Motorcycle Resurgence and Highway Safety

By: Christopher Hart

Motorcycles are everywhere and the numbers are increasing. Business executives, government officials, celebrities, empty nesters, young and middle age adults, teens and couples have discovered and in some cases, are rediscovering the joys of ridings on two(and sometimes three) wheels. Some riders are commuting daily, others have become weekend riders, and as the weather gets warmer, many more will hop on their bikes and explore the open roadways.

Without a doubt, driving and riding on a motorcycle is exhilarating. Some describe it as one of the greatest expressions of freedom on the highway. Not only that, but, motorcyclists, with their stylish jackets, their leather chaps, their boots and personalized helmets, have a certain hip edge to them. Then, there are the bikes themselves. They range from high performance street racing bikes to the widely known and highly regarded vehicles. Motorcycles have become an expression of the owner.

With the Memorial Day holiday just around the corner, let’s all be reminded to put highway safety first. It is a shared responsibility – motorists traveling in cars and trucks must look out the motorcyclists. And motorcyclists must also take precautions to prevent accidents.

In 2007, the NTSB made a recommendation urging all 50 states and the District of Columbia to enact a universal helmet law requiring that all persons on a motorcycle wear a DOT compliant helmet. This safety gear is designed with a hard outer shell, an impact-attenuating liner, and a retention system to protect the structure and contents of the head in a variety of impact scenarios. Today, only 19 states and DC have a universal helmet law. Another 38 states have partial helmet laws, and three states have no helmet law at all.

History has shown that when states enforce highway laws such as speed limits, curbing impaired driving, banning the use of portable electronic devices, and requiring the use of occupant restraint systems like seat belts or child safety seats, highway accidents and injuries are reduced. Every additional state that enacts a universal helmet law will make our roadways even safer.


Until then, motorcyclists hopefully will not wait for a law. Safety starts with the individual. Before you take off on your motorcycle, do the right thing – think safety first, and put on your helmet.

Christopher A. Hart was sworn in as a Member of the NTSB on August 12, 2009 and designated by the President for a two-year term as Vice Chairman of the Board on August 18. Member Hart joined the Board after a long career in transportation safety, including a previous term as a Member of the NTSB.

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