Despite Death Toll, Motorcycle Groups Strive to Muzzle U.S. Regulators

Anti-helmet law demonstrators in recent rally at state capitol in Albany, N.Y. (Skip Dickstein / Albany Times Union)

WASHINGTON – In a highly touted safety achievement, deaths on the nation’s roads and highways have fallen sharply in recent years, to the lowest total in more than a half-century. But motorcyclists have missed out on that dramatic improvement, and the news for them has been increasingly grim.

So it might be no surprise that biker groups are upset with Washington. The twist is what they are asking lawmakers and regulators to do: Back away from promoting or enforcing requirements for safe helmets, the most effective way known to save bikers’ lives.

Fatalities from motorcycle crashes have more than doubled since the mid-1990s. The latest figures show these accidents taking about 4,500 lives a year, or one in seven U.S. traffic deaths.

Yet if the biker groups’ lobbyists and congressional allies have their way, the nation’s chief traffic cop — the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA — will be thwarted in its efforts to reduce the body count. The agency would be blocked from providing any more grants to states to conduct highway stops of motorcyclists to check for safety violations such as wearing helmets that don’t meet federal standards.

Beyond that, the rider groups are seeking to preserve what essentially is a gag rule that since 1998 has prevented NHTSA from advocating safety measures at the state and local levels, including promoting life-saving helmet laws. And the bikers’ lobbyists, backed by grassroots activists and an organization whose members include a “Who’s Who” of motorcycle manufacturers, already have derailed a measure lawmakers envisioned to reinstate financial penalties for states lacking helmet laws.

Those moves partly are intended to maintain the bikers’ clout in state legislatures, which have kept rolling back motorcycle helmet regulations for three decades. With Michigan’s repeal in April of its nearly 50-year-old helmet requirement covering all riders, only 19 states have such helmet laws, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In the late 1970s, by contrast, 47 states had requirements covering all riders.

“This is…an interesting and dangerous road they are going down,” said Jackie Gillan, president of the Washington-based nonprofit Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “They are so emboldened now, not only do they try to repeal laws and stop them from being enacted, they try to stop the hands of law enforcement, saying you cannot use grant money to have motorcycle checkpoints. Can you imagine if they said the same thing about sobriety checkpoints?”

Biker groups, contending that helmet laws curtail personal freedom, say the federal government instead should emphasize rider training to prevent crashes from happening in the first place. They urge NHTSA, which has spent upwards of $30 million on training through an industry-endorsed grant program that Congress established in 2005, to step up that effort.

But it is far from clear that training does anything to reduce crashes or deaths. A 2007 Indiana study, for instance, found that riders who completed a basic training course were 44 percent more likely to be involved in an accident than untrained riders. Researchers speculated that the courses gave riders unwarranted confidence, and that they ended up taking more risks.

Emily Chow for FairWarning

Mandatory helmet laws are widely considered the closest thing to a silver bullet that regulators have to thwart deadly accidents. NHTSA estimates that helmets saved 1,483 lives in 2009, and that another 732 deaths could have been avoided if all riders had worn them. The social costs of the carnage are also huge: a 2008 agency estimate concluded that $1.3 billion in medical bills and lost productivity would have been saved if all bikers had worn helmets.

The paradox between what biker groups are lobbying for versus what most safety experts say really works riles regulators and other public health advocates.

“You cannot be in this battle and not be frustrated by this senselessness,” said Michael Dabbs, president of the Brain Injury Association of Michigan.

He added that the personal freedom that riders seek would have socially unacceptable consequences if carried to its logical extreme. “Maybe we ought to save some of the costs when police or emergency responders go to the scene of a crash and the person is not wearing a helmet,” Dabbs said. “Perhaps they ought to be left there like roadkill.”

The National Transportation Safety Board, an independent investigative and advisory agency, includes motorcycle helmets among its “most wanted” transportation safety improvements and has urged states to make them mandatory. Likewise, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland has said of helmets: “No other single countermeasure offers a comparable body of supporting scientific evidence confirming its potential for saving lives of motorcyclists.”

Libertarian Message

That motorcyclists have evaded the kind of regulation that has made seat belts and car seats standard equipment in other motor vehicles shows the influence of a vocal minority of riders whose libertarian message seems to resonate more than ever with lawmakers inside and outside the Beltway. And their efforts receive support from the leading motorcycle manufacturers. Manufacturers generally endorse the use of helmets but, loath to offend their customers, they also are an important dues-paying membership bloc in the American Motorcyclist Association, an ardent opponent of helmet laws.

For example, Harley-Davidson Inc. said through a spokeswoman that it “supports and encourages safety for all motorcycle riders, but believes in the personal freedom of people making the choices that are right for them regarding helmet use.”

The rider lobby’s powerful friends include U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., whose state is home to Milwaukee-based Harley-Davidson. He has led efforts in the House to block NHTSA from promoting state and local safety measures and using federal funds for motorcycle checkpoints.

“Maybe we ought to save some of the costs when police or emergency responders go to the scene of a crash and the person is not wearing a helmet. Perhaps they ought to be left there like roadkill.”

    – Michael Dabbs, president of the Brain Injury Association of Michigan, attacking the logic of helmet law critics

The repeal of Michigan’s long-standing helmet law had been opposed by a coalition of more than two dozen medical and public health groups led by the Brain Injury Association of Michigan. Public opinion, too, weighed against the move — a poll indicated that 80 percent wanted to keep the helmet law. State safety officials predicted the repeal would lead to at least 30 more deaths a year.

