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

  1. Chuck Cox

    This web site is run by an organization whose very name indicates that they are a bunch of leftist do-gooder meddling “Chicken Littles”. The SKY IS FALLING, THE SKY IS FALLING!

  2. Winger1

    We have had enough of Big-Brother sticking his nose into our business re. personal choice. And that includes the money making seat-belt laws that were only developed to provide probale cause for other money making oppourtunuties. Back-off and you politicians are under advisement not to fu#k are further with our personal freedoms.

  3. john herpfer

    the only time ive been stopped for a ‘saftey check”
    i was asked for valid reg valid ins card and license
    oh yeh there was a comment about my mufflers
    glad to see my govt protecting me with my tax dollars

  4. Cooper

    Most fatalities in auto accidents are due to head injuries. If requiring everyone who rides in an automobile to wear a helmet would greatly reduce the number of fatalities in auto accidents (as I suspect it would), should we then require that in the name of social consequences? Imagine the uproar!

  5. Bubbles

    The issue of mandatory seat belts versus mandatory helmet use is one I really take issue with. There are federal regulations on the manufacturing of seat belts, but there is only a NHTSA recommendation for the manufacturing of a helmet. If your seat belt fails, you have the right to bring suit on everyone from the manufacturer of the fiber all the way to auto manufacturer. A seat belt can be tested and reused. When your car is involved in a wreck, you don’t have to replace the seat belts. If your helmet is tested, it is no longer usable. Therefore, if your helmet fails how would one know that it was safe in the first place? And is the federal government going to go through all the red tape to make sure that every imported helmet is to standard. Oh yeah! There is also the issue of the states that have mandatory helmet laws also having a list of approved helmets. But then have the state provide that list and wow! they don’t actually have a list they can produce.

    If one is going to tout collected data, then the data should be compiled more accurately and with more detail. Enough folks have commented to the factual data. Is it not odd that the number of motorcycle deaths is not broken down by cause of wreck, cause of death (hed vs. blunt force trauma, and elimanation of bicycle, moped and pedestrian deaths?

    Unfortunately there are very few investigative reporters, but then we can’t be spouting the truth now can we?

  6. Chris

    There is an old saying…”Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.” Motorcycle deaths as a percentage of motorcycle riders have actually decreased. For some reason, people who do not ride are often concerned about whether motorcyclists wear helmets. WHY NOT LET THOSE WHO RIDE DECIDE?

  7. Dixie ABATE of Alabama

    Excellent comments. And I’d add one more thing: If you want to make up some numbers for “social cost”, then make up some really big ones for the medical bills and lost productivity for obesity/diabetes/smoking. I’m sure that when people who are unhealthy because of their chosen lifestyle have a brain injury from the heart attack or stroke that those behaviors cause, Michael Dabbs will refuse to treat them, leaving them there like roadkill.

    Don’t talk to me about forcing riders to wear helmets until you make some checkpoints to write tickets for people who might have Twinkies, cigarettes, potato chips, and soda pop in the car with them. Oh, wait, you say – you get money from the big tobacco lobbies? Big food? Can’t touch THAT issue.

    Here’s what I wrote to the Governor of Michigan:

    Dear Governor Snyder,

    I know you are probably inundated with email that reflects the writers’ passionate feelings about whether they think a motorcycle rider should be forced to wear a helmet or not. I feel passionately about the necessity for me to wear the brightest, most obnoxious full-face helmet I can find, and I feel equally passionate that my brothers on the road should be allowed to make the choice to wear or not wear a helmet for themselves.

    I am not among your constituency, but what you do matters to riders in every state. If Michigan riders are allowed the freedom to choose, that makes one more precedent that will be in place when we in “helmet states” challenge the very same infringement on our freedom in our state. And challenge it we will.

    We really do not need so much legislation. We’re drowning in it. We are finding ourselves caught in a slowly tightening noose that is choking any last breath out of the life our founding fathers came here to find, and we’re doing it to ourselves. I’m so tired of being saved from myself, I could scream.

    There are hundreds of thousands of motorcycle riders in the United States and we prefer to spend our vacation time and our money in states that we perceive as motorcycle-friendly. If you sign this bill, it is sure to have a beneficial financial effect immediately, and forever after. We riders hang tight, and we are a group that is perhaps more politically aware than any other, because we’ve had to fight tooth and nail since the 60’s to keep our necks out of the noose of the nanny state.

    I don’t know whether you ride or not. I hope you do. There’s nothing like it.

    With all respect,

    Kris Cook
    Dixie ABATE of Alabama

    LET THOSE WHO RIDE DECIDE.

  8. Cletis

    @Red Dog:

    1. Congratulations on assembling a generic list of disingenuous debate tactics and then flavoring them to be anti-helmet-law-specific. Of course, you give no indication of where this list of rules came from; if it is from a respected motorcycle rights advocacy group, some unaffiliated individual, or, as seems most likely, from a pro-helmet-law advocate like yourself, trying to implicate the anti-helmet-law movement with manufactured false evidence. Whatever the answer may be, your implication is a great example of the very type of disingenuous debating tactics you purport to be exposing.

    2. The motivations and/or affiliations of those posting here who are against mandatory helmet laws are obvious. I have to wonder, however, what you motivations and/or affiliations might be. You don’t mention what they are, or what your interest is in working for helmet laws.

    3. “The fact that the MRF and AMA immediately sent out Action Alerts calling on members to ‘comment bomb this story like no other’ (MRF) provides me with the most convincing evidence of correctness and importance of this story.”

    Completely illogical. The fact that the truth of this story is disputed by someone you obviously dislike makes you presume that it is “correct and important”? You should instead try making an evaluation based on the content of the story itself.

    3. “Most of the posted comments in opposition to the article are a re-hash of the information contained in the Action Alerts from these two organizations.”

