Highway Safety:

NHTSA's Activities Concerning State Motorcycle Helmet Laws

RCED-97-185R: Published: Jun 25, 1997. Publicly Released: Jun 25, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) activities encouraging states to enact motorcycle helmet laws or discouraging the repeal of such laws, focusing on: (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.

GAO noted that: (1) 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; (2) NHTSA has provided state safety organizations with technical assistance had 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; (3) according to NHTSA, its officials testified six times and submitted one statement for the record before state legislative committees on these issues; (4) 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; (5) 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 safety; (6) however, for the most part, these activities have not specifically focused on the enactment of state helmet laws; (7) 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 through 1997; (8) NHTSA has broad statutory authority to conduct activities relating to highway safety; (9) specifically, NHTSA is authorized and directed to assist and cooperate with state governments, among others, to increase highway safety; (10) in addition, NHTSA is required to establish a data collection/reporting program to assist in reducing traffic-related deaths and injuries and conduct research and development activities to promote highway safety; (11) provisions of federal law prohibit executive agencies from using appropriated funds to conduct certain activities designed to support or defeat legislation; (12) however, these provisions apply only to activities that are designed to influence a Member of Congress or support or defeat federal legislation; and (13) the activities by NHTSA that GAO reviewed were directed at encouraging state governments, not the Congress, to enact or not to repeal motorcycle helmet laws.

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