NTSB recommends states enact laws requiring motorcycle riders to wear helmets
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 16, 2010; 10:02 PM
Bucking a tide of resistance in state capitals and a free-spirited breed of motorcyclists, the National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday said states should require riders to wear federally approved helmets.
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The recommendation comes after a five-year trend of steadily rising motorcycle deaths was reversed in 2009, when 4,462 riders died in crashes. The most recent data, from 2008, indicated that 65 percent of motorcyclists killed were not wearing helmets.
"Too many lives are lost in motorcycle accidents," Christopher A. Hart, NTSB vice chairman, said in announcing that helmets had been added to the board's annual "most-wanted list" of safety improvements. "It's a public health issue."
The NTSB uses the list as part of its bully pulpit on safety issues since the power to regulate lies with Congress, other federal agencies and state legislatures.
In 1967, Congress threatened to withhold highway funding for states that failed to adopt universal helmet requirements for motorcyclists. But after nine years of lobbying by motorcycle groups, Congress returned the decision-making power to the states. In 2005, it prohibited states from using federal money to promote helmet use.
Since 1976, many states have scaled back or abandoned helmet requirements. Only 21 jurisdictions - including Virginia, Maryland and the District - still require all riders and passengers to wear helmets. Twenty-seven other states require only passengers or children to wear helmets. Three states - Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire - have no helmet requirement.
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