Motorcycle activists, led by the local chapter of a group calling itself American Bikers Aiming Toward Education, or ABATE, framed the issue as a matter of personal liberty. They also argued that the repeal would draw more riders to the state and increase tourism.

In Michigan, riders 20 and younger still must wear helmets, and the new law requires motorcyclists to have at least $20,000 in medical insurance. But those who advocated keeping the helmet requirement for all riders said the $20,000 in insurance would not come close to covering the cost of a catastrophic injury.

Compelling Evidence

Nationally, the evidence that helmets prevent head injuries and deaths has long been compelling. Two decades ago, a Government Accountability Office analysis identified 46 academic studies that showed helmets saving lives and reducing the social burden of caring for injured riders.

Even the American Motorcyclist Association readily acknowledges that helmets that meet Transportation Department standards can prevent serious injury or even death in the event of a crash, and encourages their use, although the group still says riders should have the option of not wearing one.

Recent studies also have rebutted a long-standing assertion by rider groups that helmets can increase the chances of cervical spine injuries because of the greater torque they place on the neck. Johns Hopkins University researchers, in a study published last year that reviewed 40,000 motorcycle collisions, found the opposite to be true: the helmeted riders were 22 percent less likely to suffer cervical spine injury than those without helmets.

“We are debunking a popular myth,” said Adil H. Haider, the leader of the study and an assistant professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins.

Motorcycle groups have also become better organized and funded, roaring to life with Washington lobbyists and thousands of grassroots volunteers to fight helmet requirements on the federal and state levels.

The American Motorcyclist Association – whose corporate members include Harley-Davidson and North American divisions of Yamaha, Kawasaki, Honda and Suzuki – has spent $3.8 million lobbying Congress on helmet laws and other issues over the last decade, while doling out more than $200,000 in campaign contributions to members, according to OpenSecrets.org, a database run by the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics. The Motorcycle Riders Foundation spent $2.1 million in lobbying during the same period.

Emily Chow for FairWarning

That is the force that Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., a long-time supporter of mandatory helmet laws, ran into last December. He was poised to introduce a proposal to the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee that would have forced states to pass helmet laws or else lose millions in federal highway funds. It would have reinstated a similar requirement that, after a lobbying campaign by motorcyclist groups, was repealed in 1995.

In a preemptive strike, the rider groups alerted their members and encouraged them to connect with their lawmakers on the issue. They had defeated a similar helmet proposal two-to-one in 2005. Lautenberg ditched his pro-helmet idea without even offering it up for formal consideration. A Lautenberg spokesman said that the senator “remains committed to strengthening helmet laws and is pursuing several strategies to increase helmet use across the country.”

Death Toll Climbing

As more riders have gotten on the road and the number of states with mandatory helmet laws has declined, biker deaths have soared.

The death toll climbed from 2,116 in 1997 to 4,502 in 2010, the most recent year for which figures are available. Motorcycle-related fatalities accounted for 14 percent of the 32,885 deaths overall from motor vehicle crashes in 2010, which officially is the lowest total since 1949.

The victims last year included 17- year-old Caroline Found of Iowa City, Iowa, who died after she lost control of her moped and struck a tree. They also included Philip Contos, 55, who was killed while participating in a rally to protest New York’s mandatory helmet law. Police say Contos, who resided near Syracuse, N.Y., would have survived had he been obeying the law.

The irony of Contos’s death attracted widespread media attention, although friends say he would have been repulsed by the idea that he had become a poster boy for helmet laws.

Four teenage friends of Found, motivated by her death, launched a campaign to persuade the Iowa legislature to enact a helmet law. (Along with Illinois and New Hampshire, Iowa allows riders of all ages to go helmet-less.) Their bid fell short. “It is getting to the point where we’re going to have to bubble wrap everyone just to protect them from everything,” a state legislator told the young activists, explaining his opposition to a ban. “I think there’s got to be some common sense here.”

Helmet advocates say it is the public that ends up getting ripped off when it has to pick up the tab for health costs associated with catastrophic accidents.

“If you don’t wear a helmet, and you sustain a moderate to severe injury that doesn’t kill you, you are going to be a drain on society for the rest of your life,” said Thomas J. Esposito, chief of the Division of Trauma, Surgical Critical Care and Burns at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago.

NHTSA once tried to take a lead role in providing information to states considering helmet laws. It set aside $330,000 in 1995 and 1996 for the cause, including a $149,000 contract for a video and white paper for state legislators.

The video – titled “Without Motorcycle Helmets, We All Pay the Price” – featured testimonials from helmet-wearing crash survivors and a trauma-room physician who compared helmets to “a vaccine” because of the compelling evidence they reduced brain injuries.

Controversy revved up when the Motorcycle Riders Foundation obtained an early copy of the pro-helmet video and began distributing it to friends in Congress. Rider groups portrayed the situation as an example of NHTSA using federal tax money to lobby against the interests of taxpaying bikers.

Helmet law protest. (Skip Dickstein / Albany Times Union)

They found a champion in Sensenbrenner, and in 1998 Congress enacted a sweeping measure that barred NHTSA from attempting to influence state and local legislators on any pending legislation. NHTSA representatives could appear as witnesses, but only in response to an official invitation.

With NHTSA more recently signaling stepped-up interest in promoting helmet use, Sensenbrenner has emerged as a lead opponent again, sponsoring a resolution, now in the hands of a House subcommittee, that would reaffirm the agency’s lobbying ban.

Novelty Helmets

NHTSA is facing opposition to motorcycle checkpoints, too. The agency in 2010 earmarked $350,000 to help state police set up stops to check motorcyclists for safety violations. One intent is to crack down on so-called novelty helmets, which do not meet federal standards but account for an estimated one in five of the helmets riders wear. The helmets have become popular because they are lightweight and come in various styles — and because they can keep police away in states that mandate helmet use.