    And this has what effect on their truthfulness? Many true statements have been repeated over and over by many individuals throughout human history; their mere repetition does not turn them from truth into lies.

    4. You question the validity of the Hurt Report because it was published in 1981. I can understand this, as the numbers in that report deflate many of the arguments used by pro-helmet advocates to this day, so you would need to attack it. The Hurt Report remains, however, the most comprehensive motorcycle safety study ever done — and is therefore the single best source for reliable statistics to use when debating the topic, Neither its input data nor its conclusions have lost any relevance since its publish date.

    5. I can agree with some of what you have posted; for example: “MRF and the State Motorcyclist Rights Organizations (like ABATE) mix a safety message with their freedom-of-choice lifestyle message.” I personally prefer that cold, hard facts and statistics are what we use to conduct debates about real-world, empirically-measurable phenomena like the relationship between mandatory helmet laws and fatalities, injuries, and costs to the general public — but since irrelevant, manipulative, maudlin emotional continue to be effective at swaying people’s opinions — or at swaying the votes of elected officials who believe that their constituency will be swayed by them — we will continue to see these annoying tactics used by parties on all sides of all issues. I also agree that several anti-helmet-law arguments made here, like “Helmets are tested by Schnell and DOT for safety. This test is completed by droping (sic) the helmet from a height of 15 feet. It passes if it does not crack or break. This is equivelent (sic) to an impact at 15 MPH.” and “Most are hard to see out of” and “When is the last time the helmet has been tested… the 60s” are factually flawed. Such poorly-thought-out, ridiculous comments certainly taint the argument they are attempting to support, but should be ignored when conducting a rational analysis of the debate.

  9. max frisson

    True Fact: According to the Center for Disease Control, falling out of bed accounts for 1.8 million emergency room visits and over 400,000 hospital admissions each year.
    450 people DIE annually from falling out of bed. Yes, killed by their choices!

    What is the horrible social cost of beds being up in the air? That is a dangerous personal choice, a choice you should not have the right to inflict the cost of on society.

    A National Helmet Law would save about 500 lives. 450 people die annually from falling out of bed. If helmets must be mandated to save about 500 motorcycle riders then we need to sleep on the floor or wear a helmet.

  10. JM

    The charts above do not account the for the increased number of people riding motorcycles, so the data is meaningless w/out that.

    And really, if we’re all the concerned about ‘safety’, lets ban any kind of fast food. That kills more people then motorcycle crashes do. No more Big Macs.
    Lets mandate what people should eat to get rid of heart disease and obesity.

    Also, lets ban smoking – no one really needs to smoke do they?

    Also, why not ban liquor and beer. They contribute to drunken driving deaths, so, wouldn’t that be safer?

    Really….where does it stop? When will it affect something YOU care about?

    Let the rider decide.

  11. Stephen (Steve) Johnson

    Having the government taking more control of our personal choices has become a true ‘revenue generating business’ that allows some cluless and vulgar comments the like uttered by Mr. Michael Dabbs to be seen in print.
    Remember this guy is the President of the Brain Injury Association of Michigan, that means comments promoting his organization are made in the organization’s best interests.
    His suggesting any of us bikers injured while not wearing a helmet be “Left there like roadkill” got the desired efffect, me hoping to hear how the experiment went when his own brain was dissected searching for ‘sheer stupidity’…

  12. Irish

    Inflammatory article twists facts, denigrates motorcyclists

    More Info
    Support the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) in our efforts to protect your freedoms to ride!

    An article by Fairwarning.org published on June 7 and subsequently picked up by USA Today and other news outlets, “Despite Death Toll, Motorcycle Groups Strive to Muzzle U.S. Regulators,” contains biased reporting and derogatory language toward motorcyclists.

    The article selectively cites statistics that lead uninformed readers to the conclusion that motorcyclist fatalities are on the rise and that helmet mandates and motorcycle-only checkpoints are necessary to promote public safety.

    Michael Dabbs, president of the Brain Injury Association of Michigan, is quoted in the article, saying, “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.”

    This statement displays crassness and exemplifies editorial bias because there is no evidence that injured motorcyclists are any more likely to be a public burden than other roadway users. A Harborview Medical Center study published in 1988 reported that injured motorcyclists in the trauma center relied on public funds a lower percentage of the time than did automobile drivers to pay their hospital bills during the same time period. Also, a 1992 study by the University of North Carolina’s Highway Safety Research Center reported that automobile drivers and motorcyclists have their medical costs covered by insurance at a nearly identical rate.

    The article selectively cites statistics to suggest that motorcycle fatalities are on the rise, yet failed to point out that motorcycle sales surged dramatically during the same period, or that motorcycle fatalities dropped 16 percent in 2009 and have stayed relatively flat in 2010 and 2011.

    The article portrays rider education as ineffective, yet failed to cite the federally funded motorcycle crash causation study, conducted by Professor Hugh “Harry” Hurt, Jr., documenting the efficacy of rider education. The 1981 report said: “The basic Motorcycle Rider Course of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation is effective in training motorcycle riders and those trained riders are both less involved and less injured in motorcycle accidents.” The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also cited rider education as effective in its 2005 report, “Promising Practices in Motorcycle Rider Education and Licensing.” The report states: “Although evidence of the effectiveness of rider education on crash reduction is mixed, several studies have shown that trained riders tend to have fewer crashes, less severe crashes, and overall lower cost of damage resulting from crashes.”

    All of this information was provided to the author of the article, Rick Schmitt, in correspondence with the AMA before publication. The AMA can only assume that the Fairwarning.org editor selectively edited the reporter’s copy to fit a preconceived desire to promote helmet mandates and motorcycle-only checkpoints.

