oversight

Highway Safety: NHTSA's Activities Concerning State Motorcycle Helmet Laws

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-06-25.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

      United States

GAO   General Accounting
      Washington,
                            Office
                    D.C. 20548


      Resources,  Community,    and
      Economic   Development    Division


      B-277243


      June 25, 1997


      The Honorable Don Young
      House of Representatives

      Subject:      Highwav Safetv: NHTSA’s Activities               Concerning      State
                    Motorcvcle Helmet Laws

      Dear Mr. Young:

      As you requested, we reviewed the National Highway Traffic Safety
      Administration’s  (NHTSA) activities encouraging states to enact motorcycle
      helmet laws or discouraging the repeal of such laws. In particular, you asked
      that we determine (1) what activities NHTSA has carried out to promote the
      enactment of or discourage the repeal of state motorcycle helmet laws and
      (2) whether NHTSA has the authority to undertake these activities. Enclosure I
      transmits the briefing charts that formed the basis for our June 23, 1997,
      meeting with your staff.

      RESULTS IN BRIEF

      Since the fall of 1995, NHTSA has undertaken a number of activities designed to
      encourage the enactment of state motorcycle helmet laws or discourage the
      repeal of existing state laws. NHTSA has provided state safely organizations
      with technical assistance and information, met with state highway safety
      officials, sent letters to state legislators and governors, and had telephone
      conversations with and sent letters to officials from a variety of other
      organizations (e.g., health care organizations) that, in part, were designed to
      promote the enactment of or discourage the repeal of state motorcycle helmet
      laws. According to NHTSA, its officials testified six times and submitted one
      statement for the record before state legislative committees on these issues. In
      some cases, NHTSA undertook these activities at the request of state highway
      safety and other officials; in other cases, NHTSA acted on its own initiative.
      NHTSA also has conducted other activities, such as producing videotapes,
      participating  in professional conferences and meetings, performing or
      supporting studies related to the benefits of using motorcycle helmets, and
      producing printed materials that generally have emphasized highway and
      motorcycle safely. However, for the most part, these activities have not

                      GAO/RCED-97-185R     NHTSA’s   Activities   Concerning   State Motorcycle   Helmet   Laws
B-277243

specifically focused on the enactment of state helmet laws. Excluding salaries,
NHTSA’s budget for all motorcycle helmet safety activities averaged about
$74,000, or about three-tenths of 1 percent of its average budget of $24 million
for traffic safety programs for fiscal years 1994-97.’

NHTSA has broad statutory authority to conduct activities relating to highway
safety. Specifically, NHTSA is authorized and directed to assist and cooperate
with state governments, among others, to increase highway safety.2 In addition,
NHTSA is required to establish a data collection/reporting    program to assist in
reducing traffk-related    deaths and injuries and conduct research and
development activities to promote highway safety.3 However, NHTSA’s
authority is not without limits. For example, NHTSA is not permitted to require
that states enact laws mandating motorcycle helmet use by adults in connection
with highway safety grants4 Furthermore, provisions of federal law prohibit
executive agencies from using appropriated funds to conduct certain activities
designed to support or defeat legislation.5 However, these provisions apply only
to activities that are designed to influence a Member of Congress or support or
defeat federal legislation. The activities by NHTSA that we reviewed were
directed at encouraging state governments-not      the Congress-to enact or not to
repeal motorcycle helmet laws. In our opinion, the activities that we reviewed-
NHTSA’s testimony prepared for use before state legislative committees and
 activities pertaining to the Texas motorcycle helmet law-fell within NHTSA’s
 authority to promote highway safety.




INHTSA could not provide us with activity-specific  information                   on
employees’ salaries; therefore, salary amounts are not included                   in either the
$74,000 or the $24 million.

‘See 23 U.S.C. 401.

3See 23 U.S.C. 402(a); 23 U.S.C. 403(a).

4See 23 U.S.C. 402(c).

5Department of Transportation     and Related Agencies Appropriations                    Acts,
Fiscal Years 1996 and 1997; Treasury, Postal Service and General
Government Appropriations     Act, Fiscal Year 1997; 18 USC.     1913.

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B-277243

AGENCY COMMENTS

We provided officials of the Department of Transportation      and NHTSA with a
draft of this report for review and comment. We subsequently met with NHTSA
officials, including the Director, Office of Traflic Injury Control Programs; the
Chief, Safety Countermeasures Division; and an attorney in the Office of the
Chief Counsel, who agreed with the information presented. We received
technical comments and clarifications and incorporated      them where
appropriate.

