As an avid motorcyclist myself, and as the Secretary of the agency charged with road safety, I’m deeply concerned that the pastime I love has such a troubling safety record. Yearly increases in motorcycle fatalities and injuries have plagued the nation for nearly a decade. Yet we’ve seen a rise in the use of so-called “novelty” helmets, which aren’t safety-test or certified, and which do little to protect riders during an accident.
I’m a rider and I’ve been in a crash where I laid down my bike on the blacktop and my helmet took the impact of the crash. The safety-tested and certified helmet I was wearing, which is battered and bruised and will never be used again, sits in my office as a reminder that it could have been my head that suffered those blows.
The simple lesson is this: If you’re a rider like me, you’ve got to take responsibility for wearing the right gear, including a DOT certified helmet, so you don’t end up as a brain injury patient.
That’s why today, we’re proposing new safety rules to make it harder for vendors to sell unsafe novelty helmets or for riders to get away with wearing them. Our ultimate goal is to make it easier for riders to know in advance whether the helmet they buy will keep them safe.
We are proposing to do that by requiring manufacturers to place a larger, tamper-proof DOT label on the back of certified helmets that have been through a range of safety tests. That’s because we’ve seen many cases of people putting fake DOT stickers on novelty helmets that don’t pass muster on safety. Trust me, I’ve seen the cross section of one of these novelty helmets and you don’t want to be relying on one to protect you in an accident.
Importantly, our proposal would also strengthen the tests helmets must go through to receive DOT certification, including updated tests on how the helmets hold up during impact, whether objects can penetrate the helmet and how well the helmet stays in place during a crash.
There’s a good reason for the safety changes we’re proposing today. In fact, fatalities have more than doubled since 1997--increasing by 144 percent. Motorcycles account for about 3 percent of the vehicles on the road, but they represent 13 percent of all crashes. Yet new data indicate that nearly one in five motorcycle riders in states with helmet laws wear a non-compliant helmet.
Ultimately, safety begins with the riders themselves. Riders must do more to protect themselves by taking personal responsibility for their own safety, including wearing a DOT certified helmet.
You know, the good news is that more Americans than ever are experiencing the freedom of the open road through motorcycling. It’s a great feeling to gear up for what might be a quick commute or a longer pleasure ride, to feel the wind in your face and see the blacktop stretching into the distance before you. That’s why I love it and that’s why I ride. So to all those riders who love it as much as I do, I say gear up and ride safe.