    The AMA strongly advocates helmet use and protective apparel, but opposes mandates because they do nothing to prevent crashes. Motorcycle crash prevention should be the overarching policy of our elected officials and the regulatory community. Programs such as rider training and motorist awareness are effective, yet history has taught us that when helmet mandates are enforced, scarce resource dollars are siphoned away from these programs.

    The AMA opposes motorcycle-only checkpoints because they target a select group of legal road users simply because they choose to ride on two- or three-wheeled vehicles.

    We applaud the courage of legislators, such as U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), who have taken on the powerful anti-motorcycling interest groups that seem less concerned with promoting policies that prevent motorcycle crashes, and more concerned with reducing insurance payments after crashes occur.

    With more and more newspapers printing articles attributing this biased story, the AMA needs your help to send a pre-written letter to newspaper editors if you see this report in your paper. To improve the chance of your response being printed, please personalize your letter.

    Please join the AMA to help us fight these efforts by biased reporters and regulations that thwart your freedom to ride. More members means more clout against our opponents, and your support will help the AMA fight for your rights – on the road, trail, racetrack, and in the halls of government. To join, go to AmericanMotorcyclist.com/membership/join.

  13. max frisson

    What do you want to bet that this is part of a well-funded effort to introduce a National Helmet Mandate using Federal Highway funds in Congress this fall. It will use this article, the CDC Report issued today and more pieces yet to come to cast a negative light on motorcycling and bring upon us a whole ream of new laws. The same people that will push this through are the one’s who will follow with regulations like they have in Germany. Mandated boots, gloves, padded jackets and reflective gear. They will restrict motorcycle modification and they will KILL the business n the USA.

    That is their goal, to make motorcycling so unattractive as to make it even rarer that it is now.

    And I will predict that you will find something like the Cell Phone companies and Auto makers behind the funding to avoid distracted driving legislation.

  14. Ellen

    As always, it’s NONE of government’s business; never has been, never will be. Very very little of what they rule over is in any way lawful. They rule by color-of-law, which is NO law. People have always had the right to do as they please as long as they do not infringe on others’ rights but we’ve purposely not been taught that at any level of the public indoctrination system. It’s past time to learn how things are SUPPOSED to be and then INSIST as a massive group of free people that our rights be respected.

    Start now by eliminating ICLEI that infests your local government. This is Agenda 21 which is stealthily destroying your rights and your right to own property, the basis for ALL rights.

    As Indiana did, make it a law that if the thugs in costumes and badges invade your house–no warrant, no probable cause–they can be met with lethal force, as is our right.

    Get your state parasites to nullify ovomit care, NDAA, PATRIOT Act, Homeland “Security” for starters in your state, for starters.

  15. Morghan

    It is our responsibility to look out for our own health and safety, any choice we make that only effects us is nobody’s business save our own. Those of us who want to be under the constant protection of big nanny need to opt-in and leave the rest of us out of it.

    For the record, I do not ride a motorcycle, I don’t even drive a car while living in town. Walking and public transit is fine for me, but that doesn’t make my voice any less valid. They come for small populations like motorcycle riders first, then they can hold up the liberties stolen from small groups as justification for stealing them from us all.

    If things keep going the way they are it won’t be long before I have a legally mandated protective suit I must don before walking three blocks to the corner store. You know… Just in case.

  16. Red Dog

    The conclusion of years of research on the effectiveness of helmets and all-rider helmets laws has just been confirmed once again by research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The conclusion:

    HELMETS ARE PROVEN TO SAVE LIVES AND MONEY AND UNIVERSAL HELMET LAWS ARE THE MOST EFFECTIVE WAY TO INCREASE USE.

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Helmet Use Among Motorcyclist Who Died in Crashes and Economic Cost Savings Associated With State Motorcycle Helmet Laws – United States, 2008-2010, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 2012, Vol. 61/No.23, June 15, 2012. This report can be found at:
    http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/wk/mm6123.pdf

  17. John Skookum

    I wouldn’t care if a hundred people a day were dying of motorcycle accidents. We have to stop you nannies on helmets and seatbelts, or next you’ll be reaching in our showers to adjust the taps, and taking food off our plates when you think we’ve had enough. Get out of our beautiful free country, you fascist enemy filth.

  18. Marc

    Maybe when emergency responders arrive at a heart-attack patient and that person weights 250+ pounds with a double-cheeseburger nearby, they should be left behind! Dabbs is out of touch!

    quote: 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.”

  19. A Critic

    If you really want to reduce motorcycle injuries – ban motorcycles! Works for crack, prostitution, handguns, etc…right?

  20. echoraven

    As a motorcyclist, I wear a helmet 100% of the time. Not only for safety, but comfort.

    That being said, I oppose helmet laws. Pro-helmet legislation is nothing but politicians picking a easy target for “the public good”. Want to reduce traffic fatalities? Ban cars and expand public transportation. The benefits as far as public good, cost savings, environmental etc. would be far beyond astronomic, but how far would it go? How honest are they being with that “for the public good” crap?

    Infringing on freedom is easy, when it’s not your own freedom being infringed upon…

  21. Dale Morgan

    I’ve been riding dirt and street bikes for about 40 years. A full-coverage helmet is just one piece of body protection I wear every time I ride. ATGATT – All The Gear, All The Time is my policy. Armored riding jacket, pants, boots and gloves, and my helmet. My bike and riding gear are as colorful and visable (to other drivers) as possible. That said, it still should be a personal choice. I also question the idea that not wearing helmets increase medical costs. Sadly, it seems more likely that you’ll die if you’re in a motorcycle crash if you’re not wearing a helmet than to sustain long-term medical costs and disability. Helmets won’t protect from the most violent crashes – say a head-on with a semi, but in many cases, nothing would prevent such a fatality, including riding in a car with seatbelts and airbags. Thousands of people DO die in such crashes despite all of the protection built into a modern automobile.