But they are also dangerous. “They are just plastic toys, essentially,” says Tim McMahon, a San Jose, Calif., personal-injury lawyer, who won a $1.7 million injury award for a Fresno man who suffered brain damage from a 2005 crash while wearing a novelty helmet that he thought was safe.

Despite the risks, motorcyclists have gone to court to block regulation. In a test case, four bikers who were ticketed in 2008 at a checkpoint in New York for lacking approved helmets filed a lawsuit in federal court, claiming that inspections singling out motorcyclists were illegal discrimination. A judge dismissed the suit last year.

The American Motorcyclist Association, taking another tack, fired off a letter in late 2010 urging NHTSA administrator Strickland to suspend the federal checkpoint grant program, saying there were unanswered questions about the program’s implementation, legality and efficacy. Strickland declined.

Biker groups were further incensed when the agency subsequently made a grant to the state of Georgia, which used the money in March, 2011 to monitor bikers headed south to the legendary Daytona Beach Bike Week.

Motorcycle activists again found a sympathetic ear in Sensenbrenner, who introduced legislation to end federal funding of motorcycle-only roadside checkpoints. The anti-checkpoint measure may be considered by a House-Senate conference committee currently working on a long-term surface transportation bill.

“These checkpoints are not an effective use of taxpayer money,” Sensenbrenner said, in a prepared statement in response to questions. “Motorcycle-only checkpoints force law enforcement officials to play ‘nanny state’ to all riders rather than focusing on those who are endangering themselves and others on the road, and do not address the factors that contribute to motorcycle crashes.”

Biker groups raise similar points.

“The federal government says all day long: ‘You guys are a huge problem. You are killing yourselves out there. You need to start wearing helmets.’ But then they do not want to put resources” toward training and accident prevention, said Jeff Hennie, a Washington-based lobbyist for the Motorcycle Riders Foundation.

American Motorcyclist Association spokesman Pete terHorst added that helmet mandates create “unintended consequences,” drawing scarce resources away from alternatives like training.

But the advantages of training are questionable. A 2009 study for the federal Transportation Research Board found that the evidence was inconclusive about whether educating riders through formal programs made them any safer.

Other studies have shown that, while training helps riders pass basic skills tests, their chances of getting in a crash after six months of driving are about the same as untrained riders. That raised questions even for Tim Buche, president of the industry-sponsored Motorcycle Safety Foundation, which has developed the training materials most widely used in the U.S. “Maybe the training does not change someone’s true behavior for the long term,” he speculated.

Even if training pays off, public health advocates argue that relying on it exclusively would be equivalent to, in the automotive world, exempting people who take a driver’s education course from requirements to use seat belts or to put children in car seats.

Doctors such as Esposito who provide care for the people hurt in those crashes, though, sometimes are mystified about why riders don’t take it upon themselves to wear safe helmets for their own protection.

Asked whether he often thinks about how a patient with a head injury could have avoided his plight simply by wearing a helmet, Esposito replied: “All the time.”

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204 comments to “Despite Death Toll, Motorcycle Groups Strive to Muzzle U.S. Regulators”

  1. taboky

    In 1997, there were 2,116 fatalities for 3,826,000 motorcycles registered. Or 0.055% of the motorcyclists were killed.
    In 2010, there were 4,502 fatalities for 8,368,000 motorcycles registered. Or 0.053% of the motorcyclists were killed.
    So we have more than doubled the motorcycle population. Fact. And we have actually reduced fatalities. Fact.

  2. Ron

    This comment is to Charles, who “is a motorcycle rider”. I also have been riding for many years (55 or so) and have been down a few times, lots of road rash etc. I have at times worn a helmet, but usually choose not to. I will accept one point as fact, helmets do SOMETIMES save a life, but do alittle research on your own, read a few reports on what caused a motorcyclists death. In many many cases it is attibuted to ” massive internal injuries”, I can tell these words are directly from a number of coroner’s reports. the decission rendered by a professional in these cases was that ” a helmet would have made no difference” We do not need a nanny state, let those who ride decide. I respect your decision to wear a helmet, please respect mine to choose as I please.

  3. Marsha

    Please get the facts at the following link. Copy and paste into your browser.

    http://www.mrf.org/pdf/MRF_FactOrFiction2011.pdf

    In 1997, there were 2,116 fatalities for 3,826,000 motorcycles registered. Or 0.055% of the motorcyclists were killed.
    In 2010, there were 4,502 fatalities for 8,368,000 motorcycles registered. Or 0.053% of the motorcyclists were killed.

    So we have more than doubled the motorcycle population. Fact. And we have actually reduced fatalities. Fact.

  4. Hammer

    If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a couple hundred thousand times, it doesn’t matter how many wheels you are driving on, you have to know your vehicle and how it works and….. keep driving the the main thing when you operate that vehicle! We or any type reporting agency can put out as many statistical figures and studies regarding these issues until we are blue in the face but, safety as a driver of any vehicle is still! our own responsibility. Pay attention, think what your doing, BE a smarter vehicle operator and a lot of motor vehicle tragedies will not be heard about again. As for Zach commenting about semis not being allowed to operate on the same road as other vehicles, that’s just ridicules, Zach, they are paid professionals, if they screw up while driving, they could possibly lose their right to earn a living and no kind of insurance can fix that.

  5. shi

    Just goes to show you how may clueless people there are out there driving today, and how any idiot can write a one sided article.

