8 Ball In The Wind

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bureaucrats Are Mental

I have been going over some documentation put out by the federal government on helmets.  They are all filled with a twisted mentality that shows one of the major problems with the government; the bureacratic mentality.  This is the mentality that finds it completely unbelievable that people do not follow the rules, so more rules need to be made.  For example, they write a base line standard for a product that must be met for that product to be legally used in this country.  As a part of that standard, it is stated that it is up to the manufacturer to meet the standard.  Once the manufacturer certifies the product  meets the standard, that certification is considered true unless and until it is proven false at some later date.  The really bizarre part is, that the manufacturer doesn't have to test the product before they certify it.  Have I lost you yet?

Pages upon pages upon pages of the standard are filled with technical information on the proper way to test the product.  What the test parameters are, and even the definition of the proper position of the product during its test. Then in all those pages, the loopholes begin to crop up.  It is how the bureacrats react to the way people use the loopholes to get around the standard that shows just how mental they really are.  They do not tighten up the loophole directly, but make new rules about what people are doing to take advantage of the loophole.  There is an old saying that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.  But that is what bureaucrats do.  They make rules that people are supposed to follow.  When they find out some people aren't following them, they make additional rules, but the new rules only are more specific cariations of the old rules.  Same rules, over and over, just each time a bit more specific.  Many times the thing they alter in their safety standard has nothing at all to do with safety.  But everything about following their rules.

A case (or two) in point; motorcycle helmets.  Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 218 is all about motorcycle helmets.  Pages and pages of testing criteria.  Such as; the shape of the 'headform' the helmet is to be put on, the 'proper placement' of the helmet on the headform, and the proper way to test 'helmet restraint strap'.  Plus many more little variables all related to testing to prove that the helmet meets the standard to be sold.  Actually, that doesn't sound bad to me.  If I wanted to wear a helmet, I would want one that was going to be of some good, wouldn't you?

But, here's the catch; in all those pages of test criteria, it doesn't say that the manufacturer has to test the helmet to certify it.  But as long as the manufacturer certifies the helmet (whether they tested it or not) by placing the infamous DOT sticker on the helmet.  The sticker uset to just say DOT.  But because nearly two decades ago people started making their own stickers that said DOT and putting them on all sorts of helmets, the NHTSA bureacrats finally changed the rule about the sticker in 2011.  The rule went into effect in 2013.

Here are the new rules for the DOT sticker (pay no attention to the typographic errors, I left them in, that is how this latest technical standard reads):

RequiredCertification Information
The symbol “DOT”, horizontally centered on the label,in letters atleast0.38 inch (1.0 cm) high
The term “FMVSS No.218,” horizontally centered beneath the symbolDOT, in letters at least 0.09 inch (0.23 cm) high.
The word “CERTIFIED,”horizontally centered beneath the term “FMVSS No.218”,in letters at least 0.09 inch (0.23 cm) high.
The precise model designation, horizontally centered above the symbol DOT,in letters and/or numerals at least 0.09 inch (0.23 cm)high.
The manufacturer’s name and/or brand, horizontally centered above the model designation, in letters and/ornumerals at least0.09 inch (0.23 cm) high.
All symbols, letters, and numeralsare in a color that contrastswith the background of the label.
No information,otherthan the certification information listed above, appearson the certificationlabel.
The label appearson the outer surface of the helmet and isplaced so thatitiscentered laterallywith the horizontal centerline of the DOT symbollocated a minimum of 1 inch (2.5 cm)and a maximum of 3 inches (7.6 cm) from the bottom edge of the posterior portion of the helmet.

Now remember, those are the rules just for the sticker the manufacturer has to place on the helmet certifying the helmet meets the standard set by the government.  Yet in all the seventy one pages of the testing standard, it doesn't say the manufacturer has to test the helmet before applying the sticker certifying the helmet as meeting the standard.  Which is fine by the bureaucrats at NHTSA because their rules were followed.  Even though it means that helmets that don't meet the standard get certified as meeting it.

NHTSA contracts out random testing of helmets out to 'independent' test companies.  Of the records I have seen, spanning over thirty years, the 'failure rate' for 'certified helmets' has RISEN from 31% to 45%.  These are the same helmets that we (in about aone third of the country are MANDATED to wear).

When most people think of a helmet that doesn't meet the standard, they think of one of these, so called 'Novelty Helmets'.

I don't think anyone who wears one of these, or any number of similar helmets really expects it to give any protection in a crash.  But that's not the point.  The point is, when in Legislative Committee hearings, the Washington State Patrol has testified repeatedly how bad 'Novelty Helmets' are.  Obviously, people can look at these shells with straps and know they aren't going to do anything.  But let's take a look at another 'novelty helmet' for a moment.

One of the two green helmets above is a helmet that meets the standard, and passes the test.  The other, for some reason didn't pass all the rigid criteria so it isn't 'certified'.  It is sold as a 'Novelty Helmet' and retails for around $99.  Both are made by the same company.  Can you tell tell the difference, and know which one is 'certified'?  I'll tell you in a bit, but to add even more confusion, I will tell you this;  one of the helmets is 'certified', but neither of them is 'DOT approved'.

You see, DOT doesn't "approve" helmets.  They left themselves an out in the standard by leaving it up to the manufacturers to certify that helmets meet FMVSS 218 standard.  But they themselves, aren't responsible for certifying that fact.  Even when they get notice of a helmet model 'failing' a test, NHTSA simply notifies the manufacturer.  It is up to the manufacturer to redesign, recall, or decertify the helmet.  But that is okay with the bureaucrats because they did what they were suppose to do.  Anything else, "isn't their department".

Since most of the states that still have a mandatory helmet law use, or refer to FMVSS 218 as the standard for the law, there is an interesting loophole I have considered taking advantage of myself.  Manufacturing my own helmet, just one, and following explicitly the labeling criteria certifying it meets the federal standard.  Since no testing (which would ruin the helmets usefullness, if not outright destroy the helmet being tested) is required before certification of the helmet according to FMVSS 218, it would be a legal helmet until it was scientifically tested and shown not to be.  It is something to think about.  

If law enforcement cannot tell by looking at a helmet on your head if it is "certified" without the DOT sticker on it.  And there is no way a 'roadside' test can be done that would prove or disprove the manufacturers certification according to FMVSS 218.  It might be worth it to become a 'manufacturer' and go from there.

There are a lot of issues stemming from this whole 'Novelty Helmet' side of things.  One of the silliest, to me anyway, is the whole sticker issue.  It must be on the helmet before it can be sold.  Once you buy it, the helmet is yours, and you no longer have to have the sticker on the helmet if you don't want it there.  Sort of like the tag on mattresses that says "under penalty of law, do not remove".  That is to show the mattress meets the government standards for mattresses.  But when you buy the mattress, you can rip that tag right off, and no one will care.  Because it is your mattress, and you can do whatever you want with it.

Think about that next time you buy a new helmet, and see that DOT sticker.  Because if you take it off, which you are allowed to do according to NHTSA, law enforcement may stop you for a "non-approved" helmet.  But since they can't tell if it is or not, and the Washington State Court of Appeals has ruled that FMVSS 218 so "unconstitionally vague" it violates a citizens 14th Amendment Rights, fight the ticket in court.  It is up to you.

Oh, and could you tell which of the two green helmets was the 'Novelty Helmet"?  Think law enforcement could tell?  The helmet on the bottom. is the certified helmet.  The top green one is the 'Novelty Helmet'.  Don't believe me?  Go check out Biltwells website and see for yourself. 


Catch ya on the road sometime...

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