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DC Insider: Federal agency expands authority from fighting diseases to studying how Americans use our highways


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Alongside the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there is a relatively new player looking at motorcycle safety on our roads and highways.

It is the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why the CDC? How is riding a motorcycle even in the CDC’s crosshairs? Is the CDC attempting to say that riding is a disease?

How is this possible? What is the CDC’s agenda?

The American Motorcyclist Association is asking these questions and may have found some answers.

The CDC came onto the AMA radar back in June 2012 with its release claiming that annual cost savings in states with universal motorcycle helmet laws were nearly four times greater (per registered motorcycle) than in states without universal helmet laws. It is no secret that the CDC wants more states to adopt mandatory helmet laws.

Then, it was the CDC’s February 2013 Federal Register notice on its proposed project titled “Costs and Cost Savings of Motor Vehicle Injury Prevention: Evidence-Based Policy and Behavioral Interventions.”

The AMA wanted the CDC to address our concerns with the proposed project’s goal to “collect information relating to the costs of implementing motor vehicle injury prevention interventions” to get— in their own words -- the “biggest bang for the buck.”

We learned that the CDC study would focus on 13 “interventions.” One is “motorcycle helmet use laws.”

Then the CDC struck again.

At its meeting in October 2013, the Community Preventive Services Task Force viewed a CDC staff-prepared presentation about the benefits of universal helmet laws. One of the slides links the adoption of universal helmet-use laws to a potential reduction in motorcycle riding, which would help meet the CDC’s goal to reduce injuries and fatalities.

Let me say that again: One of the CDC’s desired outcomes is the potential for reduced motorcycle use. (The task force had previously approved a recommendation for universal motorcycle helmet laws at its meeting in June 2013.)

The AMA questions the expertise and authority of the CDC and its task force in the traffic safety arena. Motorcycling is not a disease to be cured; it is a legal and legitimate means of transportation and recreation enjoyed by an estimated 11 million Americans.

U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) shared the AMA’s concern and sent a letter to the CDC on Nov. 21, 2013. In particular, Walberg wanted to know how the CDC has the authority to study highway safety.

The CDC responded by saying its authority is congressionally mandated.

Congressionally mandated?

This stimulated  investigative juices at the AMA. After months of research, the AMA discovered that the CDC’s authority comes from Section 399U of the Public Health Service Act. This is odd, because the PHS Act has been around for years.

Is Section 399U new and how did it amend the PHS Act?

Yes, the section is new. It was included in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. It increased the CDC’s authority and gave it a congressional mandate to study highway safety, among other things. Specifically, Section 4003(b)(1) of the ACA amended the PHS Act to include Section 399U.

How does Section 399U expand the authority of the CDC’s Task Force?

It expands the role of the Community Preventive Services Task Force by “… providing yearly reports to Congress and related agencies identifying gaps in research and recommending priority areas that deserve further examination, including areas related to populations and age groups not adequately addressed by current recommendations” (ACA, § 4003(b)(1); PHS Act § 399U(b)(6)) (ACA pages 425-426).

It also provides authority to the task force to study any area or topic it chooses. Under Section 399U, “Community preventive services include any policies, programs, processes or activities designed to affect or otherwise affecting health at the population level” (Emphasis added) (ACA, § 4003(b)(1); PHS Act § 399U(a) (ACA pages 425-426).

Although we can’t all agree on the validity of mandated helmet laws, I am sure we all can agree that this is blatant government overreach that can affect all our lives by administrative fiat.

This is how a federal agency once tasked to curing the world’s diseases is now studying our nation’s highways – and, for that matter, anything else it chooses.

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