July 20, 2015.

The Motorcycle Riders Foundation opposes NHTSA’s proposal. The proposal fails to take into consideration the rapid pace of technological change in this area. By adopting arbitrary dimension and compression requirements, NHTSA will effectively be shutting out manufacturers who utilize technology to construct helmets which, while failing to meet NHTSA’s construction requirements, may very well exceed their performance requirements. It is conceivable that, by the time the new proposals were adopted, they would already be obsolete. To compound that problem, if such a situation did arise—and it almost certainly will—the process of amending the safety standard is so long and complicated that it is not feasible to make periodic changes in order to include technological advancements in motorcycle helmet construction. FMVSS No. 218 should remain primarily a performance standard, not a construction standard.

NHTSA’s answer to this problem is to create a list of motorcycle helmets that will be exempt from the proposed construction requirements. The helmets on this list will comply with the performance requirements of FMVSS No. 218, but while they fail to meet its proposed construction requirements, they will nonetheless be deemed to have met the proposed safety standard. This confusing strategy ignores the fact that the law enforcement officer on the street will not have immediate access to such a list. At best, the officer would not know that the motorcyclist’s helmet meets FMVSS No. 218 until after the motorcyclist has been deprived of his or her liberty by being detained and subjected to an inspection of their helmet. At worst, the fact that the motorcyclist’s helmet meets the standard would not come to light until after the motorcyclist was forced to come to court.

Finally, NHTSA has not fully taken into consideration the very nature of motorcycle helmet enforcement in the United States. Such enforcement is not done federally; it is done at the state and local level according to state laws which may or may not have adopted FMVSS No. 218. Not every state has adopted the federal safety standard. Many that have done so have also adopted alternative safety standards, while others require only that a helmet meet the performance requirements set out in FMVSS No. 218 and not the labeling requirements.

The Motorcycle Riders Foundation believes that motorcycle helmet enforcement is a state issue and not a federal issue. This is evidenced by the fact that motorcycle helmet laws vary greatly from state to state. If a particular state is having an issue enforcing its own motorcycle helmet law, that problem is best addressed by that state’s elected officials. It does not make sense to address the enforcement of a state statute on the federal level, but that is what the proposed amendments to FMVSS NO. 218 attempt to do.

The Motorcycle Riders Foundation urges all riders and rider organizations to comment upon this proposal and to point out the legitimate concerns raised by it. You may submit comments to the proposal by any of the following methods:

You may utilize the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal: Go to http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the online instructions for submitting comments. You may mail comments to the Docket Management Facility:
U.S. Department of Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE., West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140, Washington, DC 20590-0001.
You may also fax comments to the Docket Management Facility:
U.S. Department of Transportation at (202) 493-2251. When submitting comments, make sure to reference Docket No. NHTSA–2015–0045.

If you wish to view the entire proposal you may do so at the following link: