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May 20, 2012 at 7:58 PMComments: 4 Faves: 0

The Helmet Law - This Doctor's Opinion

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

When my children give me excuses about not wearing their bike helmets, I threaten to take them to the local hospital where they rehabilitate traumatic brain injuries. I tell them about “that kid” who crashed not wearing a bike helmet. Recently, in my state, the motorcycle helmet law was repealed. Now, I feel like grabbing those helmetless motorcyclists I see on the roads and giving them the same spiel. 

Motorcycles Are a Dangerous Way to Travel

Studies show the prevalence of motorcycle use is increasing, likely due in part to rising gas prices. Motorcycles accelerate rapidly and reach high top speeds. They are less stable in emergency braking situations and are less visible to motorists.

The general trend is that motorcycle-related deaths are increasing, reaching a high of 5112 in 2008.  In contrast, motor vehicle deaths are decreasing. This is likely due to improving safety factors such as better structural engineering, airbags and antilock brakes. Based on recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motorcyclists are 37 times more likely to die in a traffic accident per mile traveled.

Helmets - Why They're More Than Worth It

Opponents to helmet laws site decreased visibility and hearing caused by helmet use. These accusations have not been substantiated. The fact of the matter is, when a motorcyclist crashes, there is no seatbelt to restrain the driver. They are propelled from their bike, often striking the pavement. The head is the most commonly injured part of the body leading to death upon collision with a hard surface. In fact, this is the most common cause of death among unhelmeted riders. 

Helmet use decreases the risk of death from head injury, severity of head injury and recovery time and cost. 

NHTSA and privately acquired data estimates that a helmet decreases the risk of death by 37- 42% in the event of a crash. When California enacted a helmet law, the helmet use rate rocketed to nearly 100% and motorcycle deaths decline by 37%. A similar situation in Nebraska decreased deaths by 22%. And guess what? When laws are enacted in an opposite fashion, deaths increase.

Simple, Deadly Math

Traumatic head injuries are devastating and prolonged hospitalization and rehabilitation are common with them. Afterward, cognitive losses often leave the victim disabled from their former livelihood. People seldom consider that, not only can the refusal to wear a motorcycle helmet cost your life, but if you are so lucky as to live, it can leave you permanently disabled. 

Some that don't ride motorcycles still support non-helmeted riding based on the threat that laws prohibiting it will decrease tourism revenues. They figure if those riders do die anyhow, it's their choice and it won't affect them. However, they seldom consider that while insurance companies may foot the bill, this cost is spread to consumers via increased premiums, and if a person becomes disabled and goes on long-term disability, funds for this come from taxes. Cost also comes in dollar values - and the general public is often left with the tab.

In conclusion...

When I see a person riding a motorcycle without a helmet, the descriptors “free” and “liberated” do not come to mind. I consider this irresponsible. Such actions may cost them their life or livelihood. And this cost may be passed along to society. The bottom line: Helmet use saves lives.

How do you feel about this issue?


Photo Credit:

Renee Silverman

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  • I'm all about safety when riding. Actually, I'm not even up to getting back on my bike until I get some sort of protective gear for my ileostomy wound. I'm concerned that if I fall and land on it, serious damage could occur. :(

  • I agree that it is insane to ride without a helmet. I fell off of my bicycle when I was 9 going about 1 mph and did some serious damage to my head and face without a helmet. I can't even imagine going 35-70 mph with no helmet. Yikes! My problem is, why is there no helmet law but the seat belt law is still in effect? Are we actually going to hurt ourselves more in a car than they are on a bike? I think not! So why, when I go eight blocks to the store at no more that 25 mph in a car, do I have to worry about a 65 dollar ticket when a biker can go with no helmet? Doesn't feel fair at all. Now I'm not saying that seat belts are not important. They are saving lives. But you shouldn't have to have the cops tell you to put it on when you are going 55 mph. You should be smart enough to say... "hey, if someone crosses the yellow line right now, I would die without a seat belt." But I suppose laws are for the idiots, and we still have to abide by them at all times.

  • I'm not against motorcycles at all. They look like a lot of fun, but I often see motorcyclists taking advantage of their small size on the road, zipping in and out of traffic.

    I'm thinking from the perspective of a car driver, but if - God forbid - I didn't see a motorcyclist and merged over into them - something I don't think it that difficult of a scenario to understand - and I ended up with manslaughter on my record when it might have only been an injury, because they decided they looked cooler without a helmet - OH MAN, would I be angry!

    Come on. You look cooler alive than you will with cheese grater face and dead. Just wear the dang helmet.

  • I feel that it's their choice if they want to wear a brain bucket or not. Personally I always wear them and I'm not talking about the half arsed skid lips that cover just the top, but a full face MotoX style helmet. Those type also look the coolest! :^D

    Still I hate the idea of Cops going around and enforcing a helmet law. It's a personal responsibility and if they choose not to wear one than that is their decision. It's just like the seat belt law. I want cops looking for crimes not my seat belt.

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