FairWarining Investigates

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

  1. Chuck Nordby

    I have ridden motorcycles for 48 years and 250,000 miles, almost all without a helmet. Now at 63 years old I do far more riding in my home town (population 1964) on small cycles. There has never been a death in my towns city limits from a motorcycle accident and yet I have to have a constant threat from you moron helmet advocates to my freedom to choose not to wear a helmet. Put a helmet on in your car, you are the one that has an air conditioner. I’m just riding on 30 mile per hour roads to stores and trying to be comfortable riding on hot days. Those stinking helmet laws don’t allow for areas that that are SAFE! Almost all small cities of 2000 people or less have rarely had a death in their city limmits from any vehicle! I have checked statistics for head injury death rates in cars (10 % of deaths are head related) and even though cars are safer per mile than cycles, the total deaths from head injuries are very close to the same as cycles. So just where do you car driving helmet law nuts get off telling me to wear a helmet when you are ALSO a burden to society???? Mind your own bussiness IDIOTS!!!

  2. jeddy tranquill

    Quess what folks? After the Michigan Helmet Repeal while registrations went UP 5% the death, injury and invovement toll WENT DOWN 5% just like I told Gov Rick Snyder that it would! All you helmet hysterics can now go back to your caves and close the rock in behind you so that you will be safe!

  3. Joe

    Just ban all motorcycles, scooters, and mopeds.
    No murdercycles,…..no fatalities,…..simple solution..

  4. Edgar

    I wear a helmet because I choose to. Others do not and that is their choice. I pay insurance. The study referenced also neglects to account for the increase in mc riders and registrations over the same period so as a percentage fatalities are probably down. With sobriety checks, anyone can get stopped. Motorcycle- only checkpoints are riders only. So when the mayor’s spouse whizzes by in her Escalade talking on her cell phone while punching in her restaurant reservations on her 7″ LCD touch screen display, I’m sitting at a motorcyclist only checkpoint with a cop sent out by the mayor to collect Benjamins for the city’s coffers. You can make helmets mandatory on the same day you make cell phones and car dash infotainment systems inoperable once the car is in motion. Who pays for those accident victims? According to some logic here, if I witness someone who was texting /on a cell phone while driving and they’re in in accident I can leave them for dead because their behavior was high risk and society shouldn’t “pay their bills” Nice!

  5. Wombat

    Make it a requirement that those riders that wish to forgo using helmets first sign an organ donor registration card. They get their freedom, & when the inevitable tragedy occurs someone gets their life back.

  6. JT

    Those that would forfeit freedom for the sake of security deserve neither.

  7. Derek Reeves

    good friend’s son just died on a motorcycle.
    no cars were involved.

    there is an option that needs to be addressed:
    just as abstinence from sex is an option for prevention of unwanted pregnancies.
    so abstinence from riding motorcycles is an option for prevention of unwanted motorcycle accidents and deaths of loved ones.

    a lot of in-your-face stuff comes from Abate.
    “start seeing motorcycles” signs are everywhere
    we know that “not seeing” is not always the case.
    there are a lot of idiots that ride….not saying everyone.

    so stop ridin ‘em is just as appropriate.
    motorcycles are for the most part, recreational.
    they are a seasonal toy just like a boat.
    some people live their hobby and others do not want anything to do with them.
    this gives those who dont, an alternative.

    please join me in supporting stop ridin ‘em.

    stop ridin ‘em is a campaign to encourage the absence of riding motorcycles in order to saves lives. Too many motorcyclist have died, been maimed, and destroyed others’ lives through motorcycle accidents. http://igg.me/p/209822 is the indiegogo website helping the stop ridin ‘em campaign.

    thank you,
    derek reeves

  8. Sue Ernst

    “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

    Mr Dabbs, you make me nauseous
    Motorcyclists are insurance carrying taxpaying citizens, a large number of them have gone to war to fight for your freedom and rights that you want to just give away. Don’t give mine away while you are at it. It’s funny how people that don’t wear helmets don’t care if you do or not but the people that do wear them are hell bent on making you wear one. Reminds me of dry drunks and reformed smokers – always right.

  9. steve

    I started teaching MC safety education in 1971. I taught my students over the years to be extremely paranoid(actually not paranoid as they ARE after us!)

    Better education of beginning riders is essential as the FIRST year of riding IS the most dangerous as things become second nature only with experience.

    The inattentive car driver is always going to be a danger- it IS getting worse with cells and texting. The cops alraedy have put a box on the tickets demarking if a cell phone was in use( sure after you run over a MCist- you will tell the cop that you were jabbering on the phone??-I think not!)