SCOPE AND METHODOLOGY

To address the review objectives, we met with and collected documents from
officials at several organizations, including officials from NHTSA headquarters
and the NHTSA Regional Office in Texas, the Chairperson of the Road and
Transportation Committee of the West Virginia House of Delegates, a staff
member for the Transportation      Committee of the California Senate, and the
Vice President for Governmental Relations of the Motorcycle Riders’
Foundation.     We examined documents that NHTSA uses to promote motorcycle
safety and state motorcycle helmet laws and obtained a list of NHTSA’s
activities from the fall 1995 to May 1997 in this area. We also examined
pertinent statutes to determine NHTSA’s authority and any specific limitations
on its authority to promote legislation. Finally, we considered whether
NHTSA’s testimony prepared for use before state legislative committees and
testimony delivered before the Texas House Transportation      Committee, as well
as other activities conducted in Texas, fell within the scope of NHTSA’s
authority. We did not specifically review NHTSA’s activities in other states.
However, we selected Texas because of the relatively high level of activity
NHTSA conducted there in 1997 that was directed at pending legislation to
repeal the existing state motorcycle helmet law.

We are sending copies of this report to interested congressional committees;
the Secretary of Transportation;  and the Administrator,   National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration.   Copies are available to other interested parties
on request.




            GAO/WED-97-185R   NHTSA’s   Activities   Concerning   State   Motorcycle   Helmet   Laws
B-277243

We performed our     work from April through June 1997 in accordance with
generally accepted    government auditing standards. Major contributors to this
report were Helen    Desaulniers, Susan Flemin g, and James Ratzenberger.  If you
or your staff have   any questions about this report, please contact me at
(202) 512-3650.

Sincerely yours,




Phyllis F. Scheinberg
Associate Director, Transportation    Issues

Enclosure




 4           GAO/RCED-97-185R   NHTSA’s   Activities   Concerning   State Motorcycle   Helmet   Laws
ENCLOSURE I                                                                        ENCLOSURE I




mf       OBJECTIVES

     l   What activities has NHTSA conducted to
         promote the enactment of or discourage
         the repeal of state motorcycle helmet
         laws?
     l   Does NHTSA have the authority to
         undertake these activities?




5              GAO/XCED-97-185R   NHTSA’s   Activities   Concerning   State Motorcycle   Helmet   Laws
ENCLOSURE: I                                                                       ENCLOSTJRE I




m!o      RESULTS IN BRIEF

 l   NHTSA’s activities to promote the
     enactment of or discourage the repeal of
     state helmet laws.
      -Testified before state legislative committees,
        provided technical assistance, met with state
        safety officials, and sent letters to state
        legislative officials, safety officials, and others.
      - Some of these activities requested by state
        officials; others initiated by NHTSA. Type and
        level of activity varies by NHTSA region.




                GAOIRCED-97-185R   NHTSA’s   Activities   Concerning   State Motorcycle   Helmet   Laws
ENCLOSURE I                                                                        ENCLOSURE I




GM         RESULTS IN BRIEF


       l   NHTSA is generally authorized by
           federal law
            - to assist states in increasing highway
              safety and to conduct research and
              development activities to promote
              highway safety.
       l   Promotional activities we reviewed fell.
           within the scope of NHTSA’s authority.




               GAO/RCED-97-185R   NHTSA’s   Activities   Concerning   State Motorcycle   Helmet   Laws
ENCLOSUIZE I                                                                        EtiCLOSUFtE I




w           BACKGROUND


        l   NHTSA’s mission is to foster programs
            that save lives, prevent injuries, and
            reduce traffic-related health care and
            economic costs.
            -According to NHTSA’s testimony
              before state legislative committees--“it
              is national transportation policy to
              encourage states to enact motorcycle
              helmet use laws for all riders.”




    8            GAOIRCED-97-185R   NHTSA’s   Activities   Concerning   State Motorcycle   Helmet   Laws
ENCLOSURE I                                                                        ENCLOSURE            I




MCI       BACKGROUND


      l   NHTSA encourages motorcycle helmet
          use and promotes state laws requiring
          such use because NHTSA has
          concluded
          - helmet use saved $5.9 billion in public and
            private costs between 1984 and 1992;
          - hospital costs for riders wearing helmets
            range from about $2,400 to $13,300 v.
            $3,400 to $30,400 for riders not wearing
            helmets;




9              GAOIRCED-97-185R   NJ3TSA’s Activities   Concerning   State Motorcycle   Helmet   Laws
ENCLOSURE I                                                                      ENCLOSURE I




MO     BACKGROUND

         - head injury is a leading cause of death
           in motorcycle crashes; and
         - since 1989, states that enacted
           universal helmet laws have
           experienced reductions in fatalities,
           ranging from 15% to 37% in the first
           year.