    It DOES bother me that the government wants to decide what I should and shouldn’t do in the supposed interest of safety. It’s quite easy to point to someone else and make a decision for thier safety. Want to save a lot more lives than requiring motorcycle helmets – how about mandatory helmets for all drivers and passengers in ALL motor vehlcles? And….how come there are no safety restraints, even seatbelts, in school busses?

  22. Boone

    This is a propaganda push to have the government control everything we do.

    Let those who ride decide!

    Why don’t you report on all the drugs & illegals crossing the borders? That effects my overall safety more than wearing a fiberglass hat when I ride!

  23. mark

    state the facts, not the BS slant with which you report what you want people to know. the fact is motorcycle registration has increased dramatically, fatality % has dropped and rider ( & driver) training is WAY more important to injury reduction than wearing a helmet. i always wear a helmet, but i don’t believe i have the right to tell th enext person if they should or shouldn’t. the secret to reducing injuries is accident avoidance, not more mandated safety equipment. the best way to do that is training for motorcycle riders and vehicle operators. i know, lets make the speed limit 10 mph everywhere, that will reduce injuries!!!!

  24. Red Dog

    Pete terHost, AMA Spokesperson in his post sites the old Hurt report regarding the effectiveness of rider training (“The basic Motorcycle Rider Course of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation is effective in training motorcycle riders and those trained riders are both less involved and less injured in motorcycle accidents.” and the NHTSA 2005 Promising Practices report (“Although evidence of the effectiveness of rider education on crash reduction is mixed, several studies have shown that trained riders tend to have fewer crashes, less severe crashes, and overall lower cost of damage resulting from crashes.”) as part of his justification for opposing helmet laws.

    One old report and one report that says the effectiveness of rider training on crash reduction is mixed. This is in the face of undeniable and overwhelming evidence of the effectiveness of helmets and all rider helmet laws in saving lives and eliminating and reducing injuries. Why doesn’t he, as the spokesperson of the AMA , just tell us that rider training AND wearing a helmet are both important – both should be part of comprehensive motorcyclist safety efforts. If the AMA and MRF would spend as much effort and money on educating riders on the importance of wearing a quality helmet, maybe we wouldn’t need mandatory laws.

  25. Red Dog

    Thanks for the excellent article. The fact that the MRF and AMA immediately sent out Action Alerts calling on members to “comment bomb this story like no other” (MRF) provides me with the most convincing evidence of correctness and importance of this story. Most of the posted comments in opposition to the article are a re-hash of the information contained in the Action Alerts from these two organizations. It is obvious these biker lobbyist organizations feel threatened by the facts presented in the story. It is sad that these organizations hold so much power and yet represent such a small percentage of the riding public. State ABATE organizations are often less than 1 % of the riding public, yet are the voice for all motorcyclists in state legislatures as is similar for MRF and AMA on a national level.

    MRF and the State Motorcyclist Rights Organizations (like ABATE) mix a safety message with their freedom-of-choice lifestyle message. They allow and encourage the use of false and misleading information like that in many of these comments. If AMA spokesperson, Pete terHorst and MRF Vice President of Government Relations and Public Affairs, Jeff Hennie really cared about motorcyclist safety (i.e. about injuries and deaths of those who ride) as opposed to their “freedom agenda” they would be posting comments correcting these false or misleading statements by their members and followers.

    Here are a couple outrageous and totally incorrect statements I copied from earlier posts:

    Helmets are tested by Schnell and DOT for safety. This test is completed by droping the helmet from a height of 15 feet. It passes if it does not crack or break. This is equivelent to an impact at 15 MPH. Most 15 MPH accidents do not result in a fatality.
    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.

    What this article fails to lay out is the amount of deaths from states with helmet laws compared to states with. Missouri has a higher motorcycle fatality number compared to Arkansas which has no law. Also, lets talk about the helmet. I personnaly have buried 2 close friends that dies because the strap on their helmet cut off their esophogus and they chocked to death. When is the last time the helmet has been tested… the 60s. Bikes today are faster, traffic is heavier, and yet we are still being forced to wear 50 year old technology.

  26. Debra Lutje

    My first reaction was to laugh. The author cannot really believe this propaganda. This article is offensive on too many levels to count. Many of the so called statistics are wrong and some are just plain dangerous.
    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”. Any time the government starts to single out a small group and try to legislate their behavior everyone should be concerned. You may be next! No more cute wool hats for the skiers, no more cowboy hats for western equestrians.

  27. Les

    Just my .02… I wear a helmet because I choose to. (Helmet optional state-PA) I do not for one minute count on that to save my life unless involved in a very low speed incident. It may keep my brain from oozing out, but there are just too many other body parts that will get damaged in any incident, especially if another vehicle is involved, or some kind of object, like a tree. And how many of us dress properly to protect the rest of our body, should we be involved in an mishap?

    Rider education is the first important step for not only beginning riders, but even those of us that have been riding, be it 2 years or 20. But all the rider education will not completely free us from the danger we face each day, from careless, inattentive drivers, gravel, wildlife, weather, slippery manhole covers, we’re at the mercy of the environment we love to be in on our iron horses. Oh, and common sense plays a big role in each rider’s safety as well, but you can’t regulate that, nor testosterone.

    I believe a rider should have the choice. I wear a shorty in the summer, sometimes a 3/4 if it’s cool, and full face in the fall when the temps start to drop. I also occasionally putter around my neighborhood sans helmet, somewhat rural, not too much traffic, usually before I put the horse in the shed. But out in the traffic I choose to be covered. Ride safe, no matter what your choice!

  28. Red Dog

    THE DIRTY DOZEN: A GUIDE FOR ANTI-HELMET-LAW BIKERS
    What to Say to Get Your Way

    INTRODUCTION: This guide is provided for those new to arguing either for repeal of helmet laws or against enactment of these totalitarian laws. We have proven the effectiveness of these tactics through extensive use since the early ’70s in the fight for our rights. We have learned what works and what doesn’t, and using these “Dirty Dozen” tactics will increase your chances of getting your way by 73.7 percent.