  6. Brandon

    If the concern is so focused on motorcycle safety why are so many of these helmet laws being married with mandatory insurance? Who do you really think has their hand in the legislation? Think people. Its one of the few things we are allowed to do anymore.

  7. tony C.

    I would like to have a investigative reporter do a story on motor cycle helmets.
    Most are hard to see out of,hot hot hot to ride with and lack proper ventelation
    for comfort.

  8. Carl Hungness

    Hello:
    After covering over 250,000 miles both with and without a helmet, I’d rather ride bare naked than have to put up with the US drivers who talk and text while driving. One out of ten fatal car crashed involve distracted driving. Throw in the danger caused by tinted windows and the motorcycle rider has little chance even if he is wearing a suit of armor. Then consider a significant portion of motorcycle fatalities are caused by drunk bike riders and the helmet (harder than hell to see out of in the first place) laws don’t seem to mean much.

  9. Charles

    I just want to say “Thanks You” for promoting some true information.
    I am a long time bike rider, have owned a motorcycle since 1951 and have ridden many 100K miles .
    I am a very strong believer in having a helmet law. I know they not only save lives, they reduce injuries even when the rider lives.
    In these 60 odd years that I have ridden, I have only had 4 or 5 street accidents that required any medical treatment at all, and only 1 injury that was worse than minor road rash, but when you can go on to work after an accident with no injures what so every ; Yet look at the holes in your gloves, the tear in your jacket and the deep scratches in your helmet. You understand why we wear safety gear.
    Even though I know it would even be more difficult to get passed I believe more protective clothing such as jackets, pants, boots & gloves should also be required as part of the price for riding.
    I know a lot of people don’t like being told what to do , but proper gear can make riding much more pleasurable.
    I am also a strong believer in education, not just a one time course, but a required refresher class every few years.
    Riding a motorcycle safely, while having a good time is a state of mind, more than anything and continuing education as well good equipment helps .
    Yes I don’t want other people telling me what to do, but if I want to enjoy my freedom of riding, I need to uphold my responsibility to not be a drag on the health care industry and cause other peoples insurance rates to be higher.
    Freedom comes with a very high price.
    I am also an MSF instructor and the article mentions that some people are against education because it promotes self confidence, that might cause a person to take chance that they might not otherwise take. That is true but time riding and the extremely good motorcycles that we have todaydo the same thing, except with bad habits.
    Today’s motorcycles have such a high power to weight ratio and handle so well, riders feel they can do anything, long before they know how, or long before they have gained the wisdom of when.
    I would also like to see laws that limited the type of motorcycle people could ride for at least the first few years of riding, and require continuing education to maintain your license to ride.
    Thanks Again

  10. Ron

    One of the major things being left out of this article, in how many of those fatalities from motorcycle accidents were the person/persons wearing a helmet? I personally can think of at least 10 deaths (here in Illinois) in the last 2 years in which case all of those fatalities were wearing helmets. Add that statistic to the story to give it more context.

  11. curt erickson

    I don’t so much care about the helmet laws. But checkpoints for motorcyclists but not for cars is unAmerican. In fact, pulling over anyone without probable cause for random checks, however well-intentioned, violates traditional American views on freedom from harassment.

  12. Tim Horetski

    As you can see by previous comments someone needs to get their facts correct before writing such articles. Please stop listening to people that do not ride. They don’t have a clue as to what is really going on out there.

  13. Russ Peterson

    Quote by Jeff :
    in 1997, there were 2,116 fatalities for 3,826,000 motorcycles registered. Or 0.055% of the motorcyclists were killed.
    In 2010, there were 4,502 fatalities for 8,368,000 motorcycles registered. Or 0.053% of the motorcyclists were killed.
    So we have more than doubled the motorcycle population. Fact. And we have actually reduced fatalities. Fact.
    This is the whole point
    Let the rider decide.
    Two motorcycle accidents last week, Both were wearing helmets, both were fatalities, one case, Interstate, some fool decided to transport a mattress and didn’t secure it, loosing it on the interstate. Along comes a motorcyclist and you can guess what happened then, the other was a inattentive driver making a left hand turn in front of a motorcyclist.
    You can’t fix stupid,,,,,, People. A helmet only protects you in some cases and the statics do not warrant a mandating law stating it will be worn. It’s all government bureaucracy funded by people that think they feel the need to baby-sit every man, woman and child.
    Until big brother takes that right from me, I’ll decide period. If you think or have this crazy idea in your heads it’s costing you money then you have totally lost sight of the big picture. Wake up, stop drinking the koolaid or what ever. Your rights are disappearing with every nod you give’m the go-ahead.

  14. Dan

    Basically, my position is one of philosophical consistency. If we have states that mandate seatbelts for drivers and passengers, (the primary safety device for cars & trucks) then we should likewise mandate helmets for motorcyclists, as that is the primary safety device for motorcycles.

    The primary motivation behind it all from a societal perspective comes down to money. Motorists, whether car, truck or motorcycle, are sometimes uninsured or under-insured and the state ends up footing the bill in the event of a bad crash, particularly if brain damage is involved. This mandate however, conflicts with personal freedoms to not wear a helmet or seat belt. If we as a society decide that it is in our interest to mandate seat belt use then for consistency, we should also mandate helmet use rather than granting one set of travelers a special exemption. However, if society decides that individual liberty is worth footing the bill for the extra costs for some guy who ends up on life support, I have no philosophical problem, provided that car, truck and motorcycles are treated the same.

