Jun 6, 2007

On Motorcycle Helmets and Common Sense

I am a freedom-loving sort of person, and I dislike in general the creation of new laws that inhibit personal freedom. Yet I scratch my head at the resistance by many motorcycle riders to accept state laws mandating the use of motorcycle helmets.

I watch my Harley-riding neighbor fire up his machine. He wears clunky black boots to protect his feet and ankles, gloves to prevent rocks and debris from striking his hands, and dons a pair of motorcycle sunglasses to protect his eyes from glare and dirt.

Yet this person never wears a motorcycle helmet.

In terms of vehicle miles traveled, motorcyclists are approximately 21 times as likely as passenger car occupants to die in a traffic crash and four times as likely to be injured. The NHTSA found that helmets reduce the risk of death by 29% and are 67% effective in preventing brain injuries to motorcycle riders.

The NHTSA studied four states that repealed helmet laws in the 1990s, and found that the rate of fatalities among motorcycle riders rose significantly. In Kentucky there was a jump of 58%, while Arkansas recorded an increase of 29%; motorcycle fatalities rose 37% in Texas following the repeal of helmet laws, while in Louisiana there was a whopping 108% increase in fatalities among motorcycle riders in the two years after the repeal of helmet laws.

And - for those who might argue that this is an issue of personal choice - remember too that all of us pay for the splattered brains of injured motorcyclists whose stubborn refusal to wear helmets leads to expensive stays in the ICU or lifelong disability care.

Ohio is a state with a watered-down helmet law, which applies only to minors. From the Ohio Revised Code, 4511.53 Rules for Bicycles, Motorcycles and Snowmobiles:
No person who is under the age of eighteen years, or who holds a motorcycle operator's endorsement or license bearing a "novice" designation that is currently in effect as provided in section 4507.13 of the Revised Code, shall operate a motorcycle on a highway, or be a passenger on a motorcycle, unless wearing a protective helmet on his head, and no other person shall be a passenger on a motorcycle operated by such a person unless similarly wearing a protective helmet.
Of course, minors represent a small segment of the total motorcyclist population, so this type of law has little effect and, moreover, merely stigmatizes helmet use: only "kiddies" wear helmets, and when you are "grown up," you don't need a sissy-looking helmet.

Hell, to be honest, I think helmet use is a good idea for any vehicle on the road, including automobiles. Whatever you think of NASCAR, at least the drivers have enough common sense to wear helmets.

I was conversing with an acquaintance the other day about this subject, and he said that he used to be an anti-helmet stalwart until a recent event.

"My dad was in a wicked accident without a helmet, and he almost died from his head injuries," he said. "It took seeing him hooked up to life-support for me to realize that helmets are a necessary evil."

Just wear the helmet, people.


Anonymous said...

Another helmet Nazi strikes. You are no "freedom loving" person, and you are buying into the myth of helmet safety promoted by helmet manufacturers. Educate yourself: Bikers Rights

roger dodger said...

Three words - "improve gene pool." That is all!

historymike said...


So I'm a "helmet Nazi"? Fine. And your argument that wearing helmets is a conspiracy of helmet manufacturers borders on the retarded.

historymike said...

Roger Dodger:

Yes, that might be true, but not all anti-helmet cyclists are knuckle-dragging Neanderthals.

However, their resentment toward mandatory helmet use - while camouflaged with rhetoric like "Bikers' Rights" - is shortsighted and deadly.

goldiron said...

I am not against helmets nor for them. In some low impact crashes they are quite useful. Helmets can not protect the brain from coup-contrecoup. Helmet laws are fairly ineffective at accomplishing decreased death rates. The causation of death in motorcycle crashes by ranking are blunt force trauma to the torso followed by bleeding and in a distant third is head injury. Possibly the error of helmet laws is a misguided public on what a helmet can actually accomplish. Many feel that helmets are a panacea to motorcycle death and maiming. Unfortunately, this is not true. Should people choose to add veracity to their argument of protecting motorcyclists, they might offer a solution to the causation of the accidents rather than the possibility of surviving them.

kooz said...

anonymous calls you a helmet nazi and then links you to Bikers Rights.

Then, sometime in the future when he or someone he knows is seriously injured or killed...he will be complaining that he was never warned and linking everyone to a site that promotes wearing a helmet...because he lost a loved one....Its the same as the smoking ban. The line of thinking goes like this:

Don't tell me how to destroy my life...but when it gets destroyed...I will blame everyone but me.

I do have to kind of laugh picturing you in a nazi style bikers helmet HistoryMike.

microdot said...

I don't ride a motorcycle, but I am a passionate cyclist. I rode for many years disdaining helmets and surviving a few nasty accidents without landing on my head. My shoulders aren't the same shape anymore..but ....
About a month ago, my buddy Enzo who does wear a helmet came home from a ride in a totally disoriented state.
He had an accident with a car and sustained a slight concussion. If he hadn't been wearing the helmet, he would have a crushed skull. I decided then and there. Wear the Helmet!
None the less, a recent study showed that car drivers tended to be more careful around helmet-less bike riders.

I'm still wearing it!

MP said...

I had a buddy long ago- Tim Rowe. He was a motorcycle cop down in Atlanta, GA. He was killed in the line of duty after a simple mistake left him colliding head-first into a semi.

Yes, he was wearing a helmet. No, the helmet couldn't have saved his life. I probably don't need to tell anyone this.

Regardless, if there's a safety precaution that even COULD save your life, why wouldn't you take it? Perhaps the majority of motorcycle deaths aren't due to head trauma, but if something could at least potentially eliminate one cause of death in an accident, I fail to see the common sense in not doing it. We all buckle up, right?

Me, I'm just going to stay the hell off of motorcycles. I'm happier that way.

The Screaming Nutcase said...

I encourage every motorcyclist I mmet not to wear a helmet...we need to fix the organ shortage somehow, people!

Hooda Thunkit said...

I've heard helmets often referred to as brain buckets, which to my way of thinking, probably has some basis in fact.

IMO, helmets help, a lot. But when the accident is severe enough, the brain bucket will make retrieving the head easier.

True, this is a grim prospect, but one that I have second-hand knowledge of in one case.

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