    1. Use statistics in a misleading way. Using statistics is a good way to get people to listen. The use of statistics makes people believe your statement is a statement of fact. There are lots of times when you can actually be truthful and let people jump to a false conclusion that supports your claim. Here are a couple of good examples that regularly work:

    The first one uses fatality data. Fatality data is usually reported as the number of deaths per 100,000 registered motorcycles or the number of deaths per estimated miles ridden. Just say, “There is little or no difference in the fatality rates between states with helmet laws and states without helmet laws.” You haven’t lied, and people jump to the false conclusion that this “statistical statement of fact” proves that helmet laws are not effective. What you don’t say is that when important variables other than helmet laws are accounted for—like weather, alcohol use, and length of riding season—research shows that helmet laws actually do have an impact on reducing deaths and injuries. Don’t say anything about these other significant variables, though. If you let people jump to the wrong conclusion, you can’t be accused of lying.

    A second good “fact” is to say that helmets are tested at impact speeds of only 13 mph. This will get listeners to jump to the false conclusion that helmets are not effective in protecting the head and brain in crashes with pre-crash speeds higher than 13 mph. And as everyone knows, no one ever drives or rides at 13 mph or lower except when starting out or stopping. People don’t need to know that 13 mph is the approximate impact speed that results from the “drop test” helmets are subjected to during Department of Transportation (DOT) testing or that the 13-mph value isn’t the highest speed at which a helmet is effective, but is the 90th percentile of the chosen six-foot drop-test height derived from the accident type identified in the Hurt Report of 1981(and verified numerous times since). Don’t explain that this means that in 90 percent or more of real-life motorcycle crashes, the rider suffers a blow to the head by falling off the motorcycle from approximately a six-foot height, thus hitting the ground at approximately 13 mph. Just state the “fact” and let your listeners (hopefully busy senators and representatives who don’t do their own research) jump to a false conclusion.

    2. Use outdated research when the information supports your cause, even though you know the research is old, the research methods were highly questionable, and newer, credible research provides contradictory evidence. The best example of this is to say, “Studies show wearing a helmet contributes to neck injuries.” This is the famous “Goldstein” study from 1986, so no one can say you are lying. Don’t mention that this study has been highly criticized in the professional literature or that there is new research from doctors at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine that shows helmeted motorcyclists are less likely to suffer a cervical spine injury after a crash than non-helmeted riders. The point here is to ignore the “body of research” and just pick the one study that supports your cause.

    3. Only provide references for the statistics you use when you are absolutely, positively, 110 percent sure that if someone fact checks your reference they will find what you say to be true and that other research will not contradict it. For example, say, “According to the Hurt Study, more than 50 percent of the time the cause of a crash is another vehicle violating the motorcycle right of way.” This is a true statement, and your goal is to blame the motorist for the crash. The actual percentage reported is 50.9 percent, but don’t be precise and then people will assume a much higher percentage. Better yet, say, “According to the Hurt study, in multiple vehicle crashes, another vehicle violated the motorcycle right of way almost 65 percent of the time.” People will not notice that you qualified or limited your statement to multiple vehicle crashes, and they will just remember that other drivers are the big problem, which is of course your goal with statements like this.

    4. Be very careful about providing references. Providing a reference gives your opposition the ability to fact check what you have said and to find other references that disprove your claim. The easiest way to avoid this is by not providing a source. When you say, “Most crashes are caused by car drivers,” most people will intuitively believe you. It is something they have likely heard before, and they have no idea that it isn’t necessarily true. So just make the statement. Saying “according to,” as described in No. 3, is risky. People can’t check your statements if you don’t cite a source.

    5. Ignore the fact that crashes are going to happen in spite of all efforts to prevent them. Admitting that it is simply impossible to prevent all crashes means that efforts to reduce death, injury, or the severity of injury in the event of a crash are important to overall safety efforts. So then you’d also have to admit that riding gear is important, particularly helmets. The best way to avoid this logical trap is to ignore the data and continue to blame other drivers by saying, “If we could only get car drivers to act responsibly, we could save bikers’ lives.”

    6. Make up statistics. For example, say, “I’m sure that if we could just get car drivers to respect our rights, we could reduce biker fatalities by as much as 75 percent.” Another example is “The experienced riders I know say that in 67.5 percent of the crashes their friends wearing helmets were in, the helmet caused more injury than it prevented.” These statements sound impressive because of the percentages. You know they’re just made-up numbers with no real meaning, but politicians do this all the time and it works for them, so it will work for us too.

    7. When you do make up statistics, use odd numbers, as in the second example given in No. 6. Odd numbers sound so much more legitimate. For instance, say 73.7 percent instead of rounding up to 75 percent.

    8. Make true statements that have no real meaning and that sound like they counter arguments made by the safety-crats. People hearing the true statement will just nod their heads in agreement with you and will assume all the other things you say are also true. A good example is to say, “Helmets don’t prevent crashes.” Obviously, this statement is true. So what if it doesn’t have anything to do with helmet effectiveness or the value of helmet laws? When people hear you say something true, they will assume you are a truthful person and are not out to mislead them.

    9. Make common sense statements that lead the uninformed public to false conclusions about helmets (this tactic is similar to but slightly different from No. 8). For example, say, “It’s important for bikers to be able to have a wide field of vision; therefore, we don’t want anything to interfere with our ability to see.” Better yet is to end the statement with “our ability to detect traffic hazards,” as this sounds much more official. These are certainly true statements that also apply to car and truck drivers, boaters and bicyclists. People will readily accept and concur with your simple statement, and your statement will lead the uninformed to jump to the false conclusion that helmets interfere with vision. But you never said that.