  15. Russ Peterson

    Back in response to Fred: Fred I never have said that I didn’t own a helmet or the fact if I wore it, well I do own a helmet and I do wear it. My point is that all these statistics they keep throwing out are a misconception. I’ve seen and worked with more people that own horses that have been injured on horses, tell me does that mean that if you get on a horse that by law your’e going to wear a helmet? Do you think you pay for their bills if they don’t have insurance, yes you will, because in some way rates go up to cover that cost somewhere in the system. So all in all your beating a dead horse here, no pun intended. You won’t be the one deciding or voting on this law anyhow. It’s just a fact they make laws to protect us, but some are freedom robbing rights activism. You can give up all your rights if you want to, not a problem with me. Like I said earlier in one of my posts if your in a big hurry I’ll pay for you one way ticket to North Korea, they probably even wear Helmets on their scooters, and you won’t have to pay a dime if they crash, perfect!! See I knew we could come to a agreement. :)

  16. Cletis

    @Mark:

    “My point is that the insurance companies want to limit the car driver’s potential liability when they screw up.”

    Completely agree, and to this end, the insurance agencies lower their payout potential by lobbying for helmet laws to dissuade motorcycle riding.

  17. Jeff

    This ongoing argument with the nanny types and whoever they are fronting for (I grant there may be misguided folks out there actually looking out for what they perceive as “the best interests” of their fellow human beings, but I am sure they are in the minority) is just SO tiring. As several others have already posted, motorcycle registrations more than doubled between 1997 and 2010 and MC fatalities have DECREASED.

    In 1997, there were 2,116 fatalities for 3,826,000 motorcycles registered. Or 0.055% of the motorcyclists were killed.
    In 2010, there were 4,502 fatalities for 8,368,000 motorcycles registered. Or 0.053% of the motorcyclists were killed.
    So we have more than doubled the motorcycle population. Fact. And we have actually reduced fatalities. Fact.

    There are many, many more factors involved in this result other than helmet use, whether mandatory or voluntary and trying to simplify it to helmet use is just plain naive and offensive. Rider education is the number 1 best way to reduce motorcycle accidents and fatalities by training each and every rider how to avoid getting into an accident inf the first place. Road user education is the number 2 best way to reduce accidents and fatalities of ALL road users by teaching awareness and responsible vehicle operation. In my state, Massachusetts, our Governor has seen fit to take ALL monies collected from motorcyclists that were intended, BY Mass General Law (http://www.malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleXIV/Chapter90/Section34) for the motorcycle safety fund. If the do-gooders really and truly want to help motorcyclists they will get behind education.

  18. Peter E Shufelt

    You are only telling half the truth, Yes death are up, why because there are all most twice the motorcycles out there now. Let add another factor people with cell phones, texting.
    You know it easy to flash a headline to get some one to read your story, it is another to print all the fact, and were you get them from.
    Peter E Shufelt, ABATE President Columbia County Chapter New York.
    PS bikes don’t kill bikers cars, and people not paying attention.

  19. Ben K

    Pull over all the cars too and you’ve got a deal.

  20. andres "Pantera" vazquez

    In response to Fred; the similarities that you imply between auto racing and motorcycling do not apply. Physics do. Race car drivers’ helmets are tethered, as are the drivers to the seats. providing a distinctly different reaction/effect than that suffered by a motorcyclist.

  21. Bruce

    Fred, as the conclusion of more then one crash expert in the Dale Earnhardt crash determined he was killed because the unrestrained helmet snapped his neck. From NASCAR’s site new equipment is: “The HANS device (also known as a head restraint) (Head and Neck Support device) is a safety item compulsory in many car racing sports. It reduces the likelihood of head and/or neck injuries, such as a basilar skull fracture, in the event of a crash. ” Not possible on a bike. Once again you trade one injury for another. I’d just like to pick my injury. To my low speed comment you can check with any manufacturer and will be told that helmets are rated to protect up to 18 miles per hour. Also you are required to replace them if they are dropped from more then 10 feet. Doesn’t give me much confidence in their ability to protect my brain which most studies have found is damaged by bouncing off the inside of my skull, not the first thing my head hits. I’m sure you are a wonderful, well intentioned guy but you can’t legislate every risk out of life. One last comparrison and I’m done. If it’s alright to have motorcycle only checkpoints and examine my helmet then I guess it will be OK when they start stopping only fat people and doing a test to determine their cholesterol level since heart disease costs a lot more then motorcycle accidents. Sounds crazy but a few years ago I thought the same thing about someone telling me how to dress.

  22. Jim Hudson

    This article is nothing more than a gross misrepresentation of the facts.
    For what purpose?

  23. BOB PISANESCHI

    How much did the insurance companys pay you guys to write this crap. Youre a real fountain of misinformation. Maybe you guys ought to move to north korea so the dictator can tell you what type and what amount of tree bark you can eat to stay alive and be safe. You people make me puke! You dont deserve to live in this country!

  24. Tom Lunsford

    The process of legislating personal choice the government has invaded the fundamental rights of the persons free choice. The statistics show that motorcycles have, because of economics, raised in numbers but fatilities have decreased. I do wear a helmet by choice but I will defend that right and even though you disagree, this is America and we DO have a Choice. That should never change.

  25. Fred

    “I put on a helmet and may prevent some head injuries at low speeds. Wonderful, and if I could pick my accident I’m good.”

    Bruce, I really want to understand what you mean by “some head injuries at low speeds”

    If that is true, why (as I asked previously) do race car drivers and service flying personnel all wear helmets?

    Whatever else may be said about racing and flying, they cannot be considered “low speed activities.” If what you say is true, that helmets increase injuries at speed, logic would dictate that drivers and fliers should not wear helmets!

