NHTSA CLARIFIES DOT STICKERS
(Quincy, MA) While Massachusetts motorcyclists have found themselves subject to a frenzy of police harassment for what police allege are improper helmets, it appears that the evidence police apply for their probable cause of such “suspect helmets” is not valid according to Frank Seales, Chief Council for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Police officers commonly state that their “probable cause” to stop motorcyclists for suspect helmets is based upon the absence of a sticker bearing the letters “D.O.T.” on the rear of the helmets. Some officer may also examine the interior of helmets for Manufacturer labels.
In a letter addressed to ABATE of Massachusetts Legislative Specialist William Gannon of Quincy, Massachusetts, Seales states, “In regard to individual consumers and their own helmets, Federal law does not prohibit the helmets owner or any other person that is not a manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or repair business from removing or covering the label from a motorcycle helmets. Thus, the owner of a motorcycle helmet is permitted to remove or cover the label from his or her helmet for any reason without violating any provision of Federal law.”
Based upon Seales statement in his capacity as federal standard expert, police officers will now have to seek other techniques in order to discern if a motorcyclists helmet is improper. Gannon stated, “The absence of a D.O.T. label on the back of the helmet or a manufacturer’s label inside a helmet at the time a citation is issued is not evidence of non-compliance. It’s clear that Federal Law does not require that the sticker or labels remain on the helmet after it is purchased so police officers intent upon violating Biker’s fourth amendment rights are going to have to find a new method to use to do so.”
Ironically many police officers responsible for writing an exorbitant amount of “improper” helmet citations actually educe their reasoning from NHTSA brochures. In an inept attempt to inform motorcyclists how to buy a “so-called” approved helmet, Massachusetts Governor’s Highway Safety Bureau distributes a brochure developed by NHTSA entitled “How To Identify Unsafe Motorcycle Helmets.” The brochure informs consumers to look for the D.O.T. sticker and manufacturers label when purchasing a helmet. While distribution of the brochure has had no effect on consumer purchasing, police officers erroneously use the labeling information to effect probable cause needed to stop and cite motorcycle riders.