Motorcycle Helmet Laws

State Highway Safety Plan Relevance Rankings

January 2007

Are YOUR state highway safety planners paying enough attention to Motorcycle Awareness and Motorcycle Safety?


CR State MA MS
 1 Rhode Island 2 3
 2 New York 1 6
 3 South Dakota 5 2
 4 New Hampshire 5 7
 5 Maryland 3 9
 6 California 6 11
 7 Ohio 7 12
 8 Montana 4 16
 9 Louisiana 4 17
10 Tennessee 9 13
11 Wisconsin 9 15
12 Kentucky 9 22
13 Vermont 8 29
14 Colorado 18 1
15 Utah 18 2
16 Oregon 14 8
17 New Mexico 10 11
18 Connecticut 15 9
19 Oklahoma 15 11
20 Illinois 18 4
20 Minnesota 11 13
21 North Dakota 18 5
21 Texas 15 14
22 Massachusetts 17 15
23 Michigan 17 17
23 Missouri 10 19
24 South Carolina 13 19
25 Georgia 17 18
26 Washington 12 25
27 Nevada 12 27
28 Indiana 11 29
28 Nebraska 12 28
29 Pennsylvania 16 26
30 Kansas 15 28
31 North Carolina 18 10
32 Florida 18 12
33 Arizona 18 16
34 Wyoming 18 20
35 New Jersey 18 21
36 West Virginia 18 23
37 Maine 18 24
38 Iowa 18 26
39 Hawaii 18 28
40 Arkansas 18 30
41 Mississippi 18 31
42 Delaware 12 33
43 Idaho 18 32
44 Alabama 18 33
44 Alaska 18 33
44 Virginia 18 33

Are your state highway safety planners spending their time and your tax dollars addressing your issues? Are they paying enough attention to what’s needed for Motorcycle Awareness and Motorcycle Safety?

One way to answer these questions is to analyze each of the 50 state’s current highway safety and performance plans for content relevant to motorcycle safety and awareness issues–including inattentive, distracted and cell phone conversation impaired drivers–and rank each state’s relevance scores against those of the remaining 49.

That’s exactly what I did, and the results are summarized in the table above. Here is the supporting research:

Background and Data Source

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA):

“In order to receive federal highway safety grant funds, State Highway Safety Offices (SHSO) must submit an annual Highway Safety Performance Plan (HSPP). Every state has a different process for preparing the annual plan and the content of those plans. While similar in many respects, the plans also differ from state to state.”


And according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):

“Every State is required to submit two plans: a Performance Plan and a Highway Safety Plan. Many States submit the two required plans as one single document.”

“The Performance Plan must set measurable highway safety goals for the State…. The Performance Plan must also include [a] description of all highway safety processes for:

Identifying problems
Setting goals
Setting performance measures
Selecting projects or activities
Involving constituency groups in the planning process
A list of data sources and information used in its development.”

“In addition, every State must submit a Highway Safety Plan (HSP) that describes specific highway safety programs and projects and relates how performance goals can be reached through these programs and projects. The HSP functions as a State strategic safety plan or road map and describes how the State will reach its goals…. The HSP must, at a minimum:

Include one year’s worth of Section 402-funded projects
Include a list of projects by program area (occupant protection, impaired driving, etc.)
Indicate which organization or agency will receive funding
Identify the funding amount
Ensure that at least 40 percent of the 402 funding either goes directly to local governments or benefits local governments
Be approved by the Governor’s Representative.”


NHTSA further explains:

“In the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), Congress directed that NHTSA make publicly available, on its web site, State highway safety plans, State annual accomplishment reports and NHTSA’s management review and special management review guidelines.”


As so required, most of the state highway safety plans for FFY07 (Federal Fiscal Year 2007, which began October 1, 2006) have been posted to the NHTSA website here:

Relevance Ranking Methodology

One way to gauge what issues highway safety planners are focusing on (and how much attention they are paying to them) is to identify key phrases associated with those issues, and determine how many times those phrases appear in their plan documents. These statistics can then be used to compute contextual relevance scores (relative rank weights descending from 50 to 0) that in turn serve as the basis for relevance rankings (relative ranks ascending from 1 to n). The logic behind the approach is similar to that applied by search engine ranking algorithms. And while the results are rarely perfect, the popularity of search engines like Google and Yahoo are a testament to their overall effectiveness and utility.

The key phrases I used to gauge relevance to Motorcycle Awareness included “motorcycle awareness”, “inattent”, “distract”, “cellular” and “cell phone”. The rationale for the first key phrase is obvious. The second identifies all references to “inattentional blindness”, driver “inattention”, and “inattentive” drivers. The third picks up driver “distraction” and “distracted” drivers, the fourth “cellular” phones and calls, and the fifth drivers impaired by “cell phones” and “cell phone” bans.

Note: This methodology did not identify phrases analogous to “motorcycle awareness”, e.g. the use of “public awareness” in a motorcycle context. Some may view this as a flaw, while others might see it as an encouragement for state highway planners to use more specific and appropriate terminology. (Either way, any appeals for a revised ranking should be accompanied by a check payable to “Cash” with a few zeroes at the end of the amount, as all research to date has been provided at no cost to the taxpayers and funded solely by yours truly! 😉

The key phrases I used to gauge relevance to Motorcycle Safety included “motorcycle safety”, “motorcyc”, and any mentions of the name or abbreviation for that state’s leading motorcyclists rights organization (SMRO), e.g. “ABATE of South Dakota” or the “Rhode Island Motorcycle Association”. The rationale for the first key phrase is obvious. The second identifies all references to “motorcycle”, “motorcycles”, “motorcycling”, “motorcyclist” or “motorcyclists”. The third test credits those state highway planners who explicitly acknowledge their SMRO, or engage them in their planning processes as NHTSA recommends:

“States are encouraged, but not required, to involve constituency groups in the planning process. Constituency groups can be local governments, other State agencies, nonprofit organizations, community programs, State or local chapters of national organizations, or even members of the public at large.”


Using these criteria and key phrases, I conducted relevance ranking analysis on each of the most recent state highway safety plans on file here with NHTSA (or obtained directly from state websites) as of 14 December 2006:

For all but a few states, these were the plans for Federal Fiscal Year 2007 (FFY07). I was unable to apply our methodology to the safety plans of three states: Alabama, Alaska and Virginia. The reason is that the PDF documents filed for these three states do not contain searchable text. They are actually “images” of the state plan documents, rather than the documents themselves. This is an undesirable filing practice by these states for a number of reasons, and hopefully ranking last in our analysis will encourage them to file their reports properly in the future.

Relevance Ranking Results and Recommendations

Applying the methodology just described, we were able to compute the Motorcycle Awareness (“MA”), Motorcycle Safety (“MS”) and Combined Relevance (“CR”) rankings presented in the table above. And what should you do with all this? I recommend the following:

Check out the relevance rankings for your state, and then take the time to READ THE ACTUAL PLAN it is based on. Once again, you can retrieve the PDF document here:


Remember, this is still the good ole USA! We are a democracy. The government is there to serve YOU. The politicians work for YOU. The bureaucrats work for YOU.

Let them know what matters to YOU. Let them know YOU are watching.

Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!