Motorcycle Roadblocks: Is NHTSA Playing Games?
By James Baxter, NMA President
The National Motorists Association has always opposed roadblocks, of any kind, and for any purpose other than warning travelers of an unforeseen danger; e.g. a collapsed bridge, flooded roadway, or multi-vehicle crash scene. Therefore it stands to reason that we would oppose the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) issuance of financial grants to fund motorcycle only roadblocks. These are supposedly to improve motorcycle safety.
However, seeing there is no evidence that roadblocks improve safety, regardless of vehicle type, and this seems more a tactic to harass the target population, it’s fair to ask the question “why is NHTSA wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars, gas tax dollars, on this kind of boondoggle?
Is it just a thinly disguised attempt at payback?
The motorcycling community has had a long running battle with NHTSA over two related issues; helmet laws and using federal funds to lobby and coerce states to pass mandatory helmet laws.
In the late 1960’s Ralph Nader Peaked as an evangelical safety star, NHTSA was born and Congress passed a number of edicts that threatened the states with the loss of federal highway funds if the states did not enact certain safety laws. One such mandate was the requirement that every state pass a universal mandatory helmet law. All the states, but two, CA and IL, fell into line and passed this law. Thus began a long legislative slog on the part of motorcyclists to reclaim their right to make decisions concerning their own welfare, like whether or not to wear a helmet.
Finally, in 1977, Congress was persuaded to repeal the law that would withhold federal funds from states that did not have mandatory helmet laws. However, the motorcycle rights movement followed up with additional provisions prohibiting NHTSA from lobbying the states to pass legislation, including mandatory helmet laws. Congress agreed and passed these restrictions on NHTSA’s state based activities. (Candidly, NHTSA has easily worked around these restrictions, using loop holes in the law, but they most likely remain an irritant to agency functionaries who would prefer to use the direct approach.)
It’s not a major stretch, for an unbiased observer, to conclude that this whole motorcycle roadblock campaign is just a thinly disguised effort to “stick it to” the motorcycle rights organizations that have successfully stymied NHTSA’s anti-motorcycle agenda. And politicians wonder why the general public does not support increasing fuel taxes, so we can have more great federal programs like motorcycle roadblock grants?