    10. Combine a couple tactics together to make a more powerful impact. Combining tactic No. 8 with No. 5 works wonders. For example, you could say, “It is important for bikers to be able to have a wide field of vision because we don’t want anything to interfere with our ability to detect traffic hazards. A recent survey reported that 97.8% of American Bikers Aimed Toward Education think helmets interfere with their vision.” Notice how the second part of this statement sounds like a real study. Don’t just say something like “The buddies I hang out with at Joe’s B & G think helmets suck.” Maybe it goes without saying, but when you make something up, make it sound like you didn’t just make it up.

    11. Talk a lot about freedom and the American way. These have always been important values in our country and might be more so now than at any time since the Revolutionary War. Hit this hard. Divert attention away from motorcyclist safety to these “hot button” topics. It is even OK to say you have nothing against helmets, that some bikers do wear them, but the real issue is that as Americans we should not be forced by a law to do something that only impacts the individual. Ignore the fact that all citizens pay the costs associated with non-helmeted riders who crash. Refer often to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Talk about America being built on individual freedom and the right to make individual choices.

    12. Accuse the opposition of using these same dirty tactics—of using false, outdated, misleading, and made-up statistics. You could say something like “There is a whole body of literature on how to use statistics to mislead (this is true; just do a Web search). One piece identifies 12 different tactics and calls them the Dirty Dozen (this is also true; this is it). At some time or another it seems to us that the safety-crats have used 100 percent of the identified ways of using statistics to mislead.” Our estimate is that we have used these tactics less than 81.1 percent of the time, but with your help, we can do better.

  29. James

    If they just got rid of the worthless NHTSA then most of our problems would be solved.

    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?”

    So you can have motorcycle checkpoints, but airport’s can only do random searches of to include small children and grandparents? How about some car checkpoints too, so many driving around with bald tires/no seatbelt/bad brakes/blind/etc? We all know that car drivers are much more dangerous and cost the economy much more in vehicle losses as a percentage then motorcycles even if there death rates are declining…what are the accident rates?

  30. Mr Phil

    It’s simple, you want to wear a helmet, wear one, if you don’t want to it should be YOUR choice. And if you don’t ride at all, STFU !!!

  31. Mannie

    It’s simple. If you want helmets, wear one. If not, don’t. It’s called Liberty. We once respected it in this country.

  32. David

    Enough said !

    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.

  33. Gregg

    I refuse to agree with any of the complete brain-deads who will try to tell me how a helmet is somehow dangerous to a rider, the old “it snapped his neck” or “the strap choked him to death” or any of the other very stupid justifications one my try to come up with regarding helmet dangers. Are those events remotely possible? Yes, but it’s about a thousand times more likely that a helmet will protect your head than kill you. Stop arguing those points. You look like idiots.
    That said, helmet laws should absolutely be overturned in all states. I choose to wear a helmet, and that’s my personal decision. I choose to wear a seat belt too. It’s none of the government’s business and should not ever be. Same with smoking, drugs, or any other unhealthy choices. I have never understood why anyone not close to me cares how long I care to live or how healthy I choose to be.
    We don’t need or want the government protecting us from ourselves.

    -Gregg

  34. DJ

    for all you people bashing bikers and helmets….how many of u talk on the cell phone while driving…..text while driving, i do wear a helmet, but these motorcycle only checkpoints are discriminatory, why don’t the lawmakers put a bill that makes texting while driving or talking non handsfree while driving the same as DUI……then lets see if it still goes on at the pace it’s goin, and this article, is just another example of the liberal bias in the media…..they all want a nanny state, and this is not what our forefathers wanted. For all you people who said, oh if they are not wearing a helmet and get into a wreck and die to leave them on the side of the road….you know what u can do to yourselves. How about we leave you on the side of the road when u wrap your car around a pole after u send a text that says LOL…..think about it, i just did a ride for 2 people this weekend…..killed 3 years ago…..by a person….texing and driving, why doesn’t mr schmit write about that ?

  35. Cory

    One other point they are leaving out is how many deaths were from being struck by another car or were just the motorcycle accidents alone. Also in one study it showed wearing a helmet was only 37% effective in single motorcycle wrecks. This was the governments own study. Also not wearing a helmet was not in the top 5 causes of death they were excessive speed, alcohol/drug use, inexperienced rider, poor weather and poor roads. When you add in being hit by another vehicle the percent is even less for survival. I do not normally use a helmet by choice and have been riding since i was 5 i am now 49 and have gone down and been hit by another car while stopped at a red light I know the risks involved but I have been hurt far worse in car wrecks.

  36. Little Sister

    I once had a biology professor that brought in a colleague to discuss his thesis with us. The topic was “Animals do not feel, they only respond”…this article’s author reminds me of that thesis author. The moral of the story from that day was, if you have a point you want to make, you can easily make a presentation on any topic and prove it. So, I thoroughly enjoy getting into the helmet/no helmet debates. I was brought up around motorcycles, motorized bikes, mopeds, dirt bikes, trikes, quads, you name it…we rode them. We rode them during the great gas crisis in the ’70′s as children, and continued into adulthood. When we started, we couldn’t afford helmets. Since starting without one, it is much harder for me to put one on – decades later. I find it distracting, makes my neck and shoulders sore, the neck or chin strap usually bruises my neck after a 500 mile day, the several different helmets I use all change my ability to hear see and move, and on a hot day – I usually can go about 80 miles in a clip and need to hydrate and mop up the salty sweat from my face and eyes. Obviously, I do wear one from time to time. The article above offers a very poorly biased presentation of numbers. Accident reporting involving motorcyclists has been proven flawed in many areas. There have been problems with ATV, jet skis, and yes even lawn mowers being reported as motorcycles because of a lack of education or clarity in the process. As for Mr. Dabbs…wow, that is a sad statement! Mr. Schmidt, you made your presentation in that manner for some strange reason, just as the thesis writer had in a lecture I once heard about lacking feeling and only responding…

  37. George

    I’m sorry, but this ‘article’ is at best very thinly veiled editorializing, and at worst, boilerplate alarmism fed to the authors by those who stand to GAIN by casting bikers in a bad light.