    Experience and a constant state of hyper awareness is essential to staying alive- Any altered state of conciousness, including a fight with another, or elation over something, can be fatal if one lets their guard down.

    Wearing a helmet, according to a plastic surgeon ,who taught at the EMT class attended, “Would put me out of business!”

    He was referring to a full face helmet which I showed him, as I wore it in on my bike.

    If you opt out of wearing a helmet, I feel that nobody else, except for your family, should shoulder the burden of keeping you on life support at horrendous expense. Insurance shouldn’t cover an unprotected head!!

    If that is a harsh attitude- attribute it to seeing unprotected riders die or become veggies- for the simple reason that they thought they were “free” when not protecting themselves.

    Keep the shiny side up-


  10. Michael Moody

    First, let me say that I believe that every state in the union should require DOT helmet use at all times. I saw a man in TN dump his bike coming out of a parking lot because it stalled. His head hit the curb so hard that it bounced back up. Had he not been wearing a helmet (TN requires one) he surely would have died. But, because he was wearing one, he got up, we helped him pick his bike up, and off he went. Case closed. We have to legislate using helmets because we have so many dumb idiots who don’t have the common sense, so we have to think for them. Many of them, unfortunately, would thank us later.

    Second, if you want to lower the motorcycle crashes, start rigorous enforcement of traffic laws for cars. They run red lights, change lanes without even looking, pass motorcycles in the same lane (highly illegal and dangerous), cut bikes off and don’t get back in their lanes when they hear the horn of a bike (I have air horns), eat while driving, talk on cell phones, text (how rediculous), read newspapers and books while driving (I’d like to grab them out of their car and shake them), play with dogs, discipline children, apply makeup, and even have sex, all while driving!!!! We as bikers have to share the road with these fools. If law enforcement would start actively enforcing the laws for these people they wouldn’t be on the road. The problem is, that law enforcement is generally lazy, and doesn’t want to do anything except collect their pay and go home (I got this directly from a sheriffs deputy when I asked him why he didn’t go after a red light runner who we both witnessed.

    The roads are only going to get worse as long as traffic laws go largely unenforced. I wouldn’t ride to the end of my driveway without a helmet, and I don’t think that riding without one should even be a choice. Cmon riders, quit making excuses for your own stupidity and get smart. Wear a helmet and insist that others do also. And no, I am not a bleeding heart liberal, I’m a conservative who believes in common sense.

  11. Brett

    The #1 way to make motorcycling safer is to BAN CARS. The evidence that I see daily is that the majority of car drivers are eating, talking on their phones, texting, painting nails, applying makeup, reprimanding children in the back seat, letting the dog ride in the drivers lap, reading, or fumbling with whatever gadget or accessory is on or in their dash. Cars should not even have drink holders. The fact that the cars made nowadays with a touch screen in the dash is absolutely ridiculous. The car manufacturers are inviting more accidents with that one. The vehicle operator should be doing nothing but operating the vehicle. It should be much more difficult to obtain a drivers license than it is. That should bring the death toll down significantly.

    As for the non-car related motorcycle accidents, the rider should wear the proper gear to protect themselves fully. I wear a full face helmet and full riding gear because I want to survive an accident. For the rider that chooses not to, that is his choice and they and/or their loved ones will have to live with any consequences.

    The insurance companies support these laws so they can have less claims. They are also the ones who back compulsory auto insurance laws because it is automatic business for them.

    Helmet & seatbelt laws are wrong. Yes I also wear a seatbelt religiously. I am smart enough to not need a law to tell me it is the right thing to do to protect myself. As for the stupid people who do not protect themselves, well, the world needs less stupid people. We do not need laws that protect us from ourselves. I reserve the right to risk my own life.

  12. Paul

    As I read the comments/remarks, what amazes me is the level of ignorance & stupidity displayed by many riders.
    If you crash, you will be killed anyway, so you don’t need a helmet?
    Helmets are dangerous because they will break your neck?
    I wear a helmet & full gear whenever I ride & I do not resent the fact that there is a law requiring me to do so.
    Stupid is as stupid does, so keep riding without helmets or with novelty helmets…organ donors are always needed.

  13. Kristy Crook

    I choose not to wear a helmet. I also have my living will drawn up and should I be in a crash that bad, because of my living will, I will not survive, Nor would I want to. Who in their right mind would want to save their brain and have a useless body with which they can do nothing???? Not to mention I have full insurance coverage and won’t cost the taxpayers a dime. I also agree with hyped up skewed statistics. Yes we have more crashes, but the the number of licensed drivers has also doubled over the same period. Same percentage of crashes. End of story.

