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U.S. lawmaker: Is Centers for Disease Control trying to reduce motorcycle use?

November 21, 2013

U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) is asking the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention whether it is trying to reduce motorcycle ridership by pursuing a federal mandatory motorcycle helmet law, the American Motorcyclist Association reports.

The congressman is also questioning the economic impacts the CDC cited to support mandatory motorcycle helmet laws.

In a letter to CDC Director Thomas Frieden dated Nov. 21, Walberg, who is a lifelong motorcyclist, an AMA life member and a member of the Congressional Motorcycle Caucus, asked "...is it the goal or strategy of the CDC to reduce the use of motorcycles -- a legal mode of transportation -- by recommending and pursuing a federal helmet law?

"If so, how would this strategy be implemented and by what authority would it be instituted?" Walberg asked. He also questioned whether Frieden believes the CDC is the federal agency best suited to research and make recommendations related to transportation safety.

The CDC, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is headquartered in Atlanta.

Walberg sent the letter after analyzing a presentation titled "Economic Impact of Motorcycle Helmet Law: A Systematic Review." The presentation was made by the Helmet Law Review Team of the Community Preventive Services Task Force on Oct. 23. The 15-member task force, each of whom is appointed by the CDC director, makes recommendations to the CDC and reports to the U.S. Congress about community preventive services, programs and policies to improve health.

The task force is preparing to recommend that all states have universal helmet laws, which means that all riders, regardless of age, would be required to wear helmets.

In his letter, Walberg strongly opposed its findings and conclusions. One part of the presentation, in particular, "infers a positive awareness of helmet laws with the potential for reduced motorcycle use," Walberg said. "The presentation goes on to conclude that 'economic evidence shows that universal motorcycle helmet laws produce substantial economic benefits, and these benefits greatly exceed expected costs,' however, there is no reference whatsoever to the significant economic costs anticipated by reducing motorcycle use.

"In fact, the only costs identified by the Task Force on slide 37 are the costs of purchasing a motorcycle helmet and the enactment and enforcement costs of helmet laws, which are concluded to be negligible," Walberg said. "Not only does this contradict the earlier findings about how imposing motorcycle laws would discourage motorcycle use, but it ignores the positive economic impact motorcyclists provide.

"Motorcyclists not only enjoy riding on American roads, they also spend billions of dollars touring and attending rallies," he said. "Reducing motorcycle use would have a detrimental effect on the motorcycle industry, dealer sales, tourism, associated employment and related tax revenues. As an avid and experienced motorcycle rider, I believe government should be in the business of promoting the recreational, economic and environmental benefits of responsible motorcycle riding -- not discouraging it."

Wayne Allard, AMA vice president for government relations and a former U.S. representative and U.S. senator representing Colorado, praised Walberg for "asking some tough questions that need to be asked.

"The AMA doesn't understand why the Centers for Disease Control is involving itself in motorcycling when it is supposed to be protecting Americans from diseases," Allard said.

"Motorcycling is not a disease that needs to be eradicated," he said. "It's a legal form of transportation and a source of responsible recreation for millions of Americans nationwide.

"We anxiously await the CDC's answers to Rep. Walberg's questions," Allard said.

The AMA strongly advocates helmet use but believes adult helmet use should be voluntary. Simply put, mandatory helmet laws do nothing to prevent crashes. The AMA supports actions that help riders avoid a crash from occurring, including voluntary rider education, improved licensing and testing, and expanded motorist awareness programs.

To read the AMA position on voluntary helmet use, go to www.americanmotorcyclist.com/Rights/PositionStatements/VoluntaryHelmetUse.aspx.

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