 10           GAO/RCED-97-185R   NETSA’s   Activities   Concerning   State Motorcycle   Helm&   Laws
ENCLOSURE I                                                                         ENCLOSURE I




~ZQIQBACKGROUND

     l   1991~-Intermodal Surface Transportation
         Efficiency Act required the transfer of highway
         construction funds to highway safety programs
         for states without universal motorcycle helmet
         use laws.
     l   1995National    Highway System Designation
         Act repealed the helmet provision; no change
         to NHTSA’s authority.
     l   Motorcycle Riders’ Foundation has concerns
         about NHTSA’s continuing activities in light of
         the 1995 act.




               GAOiRCED-97-185R   NHTSA’s   Activities   Concerning   State Motorcycle   Helmet   Laws
 ENCLOSUIXE I                                                                              ENCLOSURE I




MO            States With Motorcycle Helmet Use
              Laws (as of May 1997)




                                                                                Helmets   required for all riders (24 states)

                                                                          Wrl   Age-specific law (23 states)
                                                                                (Arkansas law repealed-effective      8197)
                                                                          m     No law (3 states)


Source:   NHTSA.




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 ENCLOSURE          I                                                                                ENCLOSURE I




MO             Mandatory Motorcycle Helmet Law
               Repeal Legislation (as of May 8, 1997)




                                                                                                Pending legislation (11)
                                                                                                Repealed helmet law (1)
                                                                                            m   Repeal effort defeated (8)
                                                                                            0   No repeal activity (30)


Note: References to pending legislation and repeals include bills to eliminate motorcycle helmet laws completely
as well as bills to impose motorcycle helmet requirements on the basis of a rider’s age.
Source: NHTSA.




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ENCLOSURE I                                                                                           ENCLOSURE I




MI            NHTSA’S BUDGET--MOTORCYCLE
              HELMET ACTIVITIES (FY 1994-97)

     Overall traffic safety program                                   Motorcycle safety program
 (Average annual budget, $24 million)                             (Average annual budget, $338,000)


                                                                                                        Helmet
                                                                                                        activities
                                                                                                        $73,530




                                                                                              motorcycle safety

                    Other traffic safety


Note: Amounts do not include the salaries of employees who carry out NHTSA’s traffic safety activities.      NHTSA could
not provide activity-specific information on employees’ salaries.

Source: GAO’s presentation   of NliTSA’s budget data.




  14                          GAO/RCED-97-185R       NIITSA’s   Activities   Concerning   State Motorcycle     Helmet   Laws
ENCLOSURE I                                                                       ENCLOSURE I




MO     NHTSA’S ACTIVITIES REGARDING
       STATE HELMET LAWS

     + Activities to promote enactment of and
       discourage the repeal of state helmet
       laws (fall 1995 to May 1997).
         -Testified 6 times before state legislative
           committees and submitted 1 statement for
           record, according to NHTSA.
         - Met with state highway safety officials.
         - Made phone calls/sent letters to state
           legislative, safety, and other officials.




15            GAO/RCED-97-185R   NHTSA’s   Activities   Concerning   State Motorcycle   Helmet   Laws
ENCLOSURE I                                                                        ENCLOSTJRE I




MO        NHTSA’S ACTIVITIES REGARDING
          STATE HELMET LAWS
          - Provided technical assistance and
            information (general legislative package,
            fact. sheets/statistics).
      l   In some cases, NHTSA responded to
          requests for assistance; in others,
          activities were self-initiated.
      l   NHTSA was more active in states with
          legislative activity.




 16             GAOiRCED-97-185R   NHTSA’s   Activities   Concerning   State Motorcycle   Helmet Laws
ENCLOSURE I                                                                      ENCLOSURE            I




GAO NHTSA’S ACTIVITIES REGARDING
    STATE HELMET LAWS
     l   NHTSA believes its activities are
         consistent with its mission.
         - Activities documented in printed
           congressional hearing record.




17            GAO/RCED-97-185R   NHTSA’s Activities   Concerning   State Motorcycle   Helmet   Laws
    ENCLOSURE I                                                                        ENCLOSURE I




MO           NHTSA’S LEGAL AUTHORITY

l     NHTSA is authorized and directed to assist
      state governments to increase highway
      safety (23 USC. 401).
          - NHTSA has concluded that motorcycle
            helmets are critical to ensuring rider and
            passenger safety.
          - NHTSA has concluded that universal
            motorcycle helmet use laws are the most
            effective way to ensure that riders and
            passenqers
                     _   wear helmets.