    Please explain.

  26. Steve R

    Here is the real crux of the matter. If it is ok for the state to say it is too dangerous for me to ride without a helmet, it is only one step away from the state saying it is too dangerous for me to ride a motorcycle at all. And for all you out there who don’t ride and want to tell me it is too risky look in the mirror. What kinds of risk do you take? Bad diet? Don’t exercise? Ride a horse? Rock climbing? SCUBA? Smoke? Where does it end?

  27. Steve R

    William Billings, There is no hypocrisy at all. I believe you have the right to smoke but if you come to my house, I would forbid it. Same thing. It is one thing to respect your right to do something risky it is something else for me to take on your risk. BTW, I wouldn’t let you ride my bike without a helmet. But feel free to ride your own without one.

  28. Zach

    To: RIGGER (and all the people advocating for the freedom not to wear helmets on your super-fast, dangerous bicycles)–

    It’s not your freedom that’s at risk here. It’s your life. I know you all think you’re the best driver in the world who can get out of any situation presented to you, and you may be great.

    But when you put unnecessary strain on our system to the tune of 1.5 billion dollars a year, calling ambulances and blocking off roads, ruining your families, sitting in hospitals for months and months in traction, or worse, dying and making others clean up the mess that was you, then it becomes everyone else’s business, because you can’t protect yourself.

    In all honesty, super-fast bicycles should be banned from our roads anyway. Exposing yourself to the elements at 60mph is dumb. It’s fun, and that’s why you do it. So, if you’re going to drive the least safe vehicle in a world of very unsafe vehicles, do us all a favor and WEAR A HELMET.

    Yes! We need better FOOD education in our schools too! That’s another huge problem we have in our society.

    One other thing: Semi trucks should be banned on our roads, or given their own dedicated, isolated lanes/routes to secure the safety of passenger vehicles. That will help immensely as well.

  29. barry may

    A few years back, I was looking over the Illinois accident statistics (before they required a fee for info), and it had a category of single vehicle accident deaths. More pedestrians died than motorcyclists in that report. The focus needs to be accident avoidance, not injury prevention. You’ll save more money and lives that way.

  30. Fred

    “Response to Fred”

    Well Russ, in your earlier posts, you were all about ringing the bells of freedom and patriotism; for you it was just a matter of “Hey, I got my rights and some insurance too!

    Now it seems I have made you think a little, at least to the point that you can now see, and admit, that it’s about more than just you and your motorcycle roaring down the road.

    You seem now to understand that there really is an interplay between you and other people who are involved in the consequences of your choices. As you put it: “I’m sure at one point in life my income will in some way pay for you to have a life”. You understand now, that “No man is an island.”

    That is good, so now, the only difference remaining between us is that I, and others like me, have done all we can to be responsible for protecting our passengers, and ourselves – before we get in trouble.

    Maybe now you might go the extra step and get a helmet – if you get my drift!

  31. William Billings

    I find it interesting that EVERY motorcycle training school/program requires its students, and instructors to wear a helmet, and doesn’t see the hyprocrisy in claiming “It’s your choice as an American citizen to wear one, or not.” I believe most schools and programs also require gloves, long sleeve shirts or jackets, long pants, and over-the-ankle shoes or boots. I can only believe that it’s because (a) they want to get paid once the course is completed, and (b) want to minimize their exposure to liability for injury. Hmmm, item (b) sounds a lot like what they want the rest of society to ignore. Now THAT’s a real lesson in the exercise of personal freedom!

  32. Bruce

    Fred, first you have not taken the maximum effort to protect your passengers. If there are a 100 times more head injuries in four wheeled vehicles then it is me paying much more in insurance rates because of your negligent refusal to wear a helmet. You are right I do believe in personal responsibility but personal freedoms as important as they are not the issue here. My education and vocation is in risk analysis. The problem with reasoning as presented by the author is it looks at one action with no regard for the affect of that action. I put on a helmet and may prevent some head injuries at low speeds. Wonderful, and if I could pick my accident I’m good. But I can’t look just at the medical savings from those accidents. I have to look at any increase in other injuries that are caused by wearing a helmet. Only until you look at the net effect can you make an educated analysis. Common sense should tell you that if you did as I suggest and wear a helmet in your car neck injuries would skyrocket. No different on a bike. Go to http://www.flhsmv.gov and tell me if it’s not true why have more people died and been injured wearing a helmet then not every year since they went to choice. Not just once but every year both categories.

  33. Russ Peterson

    Response to Fred, are you a smoker Fred? Are you a drinker Fred? Are you a auto driver Fred? What tell me have you signed in your lifetime that limits me from having to pay for your bills, you loose your job, am I going to pay for your welfare check? Dam right I am, I take full resposibility for getting behind the wheel, be it behind the wheel, behind the handle bars or whatever motorized vehicle. I don’t need to sign anything. I’m sure at one point in life my income will in some way pay for you to have a life, so get used to it. I didn’t plan on you not having a job, or loosing your home or your kid running over a pedestrian jaywalking, it’s still his fault not matter what, you get my drift?

  34. Fred

    “@ Fred To my earlier point I’ll be happy to sign one the day you and your passengers sign one.”

    I too have owned motorcycles, and the day I first rode out on my old Harley war bike, that I got from war surplus for $350.00, I met a man who said: “It is not a question of IF you will have an accident, it is WHEN, you will have it; that’s the truth about riding a motorcycle.”

    We became friends, and he was there when I went over the high side on a turn that had been dry when we headed out, but was wet when we returned. I thanked him for insisting that I wear a helmet, because I landed hard (on a rock) right on the back of my head.

