NHTSA Effort to Strengthen Safety of Motorcycle Helmets Spoiled by Preemption Language

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NHTSA Effort to Strengthen Safety of Motorcycle Helmets Spoiled by Preemption Language  

For Immediate Release: December 1, 2008

Contact: Jennifer Fuson
202.965.3500, ext. 8369

NHTSA Effort to Strengthen Safety of Motorcycle Helmets Spoiled by Preemption Language

Washington, DC— In an effort to strengthen the safety of motorcycle helmets, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) proposed rule on motorcycle helmets still gives corporations a “get out of jail free” pass, according to comments submitted to the agency today by the American Association for Justice (AAJ).

NHTSA’s proposed rule, while significantly increasing the safety requirements of motorcycle helmets, includes language that could preempt state tort law claims related to motorcycle helmets.  The language, known as preemption, attempts to prohibit consumers from legally holding helmet manufacturers accountable for helmets that meet NHTSA’s minimum safety standard proposed by this rule. 

“On the one hand, the agency tries to strengthen the helmet safety standard for consumers, but then attempts to takes away consumers’ right to hold manufacturers accountable for the products they produce,” said AAJ President Les Weisbrod.

In a NHTSA report on motorcycle helmet effectiveness, the agency acknowledged that technological changes over the years have led to improvements in helmet design and materials that have saved thousands of lives. The agency data showed the effectiveness of helmets increased from 29 percent in 1982 through 1987, to 37 percent between 1993 through 2002, saving the lives of 7,808 riders. 

“Clearly technology made a difference in thousands of motorcycle riders’ lives, however, if NHTSA’s proposed rule continues with the preemption language, manufacturers of helmets have little incentive to continue to make helmets safer for consumers,” added Weisbrod.  “The civil justice system provides an added incentive that NHTSA’s helmet proposal erodes.”       

The motorcycle helmet rule is just one of 21 proposed rules from the Bush administration that AAJ is monitoring that include preemption language.  For a list of the rules AAJ is watching to be made final in the last weeks of the Bush administration, see http://www.justice.org/Regulatory_rules_not_finalized.pdf .

View a copy of the comments AAJ submitted on motorcycle helmets here.

As the world's largest trial bar, the American Association for Justice (formerly known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America) works to make sure people have a fair chance to receive justice through the legal system when they are injured by the negligence or misconduct of others—even when it means taking on the most powerful corporations. Visit http://www.justice.org/newsroom.

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