A Brief Overview of NHTSA's Motorcycle Safety 5-Year Plan

Motorcycles are as popular as ever, and despite their inherent risks, untold numbers of people choose to purchase and ride motorcycles every year. 

With the continued use of motorcycles, though, has come a steady and increasing number of motorcyclists injured and killed in wrecks. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), over 5,000 motorcyclists were killed in traffic wrecks in 2017 alone.

To address these persistent risks to motorcyclists and promote greater motorcycle safety, NHTSA recently unveiled a Motorcycle Safety 5-Year Plan. 

While this document is not meant to be binding on any individual, agency, or unit of government, it does provide a roadmap for how NHTSA believes the issue of motorcycle safety can be addressed and improved.

Structure of NHTSA’s Motorcycle Safety Plan

After providing data showing the scope of the safety problem facing motorcyclists, the plan is divided into a series of “challenges” and “strategies” for various stakeholders. 

The stakeholders are concepts and entities that have a role to play in addressing motorcycle safety. They are identified as data, states, law enforcement, and the federal government.

Challenges and Strategies for Data

The plan begins by identifying challenges to collecting relevant and accurate data about motorcyclists’ risks and behaviors. 

To make better policy decisions and determinations, other stakeholders need reliable and current data. Unfortunately, a lack of specific data about motorcycle wrecks can lead to messaging and safety efforts that are not as targeted as they could otherwise be.

To improve, NHTSA is looking at ways to better train state-level stakeholders in data collection and analysis. NHTSA would like to develop and grow various sources of data to provide a more complete picture of motorcycle safety.

Challenges and Strategies for State Support

The states themselves have obstacles that keep them from making more progress toward safer roads for motorcyclists. Many of the challenges identified in the plan have to do with what message is being put out by the states and to whom. 

The plan contrasts generic “Share the Road” awareness campaigns with the messaging that might, for example, educate drivers on typical motorcyclist driving behaviors. 

Challenges and Strategies for Law Enforcement

Some of the challenges reported by law enforcement in promoting motorcycle safety have to do with laws that are difficult to enforce. 

Some of these laws are age-specific laws like helmet laws that do not require riders over a certain age to wear helmets. Other helmet laws require riders to wear helmets that meet a certain standard, and compliance with such standards is difficult to determine by sight alone.

To combat these issues, NHTSA’s strategic plan suggests additional training for law enforcement officers, especially in how to effectively enforce motorcycle-specific laws. 

NHTSA’s plan also calls for the elimination of novelty helmets — helmets that are not compliant with federal regulations but are difficult to detect when used in moving traffic.

Challenges and Strategies for Federal Stakeholders

Two challenges facing the federal government and federal motorcycle safety programs are the presence of novelty helmets and the classification and messaging around three-wheeled vehicles. 

Specifically, NHTSA is concerned that individuals are more likely to treat three-wheel vehicles like small cars and forgo some of the safety equipment that could help reduce serious injuries and deaths.

Motorcycle Safety Begins with You, Every Day

NHTSA’s goals are commendable, and many of its suggestions, if implemented, could help reduce the number of injuries and fatal motorcycle crashes. But efforts by state governments, law enforcement agencies, and even the federal government cannot sustainably change rider and motorist behaviors. 

Motorcycle safety will continue to depend on individuals putting their safety and the safety of others first.

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