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Speeches

Remarks at the National Association of State Motorcycle Safety Administrators 2014 National Symposium, Working Cooperative to Implement Motorcycle Safety Countermeasures Baltimore, MD
 
Baltimore, MD
9/25/2014

Good morning Acting Chairman Kiley, Executive Committee members, and guests. Thank you for that warm introduction, for inviting the NTSB to be here today, and most of all for your longstanding efforts to improve motorcycle safety.
For those of you who are not familiar with the National Transportation Safety Board, or NTSB, we independently investigate accidents in all modes of transportation to find out what caused the accident, and then we make recommendations to prevent recurrences.
Our recommendations may be to regulators, such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), to state or local agencies, to vehicle operators, or to anybody else who can help make transportation safer.
But we at the NTSB cannot make the changes, and we cannot require others to make the changes.
Instead, we depend on the collaboration of those to whom we make our recommendations. They bring about safety improvements by acting favorably on our recommendations more than 80% of the time.
Later this morning, Don Karol, our Director of Highway Safety, will explain how we investigate accidents with prevention in mind.
Also with us today is Nicholas Worrell, a member of our advocacy staff, who is passionate about motorcycles and motorcycle safety, and who is an active and longstanding rider.
Show of hands – how many of you are also riders? Keep your hands up – now put your hand down if you've never taken a spill. You can put your hands down.
Nick advises me that there are two kinds of riders: those who have taken a spill and those who are going to.
Nick is one of many riders at the NTSB. And as a pilot, I can understand the excitement. When Nick tells me about the thrill of taking to the open road on two wheels, it reminds me of the thrill of flying a small plane.
But just like flying, riding a motorcycle demands precautions. As safety professionals and in many cases riders yourselves, you know just how important those precautions are.
And any rider knows that drivers also need to take precautions, such as keeping alert for riders and checking their mirrors when they change lanes.
That's why the “Share the Road” message resonates. When drivers do not share the road, sometimes there is nothing a rider can do to prevent an accident.
Let me tell you about one case:
Jim Lumley, a rider in his fifties, took his Kawasaki Ninja 650 to work on the morning of April 13, 2012. Jim rode to work that morning with his lights on, not to see the road more clearly, but so that drivers would see him.
As Jim approached an intersection where a car was waiting to make a left turn, by all indications, the driver had seen him. He proceeded through the intersection at about 25 miles per hour.
But the car turned into Jim’s path so suddenly that he did not even have time to touch his brakes.
Jim’s motorcycle struck the car’s right front side, and Jim was catapulted over his bike and onto the car’s hood. His head crashed into the car’s windshield.
According to NHTSA, there were nearly 5,000 motorcyclist fatalities in 2012, and 93,000 motorcyclist injuries. More than one out of every seven people who is killed on our roads is a motorcyclist.
The Governors Highway Safety Association has a preliminary report for 2013. It shows that fatalities per motorcycle registration have remained the same for 15 years, while the rate for passenger vehicles declined by almost half.
What do those data tell us? They tell that the progress we have made to improve motorcycle safety has been uneven.
For motorcycle safety to catch up, we need to identify, prioritize, and mitigate the specific risks that riders face. And to truly address those risks and enhance safety, we must be data-driven.
So I welcome you to this symposium in that same practical – and collaborative – spirit.
As you make or renew acquaintances in the motorcycle safety community this week, please bear in mind this symposium’s theme: Working Cooperatively to Implement Effective Motorcycle Safety Countermeasures.
NHTSA has worked, as we recommended, to prioritize its National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety, or NAMS. NHTSA has scored 69 countermeasures for their impact on motorcycle safety.
Far and away, the greatest impact score was for recommendation number 31, “Use effective strategies to increase use of [Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards] FMVSS 218 compliant helmets.”
Motorcycles, by their nature, afford their occupants less protection than other motor vehicles. Occupant protection is important to us at NTSB – so important that it is on our most wanted list of safety improvements. In motorcycle safety, strengthening occupant protection means increasing the use of effective helmets.
Some of you may have heard Jim Lumley’s story before. Even if you have not, you may have appreciated the significance of the date: April 13, 2012.
That’s because April 13, 2012, was the date that Michigan repealed its helmet law. And yes, Jim Lumley was a Michigan resident. It was legal for Jim to ride to work that morning without a helmet.
But Jim was wearing it. When his head hit the car’s windshield, the helmet was destroyed, but Jim survived.
As too often happens, no countermeasure prevented Jim’s accident.
But Jim lived. Despite nine months of grueling rehab he endured for a knee injury he suffered in the accident, he got married and became the stepfather of three children. He also continued to be the father of twin daughters in their twenties.
Today, Jim says he was lucky. More importantly, Jim was also smart. And it didn’t hurt that his daughter was working in a hospital emergency room at the time of the accident.
Her stories about riders who wore no helmets, or who wore “skullcap” helmets that did not protect the whole head, helped remind Jim to wear his own helmet. Jim opted for the best protection he could buy. He knew the stakes and “made his own luck.”
But not everybody has Jim’s luck, Jim’s smarts, or Jim’s frequent reminders.
For every rider without a helmet who died in a state with a universal helmet law in 2012, 10 died in states without a universal helmet law.
I know that the people in this room do not make the laws. And I know that the majority of your states do not have a universal helmet law.
But yours is an important voice that will be heard in legislative circles on motorcycle safety issues. You may have contact with state legislators; if you do not, you may have access to them.
You are the motorcycle safety experts in your states. Your legislators should be turning to you for accurate information.
You can help determine how motorcycle safety measures and messages are prioritized in your state’s programs.
You train motorcycle safety educators.
How you do your work can help to save lives. And that is what this symposium is about.
So over the next few days, collaborate and cooperate. Take this opportunity to dialogue with your colleagues about the full range of safety countermeasures.
Ask what can be done to prevent accidents from happening at all. And ask what can be done to protect riders when – not if – they do have accidents. Both questions are part of the important job of motorcycle safety.
For all the important work that you do, and will do, thank you.
And my best wishes for a productive symposium.