     18             GAOIRCED-97-185R   NHTSA’s   Activities   Concerning   State Motorcycle   Helmet   Laws
ENCLOSURE I                                                                        ENCLOSURE I




GAO NHTSA’S LEGAL AUTHORITY


     l   NHTSA is required to establish a data
         collection and reporting program to
         assist in reducing traffic-related deaths
         and injuries (23 U.S.C. 402(a)).
     l   NHTSA is authorized to carry out
         research and development activities to
         promote highway safety
         (23 U.S.C. 403(a)).




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ENCLOSURE I                                                                       ENCLOSURE I




MY        LIMITATIONS


      l   NHTSA’s authority to promote state
          helmet laws is not unlimited.
          - NHTSA cannot require states to
            mandate motorcycle helmets for
            adults in connection with safety
            program grants (23 U.S.C. 402(c)).




 20            GAO/RCED-97-185R   NHTSA’s   Activities   Concerning   State Motorcycle   Helmet   Laws
ENCLOSURE I                                                                       ENCLOSURE I




GM       NHSACT


     l   NHS Act removed the Secretary’s
         authority to transfer highway
         construction funds to highway safety
         programs for states without motorcycle
         helmet laws.
     l   NHS Act did not affect NHTSA’s
         authority to encourage states to enact
         motorcycle helmet laws or to discourage
         the repeal of existing laws.




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ENCLOSURE I                                                                       ENCLOSURE I




m         SCOPE OF REVIEW


      l   Reviewed selected activities since fall
          1995 in light of applicable statutory
          provisions.
          -Testimony prepared for use before
            state legislative committees.
          -Testimony delivered before the Texas
            House Transportation Committee.
          - Other activities in Texas (e.g., letters
            to state legislators).




22             GAOLRCED-97-185R   NHTSA’s   Activities   Concerning   State Motorcycle   Helmet   Laws
ENCLOSURE I                                                                          ENCLOSURE I




MO     TESTIMONY BY NHTSA BEFORE
       STATE LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEES
       l   NHTSA’s testimony prepared for use
           before state legislative committees was
           within its statutory authority.
           - Focused on effectiveness of helmets as
             safety device, issues raised in opposition
             to helmet laws, and the effect of laws on
             helmet use.             .

           - Based on results of safety research.
           - Emphasized that decision on helmets
             belonas to states.




23              GAOLRCED-97-185R   NHTSA’s   Activities   Concerning   State Motorcycle   Helmet   Laws
ENCLOSURE I                                                                       ENCLOSURE I




GM        ACTIVITIES BY NHTSA REGARDING
          TEXAS HELMET LAW
      0   Testimony given in Texas reflects “boiler
          plate” testimony.
          - Focused on safety; contained
            Texas-specific statistics and emphasized
            state’s responsibility for decision on
            helmet law.
      0   Other activities by NHTSA--such as letters
          encouraging opposition to repeal
          legislation--were designed to increase safety
          and were within statutory authority.




 24              GAO/RCED-97-185R   NHTSA’s Activities   Concerning   State Motorcycle   Helmet   Laws
ENCLOSURE   I                                                                      ENCLOSURE I




~ZQ+IINHTSA’S ACTIVITIES REGARDING
      STATE HELMET LAWS
     l   Federal lobbying provisions are not
         applicable to NHTSA’s testimony and
         activities we reviewed.
         - “[No funds] shall... be used directly or
           indirectly to pay for any...device, intended or
           designed to influence...a Member of
           Congress, to favor or oppose, by vote or
           otherwise, any legislation or appropriation by
           Congress....“(l996/1997 Department of
           Transportation Appropriations Acts and
           18 U.S.C.1913). (Emphasis added.)




25              GAO/RCED-97-185R   NHTSA’s Activities   Concerning   State Motorcycle   Helmet   Laws
ENCLOSURE I                                                                         ENCLOSURE I




MO         NHTSA’S ACTIVITIES REGARDING
           STATE HELMET LAWS
            - “No part of any funds appropriated in this or
              any other Act shall be used by an agency of
              the executive branch,...for publicity or
              propaganda purposes, and for the
              preparation, distribution, or use of any [item]
              designed to support or defeat legislation
              pending before the Congress....” (1997
              Treasury, Postal Service, and General
              Government Appropriations Act).
               (Emphasis added.)




(342940)

 26              GAOIRCED-97-185R   NHTSA’s   Activities   Concerning   State Motorcycle   Helmet   Laws
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