Motorcycle Safety Training Funds Under Attack

PICKERINGTON, Ohio--U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters reaffirmed her desire to lobby states for mandatory helmet-use laws in testimony before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee Transportation Subcommittee on March 6, the American Motorcyclist Association reports.

Peters' testimony follows letters she sent in February to U.S. House and Senate leaders urging Congress to allow states to divert federal money away from motorcycle safety training and awareness programs and instead push for mandated helmet use.

Under federal law, the U.S. Transportation Department is barred from lobbying for or against specific state laws. That measure was passed by Congress at the request of motorcyclists who specifically wanted to prevent the federal government from lobbying for mandatory helmet laws. But when asked whether she would support an exemption to the law to allow her department to lobby the states for mandatory helmet laws, she said she would.

"I support giving the information to states so that they can act on those laws," Peters testified. "And I certainly have made myself available to a number of states, and, in fact, have called governors when I see substantial increases in the number of motorcycle deaths in a state, especially a state that has repealed a helmet law."

Peters is pushing to move funds out of motorcycle safety training and awareness even though the money was specifically approved by Congress at the request of motorcyclists who wanted to beef up the nation's motorcycle safety training and awareness efforts.

In February, in response to the letters Peters wrote, Ed Moreland, AMA vice president for government relations, expressed concern that diverting federal motorcycle safety funds to mandate helmet use could harm rider training courses and motorcycle awareness programs that are already underfunded in many states.

At that time, he also expressed 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 that ban.

"Banning the federal government from lobbying for mandatory state helmet laws was the very reason Congress passed this measure in the first place," said Moreland. "What Peters is asking for is not an exception to the rule, it's an example of an exception completely circumventing the rule."

Moreland believes Peters is willing to push for mandatory helmet laws at the expense of rider training and awareness programs designed to teach motorcycling skills that would prevent crashes from occurring in the first place.

"This latest testimony reaffirms our fears--that the U.S. transportation secretary wants to lobby for mandatory helmet laws by diverting funding specifically set aside for motorcycle safety training and awareness to further her mandatory helmet-use agenda," Moreland said.

"Helmet use is certainly one part of a comprehensive approach to motorcycle safety, but the use of motorcycle helmets is already advocated in existing motorcycle safety training programs," Moreland said.

"Congress decided to fund motorcycle safety training and awareness programs at the request of the motorcycling community. This effort by Secretary Peters to divert money away from those programs is an attempt to circumvent the wishes of Congress and those motorcyclists nationwide who wanted to specifically augment rider training and awareness programs," he said.