Saturday, June 14, 2014

The AMA strikes another blow against helmets

It's been a busy week here. So, if you got a breathless email from the American Motorcyclists Association on Wednesday, proudly highlighting the AMA's ongoing lobbying effort to prevent the use of crash helmets, you might have thought, "Gardiner's going to go all ape shit over this." Then, after a few days passed, concluded that I am beyond caring what the AMA's lobbyists do, in Washington.

Not so.

To recap: Earlier this year, a Congressional committee drafted a new law that would, in part, have expanded the remit of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration by allowing NHTSA to lobby state governments to encourage helmet use by motorcyclists. But, on Tuesday night, that particular house resolution was passed with a change to wording that to maintain a long-standing gag order on NHTSA; it's legally prevented from any activities that would encourage state governments to mandate the use of crash helmets. You can read a complete synopsis of the situation here.

To be clear: NHTSA--the National Highway Traffic SAFETY Administration--is barred from telling state governments that motorcyclists should wear crash helmets.

I repeat, to be extra-clear: An organization nominally created for the express purpose of improving traffic safety and promoting research and best practices in traffic safety is legally gagged, when it comes to the single most important thing motorcyclists can do, in order to improve their safety. Crash helmets? No, NHTSA can't talk about 'em.

That's a situation Wayne Allard, AMA vice president for government relations, applauds.

"We are happy that the House members accepted the language in the amendment," said Wayne Allard, AMA vice president for government relations. "Lifting the ban on NHSTA lobbying would have given Washington bureaucrats free rein to spend taxpayer money to lobby states and legislators to create laws that infringe on our rights as motorcyclists."

Elsewhere in the official AMA Press Release dated June 11, the AMA clearly describes "mandatory motorcycle helmet laws" as "unnecessary regulations" on motorcyclists.

What the fuck, eh? Let's be clear: by far the greatest single effort by the AMA as it currently exists is: Let's make sure that no states pass helmet laws; let's fight the existing helmet laws.

I'll bet the AMA's shitty lobbyists went fawning to the NRA's big swinging dick lobbyists Tuesday night and said, "You know the way you guys prevented the Center for Disease Control and the Surgeon General from characterizing epidemic gun violence as a public health issue -- something it so totally is? Well, we did that too! We prevented NHTSA from saying that open head wounds are bad for motorcyclists. So, um, is that chair free? Can we sit with you?"

Fuck off, AMA, just fuck right off.


  1. I agree and disagree. I am a bit tired of legislators lobbying for laws, making inane laws, and generally butting into everything. I wish they would concentrate on infrastructure, national defense, and making interstate commerce work smoothly. Create favorable trade practices that benefit the American economy and provide a better path to citizenship for immigrants.

    So yes while I do agree helmet use is a priority, I do agree with the AMA that the NHTSA should focus on education and implementation and not spend money paying people to lobby to state Governments.

  2. Hi Mark,

    First, thank you for your fine reporting and contributions to moto-journalism over a long and distinguished career.

    As spokesperson for the American Motorcyclist Association, I believe that that you've missed the point entirely about why the AMA opposes mandatory helmet laws for adults. Notice that I did not say "helmets" because the AMA -- contrary to your statements -- does not oppose helmet use. In fact, the AMA strongly encourages helmet use.

    In a nutshell, the problem with helmet mandates is that they do nothing to prevent crashes. And when limited federal dollars are directed to the passage and enforcement of helmet laws, precious funds are siphoned away from programs that do help prevent crashes: rider education and motorist awareness being chief among them.

    There is a belief among safety-crats that 100 percent helmet use is the sliver bullet to improving motorcycle safety. Helmets can certainly contribute to survivability when crashes occur, the AMA has no argument with that point whatsoever. But have you considered what steps the feds will advocate if universal helmet laws existed in every state, funds for rider training and motorist awareness/anti-distracted driving have dwindled, and 100 percent of motorcycle fatalities involve motorcyclists who were wearing helmets?

    Just approaching that point, extreme as it may seem now, will lead to more measures to curb motorcycle use from bureaucrats who consider motorcycling too dangerous under any circumstances. That is why we are very concerned that the CDC is treating motorcycling as a disease to be cured.

    There are more points to consider, but rather than detailing them here, I hope you will read the statement adopted by the AMA board of directors -- composed of many strong helmet proponents -- and viewable on the AMA website at:

    Thank you Mark for this opportunity to comment.

    Pete terHorst
    AMA spokesperson

    1. I love it when people like you comment.


      Re: "siphoning away" resources from other programs that might reduce crashes in the first place... I'm sorry AMA, but that's just preposterous bullshit.

      Yes, resources are limited. And (especially considering that many motorcycle crashes are single-vehicle crashes that don't even involve other road users) the only effective use of those resources is to direct them at the small number of motorcycle riders, not on vainglorious "watch for motorcycles" attempts to change the behavior of the vastly larger number of car/truck/SUV drivers. )

      Wearing a good full coverage crash helmet is by far the single most effective, and cost effective, safety program for motorcyclists. I believe you that the board members and employees of the AMA are, by and large, helmet wearers. And in official statements, the AMA recommends helmet use. But the AMA's actions, in fighting mandatory helmet laws, speak louder than those words.

