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.

A tremendous amount of what the federal government does is very, very boring and takes up a lot of shelf space.

A tremendous amount of what the federal government does is very, very boring and takes up a lot of shelf space.

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.

I could duct tape a moon pie to your head and provide you with more protective qualities than this plastic yarmulke.

I could duct tape a moon pie to your head and provide you with more protective qualities than this plastic yarmulke.

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.

A long time ago mankind figured out that you eat tortillas and you burn fuel. This is simple.

A long time ago mankind figured out that you eat tortillas and you burn fuel. This is simple.

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.

  • howard kelly

    Back when I occupied an editor in chief desk, I had a lengthy email debate with a fellow trying to convince me that a leather aviation helmet from the turn of the century was inherently safer than a real DOT helmet because it weighed less. He asserted that at 100 mph on impact the leather cap would inflict tremendously less whiplash on your neck. I said, if you are only worried about whiplash after a 100mph impact, the DOT helmet did its job……I dont actually miss those debstes

  • john burns

    i’m with you CK: Pity the poor wretch who has to write the 101-page, ahhh, whatever it is? Would he be a NHTSA employee? Who pays him? At times like these, I do believe in government waste. And caveat emptor. In the current dotcom age it’s not too hard to figure out what constitutes a decent helmet and buy it. And if you’re one of the whiplash crowd Howard talks about, well… some people just can’t be reached.

    • Chris Kallfelz

      John? I swear. I have no idea who devotes their lives to these endeavors…Well, I kinda do, and they are real tedious, but why? I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t know. It’s a different animal dude. It’s not you and it’s not me…

      Some people can pack up a gear bag and go to a track they’ve never seen, on a bike they’ve never seen, and rip it. Other people do other stuff I guess…Make rules, can’t even enforce the ones they have…Got me…

    • Ser Samsquamsh

      It’s not a wretch it’s a team of drab soulless lawyers suckling on the cream richness of your taxes. No need to feel any sympathy.

    • Roger

      Good reply; long time fan of JPR

  • http://www.themotorcycleobsession.com/ Chris Cope

    With you up to the point you started an anachronistic rant about oil. Check out the Keep it in the Ground campaign for reasons why it might be a good idea to push harder for alternative fuels.

    Additionally, I’m sure that back when lead was being scrapped from gasoline there were plenty of people saying it was a waste of time, even as their children’s kidneys were failing. Just because we’ve found a load of oil under North Dakota doesn’t mean we should abandon biofuels.

    • Chris Kallfelz

      “Leave it in the ground.” OK, this probably sounds like an anachronistic question but why? Why leave it in the ground? What’s the point? And who is advocating abandoning biofuel here? Mandating and subsidizing raising corn to make fuel is wrongheaded, there are better, more productive ways to do it. Let’s do that. Eh?

      • http://www.themotorcycleobsession.com/ Chris Cope

        They reason that the amount of carbon that would be released by using all the existing fossil fuel stores would, in fact, be more than the planet can handle.

        What I mean by anachronistic, by the way, is that you are advocating using fuel stores that people weren’t aware of when ethanol research really started hitting its stride. If that’s not what you’re advocating it sure reads that way.

        A driving force in developing ethanol and other biofuels was/is to overcome the wild price swings that come from oil because it’s such a finite resource. Even when you discover you’re sitting on a great big heap of it, it’s still finite and can’t be renewed (not any time soon, at least).

        So ethanol is a good idea being applied somewhat incorrectly. Motorcyclists’ response to E15 should not be: “OMG, GUBMINT, YOU ARE SO DUMB!” but instead: “Hey, why don’t we put a little more thought into this?”

        • Chris Kallfelz

          How much fossil fuel do you think we use raising corn? Acres, and acres, and acres of corn…that could go to better uses?

          • Phillip Quezada

            Kinda missed the point, Kallfelz. Drilling in our own backyard by companies who don’t have a good track record of keeping things clean, perhaps because they got politicians in their back pocket, or dealing with foreign countries who hate us. I think those options ignites the American pioneer spirit. We can do better ourselves. We’re too smart not to!