    To contrast, the most effective measures against motorcyclist injury are RIDER training and DRIVER awareness education. Riders who haven’t had the benefit of training are much more likely to ride outside their limits or not practice (or even know) the maneuvers they will need to stay out of trouble. And drivers who aren’t paying attention to what they are doing while piloting 1-ton lethal weapons are also much more likely to get involved in a crash of ANY type.

    Helmets are a single safety measure, a reactive (not proactive) method of mitigating a crash. Moto-only checkpoints are an expense on the taxpayers, an impediment to all traffic in the area, and an annoyance to the riders. Furthermore, there is no evidence whatsoever that suggests that imposing checkpoints will decrease moto accidents.

    In future, I would ask that FairWarning check and verify what they publish, instead of printing something sent to them wholesale by the insurance industry. Thank you.

  38. Justine

    First….
    a.. In 1997, there were 2,116 fatalities for 3,826,000 motorcycles registered. Or 0.055% of the motorcyclists were killed.
    b.. 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.
    And I don’t know about Michigan, But ABATE has a different meaning in SC…So Maybe that wasn’t well researched either!!
    I am willing to fight for my right to freedom… Our government does not need to take care of us, and neither does any other groups… THAT is part of what is wrong in our country, everyone is willing to be lead by the nose like cattle…Well I am not a cow and if my being knowledgeable about how our government works bugs you, then GOOD!! I don’t know why Motorcyclists tick you off so much, but you should try to fix that and not worry about my safety, I do that for myself!! I am a voting, tax paying, working, citizen and my freedom is important to me!
    And on the point of Motorcyle only check points…What is the point of that? We get stopped along with cars in all the other checkpoints…How would motorcycle only check points do anything other than single out us as a group?? IF I am in a state that makes me wear a helmet, if it isn’t a DOT approved helmet, any police officer can stop me and give me a ticket, Why would it have to be done in a checkpoint?

  39. Jon Current

    “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

    I hope and pray Michael Dabbs has the severe accident – where he is left bleeding from his skull on the side of the road slowly expiring and in great pain because some careless driver wanted to text to someone about being late to a high school party – that he has wished upon a number of human beings which I know and love.

    That he would say that about them, me and the billion plus motorcyclists around the world is tremendously thoughtless and inhuman. Mr. Dabbs has no right being the president of anything if he values human life so very little. His organization should be blacklisted and ignored until he is removed and shown the door for good. The integrity of this Brain Injury Association of Michigan is non-existent while a person who can say and believe such things is allowed to run its operations.

  40. Terry Panther

    It’s not the Helmets that will Save our lifes it’s the people driving the Cars will Watch out for us that will save us hang up Look Twice and Save A Life Motorcycles are everywhere See us or we die . You talk about the Helmet when it’s you in the cars that don’t watch out for us on Motorcycles. Then when you run us off the road and we die it’s o well he should have had on a helmet

  41. Mike

    Concentrate your laws on the Wall Street Gang.

  42. Cathy Jackson

    It’s obvious the author of this article omitted some of the stats. The number of motorcycle riders has more than doubled in the years between the 1st and last reports cited, while the number of rider fatalities has actually dropped from 0.055% to 0.053%. One thing I’ve noticed every time I’ve read an article about a rider being killed in an accident, it’s always mentioned if the rider wasn’t wearing a helmet, but rarely says if the rider WAS wearing a helmet. Look up the Black Nails Society and find out about Anita Z.affke, the woman who was an experienced rider, was wearing a helmet, was stopped at a red light and was rear ended at 55 plus miles per hour by a woman who was painting her fingernails while driving. Or the young man from Westville Illinois who was sitting at a red light on his bike and accidentally killed the engine when the light turned green and was run over from behind by a tractor trailer that had rolled up too close to him at the stop and ‘forgot’ he was there. I can tell you this, if you get hit from behind by a car going 55mph or are run over by a texting teenager or a tractor trailer, I don’t care how many helmets you’re wearing, you’re not going to survive it without the hand of God. That’s right…I just read a story that headlined “58% of high school seniors admit texting while driving”. 48% of juniors admit to the same thing. Those are kids who’ve had their licenses all of ’15 minutes’ but feel experienced enough to multitask while not looking at the road.
    I could go on and on with stories of bikers being run over by drunk drivers who pass a car then pull back into the right lane never seeing the motorcycle that already occupies that space, or of drivers who are too busy talking on their phones to stop and look at a red light before they turn right, thus pulling directly into an oncoming motorcycle. We go through the training, but cycle rider training only trains the bikers, not the “cage” drivers.
    I say spend the money that NHTSA has, to train vehicle drivers rather than putting all the responsibility on the bikers. We do what we can to avoid our skin meeting pavement, but we have only so much control and to the Drs and legislators who say to leave helmetless riders on the side of the road like roadkill…will they feel the same when the biker did nothing wrong except be in the path of a drunk or a texter? Will they feel that was when it’s their teenager who runs down an otherwise responsible biker? It’s something to think about.

  43. kirk

    Here’s the issue with the article> It doesn’t account for the 100% increase in ridership from 1997-2010. It doesn’t take into account the fact cell phone distractions among other distractions account for drivers simply not paying attention to us riders compared to 1997. It doesn’t give you a reflection of whose at fault- which is typically not the motorcyclist.
    I’ve been a motorcyclist for 30 yrs. I have operated a motorcycle insurance agency for 13yrs. I have sold and financed bikes for 5 yrs. And I am a helmet wearer. This website’s selective editing of NHTSA information is slanted and is leaving out vital information. If they would like a rebuttal they certainly can contact me for that. I do not disagree with the fact that helmets do save lives, but the message they convey through this article is not fully informational.

