Your Weekly Biker Bulletin from Inside the Beltway

The Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF) was alerted by our contacts in the U.S. Senate regarding a proposed change to the dedicated 405 Motorcycle Safety funds in the National Priority Safety Programs that are authorized through the Highway Bill.

The proposed change to this program would add another criterion for states to qualify for motorcycle safety funds.

In order to qualify, states have to meet two of the six current criteria. In addition to the current criteria, the additional qualifying area would add a category for states that have a mandatory helmet law for anyone under the age of 18.

While meeting the under 18 helmet law is not mandatory to receive these funds, we at the MRF oppose any such change. We cannot allow any amount of erosion of our rights on this issue. The MRF is adamantly opposed to any federal law that would require the use of a helmet, apparel or conspicuity standard.

We are actively monitoring this situation to make sure that this staff discussion does not find its way into any draft highway bill legislation. The back-door attempt to include language that leverages a state without a helmet law for those under 18 as one of the minimum criteria may encourage some states to change their current laws to make it easier to qualify for these federal funds.

In 1975, Congress enacted a law forcing all states to enact a mandatory helmet in order to receive any federal transportation funds. The MRF and state motorcycle rights organizations around this country fought tirelessly during this time for the law to be overturned. Congress flip-flopped on the helmet law by striking down the 1975 law, then reinstating it in 1991.

The MRF and the motorcycle rights organizations were finally successful in 1995 by overturning the federal mandatory helmet law.

We at the MRF have already communicated with our contact that we would be adamantly opposed to any changes to the language. This potential change could be viewed as an attempt to blackmail states into changing their current laws as a way to additionally qualify for these funds.

While there is not any official draft in circulation for the next highway bill reauthorization, we will continue to remain on guard against attempts to add or implement such changes.

The motorcycle safety funds were first authorized in 2005 through the highway reauthorization known as SAFETEA-LU. The federal government began a dedicated state grants program in an attempt to reduce the number of single and multi-vehicle crashes involving motorcyclists.

The program has continued to be authorized in the federal highway bill legislation and is currently still active in the current iteration known as the FAST-ACT of 2015 which is set to expire in September 2020.

Last week, we reported that NHTSA had released the fiscal year 2020 state grant totals for each of the National Priority Safety Programs. The $4.2 million motorcycle safety grant program was divided between forty-three states and Puerto Rico. In fact, the motorcycle safety grant program only makes up 1.5% of the appropriation for this program.

With over 8.5 million registered motorcycles on our nation’s roadways, the federal government only spends on average $0.49 per motorcycle.

We will keep you posted on this and other topics as lawmakers continue the process of drafting a new transportation and infrastructure package in 2020.

Rocky & Tiffany
The Motorcycle Riders Foundation