          • Chris Kallfelz

            Did I stutter when I said this?

            “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.”

            Of course we can do it better, but what we are doing right now? It’s boneheaded…

          • Phillip Quezada

            So don’t use ethanol until farmers start to grow sawgrass and sugarcane? My understanding is sugarcane is more expensive to grow than corn. We definitely need to stop subsidizing corn farmers. Mexican corn farmers couldn’t compete with U.S. Subsidized farmers. Maybe we’ll have a lesser immigration problem that way.

        • mooner

          “A driving force in developing ethanol and other biofuels was/is to
          overcome the wild price swings that come from oil because it’s such a
          finite resource.”

          Very short sighted and poor logic. We have, in effect, just transferred the wild price swings to our food supply and Big Ag. Do you think we should be destabilizing prices for food for the benefit of a stable price for a gallon of gas? Go ahead and visit an Iowa or Illinois gas station and tell me that Big Ag isn’t the one pushing E15.

          Ignorance – or not being aware of fuel stores (more accurately not being aware of how to EXTRACT fule stores) is no excuse to keep a bad idea in place and potentially make it an even worse idea.

          And by the way, the corn being grown may not technically be a limited resource, but the land it is grown on sure as hell is.

        • AltaBob

          Have any of you ever wondered why most manufacturers of small engine advise NOT to use gasoline with ANY methanol in it in their products? When units like lawn mowers and snow blowers sit for months in their off season the methanol absorbs water from the air and totally destroys the carburetors. Ask any technician that has to attempt to repair them! All the microscopic passages are completely plugged with gunk! Unfortunately, it’s often cheaper to replace them than to attempt to repair them!

          • Tom Pava

            If you store any gasoline for an extended length of time, you need to add Stabil, (fuel stabilizer) or a similar product to keep it from breaking down. This has always been the case. I have multiple vehicles and equipment that see inconsistent use. Several are over 70 years old and I use the E-10, “California fuel” in all of them. I almost never have a fuel system issue. I swear by Stabil.

  • allworld

    Comments are great and truly there are some stupid people making decisions in government. Combine that with greedy corporations with deep pockets and you get what we have.
    Make a real difference and let you voice be heard, join the AMA

    Also do you need a law to tell you to protect yourself in the event of a crash???
    Dress for the crash not the ride.

    • TimU

      Do you really thing that in the Rob Dingman era of the AMA, a member’s voice is being heard? If so, your pretty naive.
      If you really want to have your voice heard, join The Motorcycle Riders Foundation.

      • Chris Kallfelz

        I’ll speak highly for both organizations though my direct experience predates Rob Dingman taking over the AMA, and the MRF was really Wayne Curtin’s operation who I will speak highly of to anybody…

        Both are important…

      • John A. Stockman

        Both do offer +’s, with the MRF more on the +. Dingman is not a motorcyclist, even though I see photos of him riding one. MRF people are riders. Dingman’s handling of AMA Pro Racing interests and the rights going to DMG. I know people in various positions of influence and experience in the motorcycle business, men/women that race & work in/run teams and no one thought that was a good move from the start. AMA has the forces and people to work with & in Washington DC and the experience in how to effectively deal with gov’ment individuals. I wouldn’t want Dingman’s job and he’s probably doing the best he can with his background and experience level. I belong to both orgs, but find myself more aligned with the MRF because of the passion I see and experience personally from those folks. The AMA could use more of that in their leader. AFA the ethanol issue, my vehicles require more maintenance, get poorer gas mileage resulting in higher costs from both of those alone. I’ve owned new bikes, old and vintage. My new car is designed to work with 10% ethanol. When I moved from a rural area where I used non-ethanol gas, to a larger metro area where there’s not any non-ethanol options, my gas mileage went from an average of 35mpg to 30. More fuel, more maintenance costs now, maybe I’m too dense to figure out how this is a positive thing. Plus the issues with converting farm land to ethanol crops, I’m still not seeing where the benefits are.

