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You Decide!

Tuesday, April 22, 1997

Mr. Otto Matheke
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
400 Seventh Street, SW
Washington, DC 20590

RE: Roadside Helmet Testing

Dear Mr. Matheke,

Thank you very much for our phone conversation today, it was very informative. As we discussed, the California Motorcycle Helmet Law specifies that helmets must meet FMVSS 218 standards and that manufacturers are responsible for helmet certification with this standard and affixing a DOT sticker and motorcyclists need only wear a helmet that has this DOT sticker to comply with the law.

In reality, compliance and enforcement of our law seems problematic and confused as law enforcement and the courts are tending to put the burden of assuring this certification on the motorcyclist and law enforcement, rather than the manufacturer.

As I mentioned, I received a ticket for non-compliance for a helmet that had DOT sticker when I bought it. The deputy issued the ticket based on seeing it from his car. He never held it or inspected it. As a matter of fact, he never got closer than about 2 car lengths as it was on my motorcycle. The court ruled in arraignment that I was in compliance because it had a DOT sticker and dismissed the case. Almost a year later, I received another ticket from the same deputy for the same helmet for the same alleged problem: non-compliance. This time he held and inspected the helmet for about a minute.

This type of roadside analysis is common and the logical result of not having a list of helmets that have definitely passed FMV 218. Since the NHTSA tests many helmets each year it would seem more productive and logical for our state (or any state) to simply review your test data and compile a list of helmets that pass. This would surely eliminate any questions of compliance and free the consumer and law enforcement from "guessing" at a very specific standard.

1) I would like to know the nature of how NHTSA tests a helmet and if it is possible for someone to determine if a helmet is positively in full compliance with FMVSS 218 by holding a helmet or visually inspecting it from one's car.

2) And lastly, could I get a copy of the FMV 218 testing protocol that you mentioned?

Thank you very much for your time and help with this matter.

Steven Shmerler

And here's NHTSA's response, 4 months later...

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