Shortly before our clan chieftain grabbed his Samsonite carry-on bag and blasted out the door for LAX, he took a moment to drop a line to myself and my esteemed colleague, J. Burns, the content of which caused a chorus of, “Oh no, not this again.” It concerned a proposed rule by our beloved National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) concerning their current regulation, FMVSS No. 218, the regulation addressing U. S. Department of Transportation (DOT) standards for motorcycle helmet testing. It seems NHTSA wants to revise their standard because they are concerned about “novelty” helmets.
In the smallest of nutshells, NHTSA’s concerns are basically this: People that don’t like helmets or helmet laws sometimes buy fake helmets that do not meet DOT standards and ride around with them on their heads. Think of it as an outward display of moto-civil disobedience. The NHTSA claims that this results in more head injuries, which would not be hard to believe seeing as how these fake helmets are essentially a colander lined with a maxi-pad and couldn’t dissipate the energy of even a minor blow to your noggin.
So, having figured out that this is a problem (again), NHTSA has issued a 101-page proposed rule that seeks to somehow clarify and enhance FMVSS No. 218 for enforcement purposes. One hundred and one pages, staggering in its breadth and scope, when you consider that the current standards are more than adequate to manufacture, test, and sell a perfectly adequate helmet. I know this; I once spent a day at the Southwest Research Institute outside of San Antonio, Texas watching real smart guys bounce all sorts of lead weights off their magnesium headforms that were wearing a variety of lids. Pretty dry affair actually, but I did come away with an appreciation of the complexity of the current standard and why it is written up the way it is.
Where things get interesting is when I see language like this: “The proposal establishes preliminary screening criteria to help law enforcement agencies quickly identify helmets that are incapable of meeting the minimum performance requirements. The preliminary screening involves examining the thickness of the inner liner and the outer shell, and of the liner’s ability to resist deformation, which indicates its ability to absorb crash energy.”
First of all, anybody remotely familiar with a legal helmet, be it DOT, ECE, or Snell approved, could almost immediately tell the difference between it and a novelty helmet. Despite jokes to the contrary, neither cops nor courts are that stupid. And second of all, this problem has been confronted by NHTSA before. Back in the 1990s, the NHTSA saw a similar rise in the use of “novelty” helmets, and they did the strangest thing: they enforced their current regulation.
Almost all NHTSA recalls are voluntary, and most manufacturers do not want to sell their customers defective products that can hurt or kill them. However, on rare occasions you might actually see a mandatory recall. That is precisely what NHTSA did back in the 1990s. They cracked down on the manufacturers of “novelty” helmets and the market dried up. It worked back then. I don’t see why it wouldn’t work now, and rather than shift the responsibility to police officers, who I’m sure have better things to do, NHTSA could just go ahead and enforce their current standards as written.
The more you dig into this proposed rule, the more questions arise. It doesn’t take a very skeptical eye to see the potential for abuse on the enforcement end if police officers are now going to be tasked with being tech inspectors and doing NHTSA’s job. In any event, you can review the proposal in full here.
Additionally, there is a 60 day comment period so if you wish to comment on the proposed rule feel free to do so.
In related stupidity of the Washington D.C. variety, consider for a moment what Dennis Chung reported on earlier, namely the Environmental Protection Agency’s Renewable Fuel Standard. That’s a real long way of saying more ethanol fuel.
Now, just consider this for a moment: For years we have been subsidizing, and mandating, that oil companies, and farmers raising corn that could otherwise go to livestock, or your kitchen table, or anyone that wants a tortilla, turn that maize into fuel that has less bang for the buck, sucks water out of the air and makes a mess of fuel systems. As an added bonus, it has the shelf life of an open beer on a hot August day.
We have done so fully knowing that there are better ways to do biofuel with sawgrass or sugarcane on less productive land, thus leaving tillable ground free to do what mankind has been doing for centuries, namely raising food. We have been doing all this all while sitting, along with our neighbors, upon some of the world’s greatest oil reserves. What right-minded people would do such a thing? If that isn’t breathtakingly stupid enough, now we want to double down and mandate greater ethanol levels, from E10 to E15. This is lunacy.
And it just gets better: The EPA has admitted that E15, “may,” be harmful to motorcycles. This would be absolutely comical if it wasn’t real. Please review Dennis’ story linked above. There will be a public comment period, and if you want to weigh in on that proposal, you can again take the opportunity to do so.
Look, I got out of the lobbying biz a long time ago, but I know this: motorcyclists by and large are not stupid, but some of the things that can seriously affect us are. If we don’t look after each other and ourselves nobody else is going to. Much like proper protective gear can keep you in one piece, keeping an eye on the horizon when it comes to regulatory nonsense can keep us all riding. So in that spirit, go forth, do good, and keep your eyes out of the instrument pod.
About the Author: Chris Kallfelz is an orphaned Irish Catholic German Jew from a broken home with distinctly Buddhist tendencies. He hasn’t got the sense God gave seafood. Nice women seem to like him on occasion, for which he is eternally thankful, and he wrecks cars, badly, which is why bikes make sense. He doesn’t wreck bikes, unless they are on a track in closed course competition, and then all bets are off. He can hold a reasonable dinner conversation, eats with his mouth closed, and quotes Blaise Pascal when he’s not trying to high-side something for a five-dollar trophy. He’s been educated everywhere, and can ride bikes, commercial airliners and main battle tanks.