    But Bruce, lets compare apples and apples here! I have made the maximum effort and expense to provide safe transportation for me and my passengers. I drive a vehicle that has four wheels on the ground, (inheritably more stable than any two wheeled vehicle) it has a frame and a metal shell to protect passengers from rollover and lateral impact. It has airbags in the front and rear seats, it has seat belts to protect against ejection and headrests to prevent whiplash. It has anti lock brakes and skid sensing technology. None of these protections are available to motorcyclists, nor can there be!

    Against all of that you say: “I’ll be happy to sign one the day you and your passengers sign one.” Do you imply, or actually believe that there is some sort of equivalence, between a motorcycle and a modern automobile, such that I should do more than you, and others commenting here, who are unwilling to employ even the most minimal protection available (a helmet) to you and your passengers believing that “Training” will make up the difference.

    None of you here, who are against wearing helmets, are willing to address my question. You don’t want to change, so you employ defense mechanisms of talk about freedom, and patriotism, the flag; you imply that accidents are more the fault of inattentive drivers. Some of you say that helmets don’t prevent injuries (So why do all race drivers and service pilots wear them?) You think that $20,000 in extra insurance will be adequate to cover your injuries. $20,000 in extra insurance will (maybe) cover two nights in the ICU.
    If you become quadriplegic, do you actually think 20K will cover it all.

    I don’t care at all if motorcyclists want to risk their lives, that is their right. But “Freedom” is never free!! Right? The question I have been asking here is: Who pays for your freedom, you, or others who pay higher taxes and insurance premiums.

  35. Anony mous

    From the Hurt report:

    6. In the multiple vehicle accidents, the driver of the other vehicle violated the motorcycle right-of-way and caused the accident in two-thirds of those accidents.
    ——————————————————————————–
    7. The failure of motorists to detect and recognize motorcycles in traffic is the predominating cause of motorcycle accidents. The driver of the other vehicle involved in collision with the motorcycle did not see the motorcycle before the collision, or did not see the motorcycle until too late to avoid the collision.
    ——————————————————————————–
    9. Intersections are the most likely place for the motorcycle accident, with the other vehicle violating the motorcycle right-of-way, and often violating traffic controls.

    So, other vehicles are the biggest threat to motorcyclists.

    However, as mentioned in the article, …” it is far from clear that training does anything to reduce crashes or deaths. A 2007 Indiana study, for instance, found that riders who completed a basic training course were 44 percent more likely to be involved in an accident than untrained riders. ” According to Hurt, “22. The motorcycle riders involved in accidents are essentially without training; 92% were self-taught or learned from family or friends. Motorcycle rider training experience reduces accident involvement and is related to reduced injuries in the event of accidents. ”

    Hopefully the new crash causation study will help to clear up some of the conflicting information currently in evidence.

    And BTW I have been riding for 20 years with easily over 100,000 miles on two wheels.

  36. Steve R

    There are approximately 4,500 motorcycle fatalities per year and approximately 225,000 heart attack fatalities per year. For every motorcycle fatality there are 50 heart attack fatalities. Many of these heart attack fatalities are preventable with diet and exercise. So since the author really wants to stop the “carnage” shouldn’t you be promoting eating laws? Forget Boomberg’s >16oz soda ban how about complete soda ban? Ban restaurants from serving desert or read meat portions more than 3 oz. Shouldn’t we have a National Exercise Administration that forces everyone to get 3 hours of aerobic exercise per week and ration how much of each type of food we eat? How about obesity check points? The new NEA could check if you are overweight or blood pressure too high give you a ticket and have your sugar and fat rations reduced. Anybody see a problem with this line of reasoning? I mean if you really want to stop the carnage…

  37. Kevin Tuthill

    Simply put, are we U.S. citizens? Do we have the right to choose what we are wearing in any activity that we decide to participate in? Do we have many rights left at all in this horable trash talking country we live in? Ive been in the motorcycle business for 30 years. Ive lost alot of friends on bikes, ive lost alot of friends in vehichles of all kinds. Why are all the fun hatters bashing motorcyclists? It is our right to wear and do whatever it is we feel like…or it used to be. What is this country comeing to when everyone has a different opinion on everything other people do with there lives. To all the people with these incomplete surveys and recommendations, go buy a motorcycle, put a helmet on,or dont, and see if you enjoy what riding a motorcycle is all about. I f you dont like it, dont do it. If you do like it, ride on and shut your mouths. If people die, use the good organs for people who need them. I will continue to ride my motorcycles without a helmet, and i might even ride it naked and have sex on them at the same time. What do you care, its my life not yours……….

  38. James Hudson

    To the authors of this article: Statistics can sometimes be used to promote political agendas. For instance, a recent study purports to show that those who complete motorcycle training are more likely to be involved in an accident than those without training?? Is there anyone who would argue against motorcycle safety training?

    I would like to see a comparison:

    % Increase in the number of motorcycle miles ridden by state 1997 – 2011.
    Total % increase in motorcycle fatalities 1997 – 2011 for the 19 states with mandatory helmet laws.
    Total % increase in motorcycle fatalities 1997 – 2011 for the remaining 31 states.

    These numbers might tell part of the story – why can’t they be found?

  39. Jason Burzynski

    I echo Brad’s post. Have insurance companies offer an incentive or discount to those riders who committ to wearing a helmet but don’t make it law. We have enough of those already from the ever evolving nanny state we live in!

