What is the NHTSA and how does it affect my bike riding?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is a federal agency, established in 1970 by the Highway Safety Act. Its purpose is to regulate traffic, motorized vehicles, and highway standards, in order to promote safety and prevent damage—both physical and financial. It primarily focuses on three main facets of traffic safety: research, education and enforcement.

NHTSA Focus

Research

Research into traffic and bike injuries helps track safety standards and provides the program with relevant and up-to-date information, which can be used to adjust or create safer traffic guidelines and laws. For example, data collected over the past few years suggesting that Hispanic and Latino immigrants rely heavily on bike transportation has convinced the NHTSA to broaden their guidelines and make Spanish safety materials widely available for state and national traffic officials.

Education

Education is a large part of the NHTSA’s goal to promote traffic safety. The agency hopes that by providing research and teaching materials, communities will realize how important safety standards and guidelines are both for themselves and for their neighbors. NHTSA even has a specific guideline (Highway Safety Program Guideline No. 14), which outlines that “each State should develop and implement a comprehensive bicycle safety program that promotes safe practices, and educates drivers to share the road with others.”

Enforcement

The NHTSA also provides national leadership, planning, promotion, and funding for safety enforcement, including developing improved driver education, licensing, enforcement, prosecution, judicial, and post-adjudication efforts.

Although bikes don’t posses motors and aren’t allowed on highways, when they’re on the roadway, by law, they’re considered to be vehicles with the same rights and responsibilities as motorized vehicles—thus putting them under the jurisdiction of the NHTSA. So the next time you decide to take a bike ride around Dupont Circle, you should make sure you’re well versed in the bicycle guidelines, safety materials, and regulations of the NHTSA, not only to prevent possible legal action for disobedience but also to prevent a possibly tragic accident.

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