  44. David Baccus

    I’d like to respond to Fred’s question:
    I ride street bikes And I race dirt bikes. I’ve never fallen on the street, yet I’ve fallen more times than I can remember racing. I carry liability insurance and medical insurance, as well as life insurance.
    The choice you made in buying a car was yours, not mine. You had other choices, such as a bus or a dump truck or a Mini Cooper. My point is you had a choice in choosing your vehicle, and you made it. State or federal law only tells you to wear your seatbelt, not a helmet, even though there are more head injuries due to car accidents than motorcycle accidents. I actually wear a helmet on one of my street bikes but not on the other. Figure that. Point being, it’s My choice.
    Another small point. My carbon footprint compared with yours is miniscule. You are polluting more in your car than I am on my motorcycle by 10x.
    If we are going to look at the costs associated with motorcycle accidents, then lets look at skin cancer, lung cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease first.

  45. plumbertom

    Lies and misrepresentations of the facts does no one any good.
    You should take a strong look at your anti-motorcycling bias and take measures to correct it.

  46. John Thomas

    I wear a helmet by choice. As far as the numbers show motorcycle deaths are down and they would be down even more if there were fewer distracted drivers. We don’t need to spend money on motorcycle only check points. We need to spend it on enforcing drivers that are texting, reading a book on their Kindle fire and one I have personally seen doing taxes.

  47. Thomas Finn, III

    As a motorcyclist, I take issue to the recent article attributing Fairwarning.org promoting mandatory helmet laws and motorcycle-only checkpoints. Please post my response to this biased article that describes motorcyclists with a derogatory term.

    Fairwarning.org’s statement that it “strives to provide [this] coverage as a non-partisan, non-ideological public service” does not ring true in this story, which cherry picks fatality statistics and discredits rider education.

    The federally funded motorcycle crash causation study, conducted by Professor Hugh “Harry” Hurt, Jr., documented the efficacy of rider education. The 1981 report said: “The basic Motorcycle Rider Course of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation is effective in training motorcycle riders and those trained riders are both less involved and less injured in motorcycle accidents.” The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also cited rider education as effective in its 2005 report, “Promising Practices in Motorcycle Rider Education and Licensing.” The report states: “Although evidence of the effectiveness of rider education on crash reduction is mixed, several studies have shown that trained riders tend to have fewer crashes, less severe crashes, and overall lower cost of damage resulting from crashes.”

    Why were these facts left out of this article to provide objective balance?

    I could go on ,but this yellow journalism is typically pathetic.

  48. Hey Fred

    Fred , you said, “It has anti lock brakes and skid sensing technology. None of these protections are available to motorcyclists, nor can there be!”

    There are plenty of motorcycles (usually not the POS Harley Bikes, though) that have ABS and traction control. If were going to go all in with mandatory helmet laws, why aren’t we requiring all new motorcycles have ABS and traction control. Honda’s Goldwing is available with an airbag, as well as at least 3 motorcycle jackets. What about headlight modulators?

    Let’s not just pick the low hanging fruit of mandatory helmet laws, if were all about legislating motorcycle safety all of these things, including protective riding gear should be the law as well.

  49. Janet Harris

    Funny thing about the numbers of registered motorcycles and the number of deaths, all those mo-ped/ scooter crashes and deaths are figured in as a motorcycle death crash. here is the catch, motorcycles ARE registered, insured and counted, we know how many are on the road. The mo-ped/ scooters are NOT registered, insured nor counted except if there is an accident/ death. without knowing how many of them are on the road the percentage of motorcyles and the deaths can not be correctly figured.
    on a 2nd note: I normally do not where a helmet, I wore one so I could run the lap around the Indy 500 track as part of the Miracle Ride for Riley Hospital. I found it harder to ride as the wind tried to lift the helmet and by the end of the day my neck and shoulders were throbbing. the next day I could hardly raise my head or turn my neck. since I ride daily I have no other choice but to believe this was caused from the helmet.
    and the 3rd note: I have been thru the ABATE rider training class and can truely state the training I got there has many times saved me from being in an accident. Nothing will make me believe a “safer” crash (helmet) is better than no crash at all. If you do not ride stop trying to tell us the riders what is in our best interest. I have a Mom and I am an adult and a Grandmother as well….therefore I do not need the government to be my “mother”

  50. Taz Local 28 FORR Missouri

    What this article fails to lay out is the amount of deaths from states with helmet laws compared to states with. Missouri has a higher motorcycle fatality number compared to Arkansas which has no law.
    Also, lets talk about the helmet. I personnaly have buried 2 close friends that dies because the strap on their helmet cut off their esophogus and they chocked to death. When is the last time the helmet has been tested… the 60s. Bikes today are faster, traffic is heavier, and yet we are still being forced to wear 50 year old technology. If the NHTSA want to force the issue that we have to wear a helmet, then force the manufactures creat a helmet that will not cause damage to the rider. If this can not be done, then the helmet should not be forced down our throut.
    And while we are discussing head injuries due to accidents, just as many cage drivers recieve heand and neck injuries as motorcycle riders, yet no one is advocating mandatory helmets or neck support for drivers.
    As far as the checkpoints, I have no issue, think they work to remove people off the road that have no insurance, drunk drivers and more…so why do we need one just made for motorcycles? Would we be exempt from all other check points? NO. If they want to fund a nation wide any vehicle checkpoints, so be it, but to say they need to do this only to motorcycles is the same as all people that have middle eastern look to them need to be strip searched in an airport.

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