  40. Steve L-J

    Having more than doubled the number of registered motorcycles from 1997, some 3,800,00 0 plus to 2010′s 8,350,000 plus, one would expect there to be a comparable rise in fatalities, no?
    In FACT, there were 2,116 fatalities in 1997 or .0.55% of the motorcycling population and 2010? 4,502 fatalities or 0.053% of the motorcycling population in 2010. Therefore the only logical conclusion is that motorcyclists are better trained and safer that in 1997. One more fact more than a third of motorcycle fatalities are caused by drivers turning left across the path of a motorcycle, next in line is being rear ended by another vehicle.
    Logical conclusion? Other vehicle drivers are a major part of the problem.

  41. Mark

    @Cletis, you’re absolutely right. My point is that the insurance companies want to limit the car driver’s potential liability when they screw up.

  42. Cletis

    @Mark:

    You replied to Neil, stating that he had conceded that “the only point in helmet laws is to protect YOUR INSURANCE COMPANY from YOUR DANGEROUS DRIVING.”

    Your conclusion is the exact opposite of the conclusion that is supported by the facts. If you refer to my earlier comment, you will see that 75% of collisions between a motorcycle and another vehicle are found to be the fault of the car/truck/bus driver. So to paraphrase and correct you, one could say that the primary function of helmet laws is to protect the insurers of vehicles *other than* motorcycles from *those* drivers’ dangerous driving habits.

  43. jim jones

    Nice propaganda, would be nice if news articles were facts, not just the info reporters were told to write. Sadly reporters have to write what the news/propaganda officers tell them to write, if not, they will get no more info, thus leaving them unemployed.

  44. Let Those Who Ride Decide

    FACT: A Minnesota motorcyclist survived a crash only to be struck by a car while standing on the road attempting to flag down a motorist for assistance. This was subsequently counted as a motorcycle fatality.
    FACT: A Pennsylvania taxi driver, with multiple suspensions, was responsible for about two percent of the state’s total motorcycle fatalities when he caused a crash with three motorcycles and killed five helmeted riders in a single incident.
    FACT: The National Transportation Safety Board has investigated over 120,000 airplane incidents, over 60,000 surface transportation incidents, and just 6 individual motorcycle incidents in their entire 44 year history — Apparently enough investigation to warrant adding mandatory helmet laws for motorcyclists on their “top ten most wanted list”.
    FACT: According to preliminary data from the Governors Highway Safety Association, states that have a mandatory adult helmet law had six fewer fatalities in 2010 than in 2009, while free choice states saw a reduction of 74. The state with the single largest decline in fatalities (Texas -60) is a choice state and a state which requires helmets on all riders tied for the greatest increase (New York +24).
    FACT: FARS continues to include “mopeds” in motorcycle crash statistics despite the fact that most states do not require registration of these vehicles. This practice skews the most respected method of measuring the effectiveness of motorcycle safety programs, which is the ratio of accidents, injuries and fatalities per 10,000 registrations.

  45. Let Those Who Ride Decide

    So the amount of riders over doubled & the percentage of riders went down?

    • In 1997, there were 2,116 fatalities for 3,826,000 motorcycles registered. Or 0.055% of the motorcyclists were killed.
    • In 2010, there were 4,502 fatalities for 8,368,000 motorcycles registered. Or 0.053% of the motorcyclists were killed.
    So we have more than doubled the motorcycle population. Fact. And we have actually reduced fatalities. Fact.
    What percentage were caused by caged drivers? But it’s the motorcyclists fault for not wearing a helmet? How about charging each cage driver found to be at fault in an accident with a motorcycle with attempted vehicular homicide?

  46. Mark

    @Neil, so you really do concede that the only point in helmet laws is to protect YOUR INSURANCE COMPANY from YOUR DANGEROUS DRIVING.

    In a free country that believes in deontological ethics, the solution is for you to drive more safely, rather than for your insurance company to lobby your state to require ME to protect myself from YOU.

  47. Bob Thompson

    This is article is pure, grade A, #1, bull caca. The “facts” aren’t facts, just statements of the writer’s misguided mind. But he’ll never admit it.

  48. Joggernot

    I find it sad that the author wrote such a biased and skewed story. His only claim to fame will be incorrect and skewed “facts” in his article. The most egregious skewing is his statement that motorcycle deaths have more than doubled since 1997. What he conveniently leaves out is that motorcycle riders have more than doubled. End result deaths as a percent of riders has remained essentially steady at 0.053%. There are some risks in life including the proverbial crossing of a street. This level of risk is well within the range that normal people work in.

  49. Bruce

    @ Fred To my earlier point I’ll be happy to sign one the day you and your passengers sign one. If I’m willing to do that to save such a minimal amount I’m sure you would be willing to put on a helmet or save the rest of us from your potential medical costs with such a waiver. Oh wait, maybe when our feet hit the floor in the morning we should both just be responsible for our own choices. In addition if you are going to continue to believe that you should be in charge of everyone’s activities you should at least try to base your assumptions on fact. I live in WV where we have no choice and our insurance is considerably higher than the states around us that allow choice. Go figure. Sorry for cherry picking numbers with no regard for proper statistical analysis but if the author can do it, a lowly commenter surely should be allowed the same privilege.

  50. rigger

    I’ll support helmet laws when it makes sense to have laws on what type of clothing needs to be worn in what temperatures, having to wear a large brim hat in the sunshine, having to wear a floatation device when in water up to the chin,having to cut food in small enough sizes as not to cause chocking, etc.. Now do you get it? It is part of being an adult in the United States of America to have the right and the responsibility to chose what protection is appropriate. Got to a country that tells its citizens how to dress, act, and how to live if you don’t want the rights and responsabilities given here. Leave me to live FREE and chose for myself!

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