      Thanks to Facebook*, I now realize that the anti-helmet lobby loves to frame its cause as a "rights" and "freedom" issue, in order to stake out sacred American ground in what could otherwise be reasonable discussion. Our forefathers died fighting British oppression, so we could ride without helmets, I guess.

      For the record, I don't personally want helmet laws for the sake of helmet laws, I want to give up a useless right** -- the right** to ride without a helmet -- in order to get useful privileges, such as the ability to lane-split and filter; fair/favorable treatment at tolls, where we're too often charged the auto rate for vehicles that do far less road damage and carry fewer passengers or freight; and the ability to park in urban interstitial spaces. Those are things that will actually do the motorcycle industry some good.

      There are other bizarre fallacies in your comment, such as (if I read it correctly, and I'm a very good reader) the implication that if everyone wears crash helmets and people still get killed on motorcycles, “they” will ban motorcycles altogether.

      At the very least, if the AMA really favors helmet use and doesn't want to interfere with a very-much-so-called "right**" to ride without one, it should stay the fuck out of lobbying against helmet laws. As an official spokesman, at the point, it would be your job to say, "Hey, we think anyone who rides without a helmet is an idiot and we’re against public displays of stupidity, so we're not going to do anything that encourages riding without a helmet."

      The reason the AMA doesn't do that is that it's been co-opted by a bunch of nut jobs who’ve staked out helmet laws as their cause and have learned from the NRA that if you escalate every discussion to an intimidating, if-you’re-not-with-us-you’re-a-freedom-hating-commie-fag-tax-lover*** that almost everyone will just back down.

      Honestly, I don’t even care that much. As far as I’m concerned, the idiots riding without helmets are just helping Darwin along. But the AMA’s bizarre exercise in justification infuriates me, so I call you out just so that it doesn’t go unremarked. I’ve been thanked for taking on that role, by other motorcycle journalists who feel that criticizing the AMA on this issue would limit their careers.

      **It’s not a right, alright? You need a motorcycle license, you need insurance; you’re forced to obey all kinds of traffic laws; nothing about being a motorcyclist is a right. It’s a regulated privilege.
      ***I mean, you’re a fag and a tax lover, not that you favor a tax on fags, which is one of the few taxes the anti-helmet idiots probably would favor.

    2. AMA Spokesperson,

      You're kidding? Right? Surely you aren't arrogant enough to believe that anyone but the Hardly crowd will be adversely affected if all states pass helmet laws. Yeah, the already aging and dying cruiser crowd will protest by riding even less than they do now, but actual motorcyclists are already wearing helmets and ignoring all things AMA. Maybe you might consider doing something to make motorcycling less despicable to the rest of the motoring public?

  3. I also loved the implied threat to all motorcycling if bureaucrats become aware somehow that all people dying in motorcycle accidents are wearing helmets. I don't know what's more tragi-comic, the fake drama or the Completion Backward Principle pretzel logic implied. Oh, the drama!

    I'll be on my fainting couch in my puddin' bowl clinging to my guns and religion if anyone needs me.

  4. As a longtime rider, this anit-helmet lobbying is the single reason why I don't join the AMA. I wonder if others feel the same? Common sense and logic are in short supply.

    I really enjoy your writing Mark - keep it up!
    - Greg

  5. Love your articles Mark! They are so refreshingly insightful and tell-it-like-it-is I read them for entertainment, even though I live Down Under and am not 'murican.

  6. Mark,

    I'm totally with you. The AMA couldn't be more useless regarding motorcycle safety issues or highway access and motorcyclists' rights if it was a group of horsie riders who hated motorcycles. The AMA's campaign against mandatory helmet use looks like pure NRA bullshit to 99% of the population and, at least, half of the motorcyclist population. It's a non-issue to everyone but the pirate crowd and they're too old to matter.

    I love your work. Keep it up!

  7. I'm a few years late with this comment, but I just wanted to say that Mr. terHorst and everyone at the top of the AMA are out of their minds. And, as an ex-AMA racer and ex-AMA member, I know what I'm talking about.

    The AMA's anti-helmet regulation stance is purely political. They don't want to lose the support of their large, politically conservative base. With that group, it's all about their "God-given rights being abridged", and logic and common sense be damned. Many of them are also gun-nuts, which figures.

    The odd "logic" of ter Horst's stance can be dismantled if we substitute his mandatory helmet law complaints with mandatory seat-belt laws. After all, shouldn't my passengers and even myself be allowed the freedom to move around inside my vehicle at will, at 70mph? And the same applies to mandatory safety glass windshields, air-bags, and every other "rights stifling" so-called safety device I am forced to use on MY tax supported roads. Pure insanity.

    But I will say that there sometimes is one flaw in mandatory helmet legislation, and that is when the state sets the minimum standards for helmets far too low, in a misguided effort to make mandatory helmets affordable to all. What happens next is that many people will ask for and buy the cheapest helmet available, putting minimum compliance with the helmet law ahead of maximum protection for their skull. Though on the other hand, they don't have much inside that skull worth protecting.