    • AltaBob

      “Dress for the crash not the ride.”
      Unfortunately, many people are not that smart! Common sense is a foreign concept to so many these days!!

  • Mark

    Chris cope, ya completely lost me at “more carbon than the planet can handle,”. Oh my, have another latte at the poetry reading.

    • GreggJ

      Mark, I completely agree with you. The planet can handle anything humans do. There is no limit to how much carbon the planet can handle. No matter what we humans do to this place, the planet is going to be here for a very long time. I take a great deal of comfort in that. Of course, there is a limit to how much heat, drought, floods, sea level rise, tornadoes, hurricanes, lack of oxygen (the ocean creates most of the world’s oxygen, but it is slowly being destroyed as it continues to absorb much of the massive amounts of carbon we create, and that excess carbon is making it more and more acidic) we, and modern civilization can withstand. There is no real reason that life as we know it has to continue to exist for us or our children (and theirs). Thankfully though, the planet will still be here, even when we are not.

      • Goose

        Didn’t George Carlin theories the earth needed plastic so humans were created, now the earth has plenty of plastic so we are on the way out, or something close to that?

        It is sad that Chris Cope thinks corn based methanol has any positive effect on the environment. Do a little research Chris, find out how much oil it takes to make a gallon of methanol from corn. Corn based fuel is a scam, nothing more or less.

        • AltaBob

          Don’t confuse the tree huggers with the truth!

          • dinoSnake

            What “truth”? Oh, yeah, the one I got from good reading comprehension but apparently you missed: Yes, the planet will survive…WE WON’T.

            What a deal. Can I get fries with that Big Mac of human extinction?

            Keep worrying about the “tree huggers”, we all won’t be around to see who’s right in the end anyway.

        • mike no

          Corn makes fer good lick-her!

  • HughKayers

    So now cops will have to carry around a 100-page NHTSA manual to help them determine if the biker they just pulled over is wearing a real helmet or a novelty beanie because the feds don’t think they can figure it out without their help. No wonder cops are going berserk and treating pool party bimbos like jihadi terrorists in front of people with cellphone cameras.

    • mike no

      From my experience with traffic cops, I don’t believe you will see any 100 page books if you get stopped. I have been riding since 1965 and have never seen any books other than the one they threw at me a time or two. Ha ha but that was many years ago.

  • EdinMiami

    Yamaka???? Do you mean “yarmulke”? Okay, it’s a phonetic spelling.

  • AltaBob

    As far as I’m concerned if the morons want to ride around on their hogs with a tupperware bowl on their noggin, let them! If they fall off and bust their beans, so what? Their choice! That way there won’t be the need for as many gunfights at Twin Peaks!

  • JMDonald

    Gee wllikers I sure wish the government was more involved in things they have no business being in. Helmet and fuel standards. We can trust them with those things can’t we? If it saves one life. It’s for the children. We need to pass it so we know what’s in it. The check is in the mail. I get it, if we leave it up to them we won’t have to figure it out for ourselves. We have to justify the taxes they steal from us somehow. They know what’s best for us. Don’t they? You didn’t build that. Blank them and the horse the rode in on.

  • Steve

    I have to admit I never understood these novelty helmets. I used to ride a Harley when I lived in TN and there were helmet laws there at the time. Most of the riders I knew wore these fake “helmets” and I imagined it was primarily some sort of protest. Frankly, if you’re going to be hot and mess up your hair, why not at least wear a DOT-approved half-shell open helmet?

    As more states have eliminated helmet laws isn’t the business case (and need for enforcement) for these novelty helmets dying off anyway?

    I always wore a full-face helmet as I liked to ride without a windshield and the bugs down there were HUGE. I always got a kick when the “lightning bugs” would splatter on my face shield still lighting up.