    I also agree that safety training for both bikers and cagers is an absolute necessity. The rider training courses are awesome, and at least in MN, I wish drivers ed was mandatory. All you have to do get a motor vehicle liscense here is be 18 and pass the test, with no actual training. If you’re taught by a crappy driver, you too will be a crappy driver. There have been a couple of accidents in SE MN lately with riders who took a corner too fast and crashed. One involved a highway and one on a county road. I’m guessing that had they been better educated about the laws of physics and two wheels, they probably wouldn’t have crashed.

  14. Rich Snooks

    I want to start by apologizing for the length of this email but it concerns a lengthy study and I want to share my thoughts about it because I believe that we will see this study quite a bit in the upcoming year.

    As predicted, Michigan’s victory has stirred up the opposition. Since the modification of the Michigan helmet statute we have seen articles, editorials and letters decrying the act and arguing that it will lead to more deaths and increased costs. Last week the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a study using 2008 data. Their conclusion was predictably that universal helmet laws save lives and money, and that allowing adults to make their own choices on the subject increases fatalities and public costs. You can read the study for yourself at http://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/pdf/mc2012/MotorcycleSafetyBook.pdf
    The problem with this study is that it is a collection of conclusions. Many of these conclusions do not make sense when we look at the facts. Other conclusions are not based on sound logic. Finally, others rest upon logic which, if applied to other activities, would justify government regulation that few American citizens would accept because it would then affect them.

    The premise of the study is twofold. The first is that states which do not have universal helmet laws have much higher fatality rates. The second is that these states are burdened by higher costs due to un-helmeted motorcycle riders. I would like to analyze these premises.

    First we will take fatalities. I have a hard time believing that this was a non-biased study given the way it made the argument that the only proven way to reduce motorcycle fatalities was to strip adults of the right to choose whether or not to wear a helmet. If you think I am exaggerating their stance I would point you to page 5 where the study states the following:
    “Helmets are the only safety measure proven to save lives.” (Emphasis added).
    Is it the contention of the CDC that rider education is not a safety measure proven to save lives? Can any reasonable person actually think that learning how to control your motorcycle and operate it defensively and responsibly is of no proven safety value? That is utter nonsense. Several years ago the Virginia Coalition of Motorcyclists studied the effectiveness of Virginia’s rider education program. We pulled five years’ worth of motorcycle crash statistics and with the help of the Division of Motor Vehicles broke the crashes down between graduates of Virginia’s rider education program and non-graduates. Graduates were tremendously under-represented in those statistics. Further, there were two out of the five years in which out of all fatalities for that year NONE were graduates of the rider education program. Other states have done the same thing with similar results. Rider education is most certainly a proven safety measure. I would argue that it is the most effective safety measure. Why does every state have an extensive driver’s education program if education is not a safety measure proven to save lives.
    The study goes on to point out the rise in motorcycle fatalities over the years and suggests that relaxed motorcycle helmet laws are to blame. It uses Florida as an example. This is not a new argument; however it does ignore some important facts. First it is important to note that upon modification of Florida’s helmet law to allow adults to choose, motorcycle registrations in Florida increased dramatically. According to Florida’s Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles’ report Traffic Safety Facts, October 2010: Motorcycles, between 2000 and 2009 motorcycle fatalities have increased by 63.4% and motorcycle injuries have increased by 62.3% However during that time motorcycle registrations increased by 102.4%. Injuries and fatalities have not kept pace with motorcycle registrations. Secondly, using states such as Florida is very misleading. It is one of the top motorcycle tourist destinations in the United States. It also has a much longer riding season. Additionally, it hosts one of the largest motorcycle events in the country drawing half a million motorcyclists a year from all over the country. (Wikipedia.com) Clearly that number of motorcyclists is going to throw the numbers off.
    The CDC study also fails to take into consideration national motorcycle registrations in presenting its statistics. Jeff Hennie, Vice President of Government Relations and Public Affairs with the Motorcycle Riders Foundation did some great work debunking similar claims of motorcycle fatality rates in a recent article. The numbers used by the article are taken from the National Highway Traffic safety Administration (NHTSA). In 1997 there were 2,116 motorcycle fatalities nationwide. In 2010 there were 4,502. The article argued that the rise in fatality rates was greatly due to relaxed motorcycle helmet laws. Jeff pulled the motorcycle registrations nationwide. When applying the motorcycle registration numbers, here is what Jeff discovered. In 1997, there were 2,116 fatalities for 3,826,000 motorcycles registered. That means 0.055% of registered motorcycles were involved in a fatal accident. In 2010, there were 4,502 fatalities for 8,368,000 motorcycles registered. That means 0.053% of registered motorcycles were involved in a fatal accident. Registration rates increased more than fatality rates. Those numbers paint a completely different (and more accurate) picture.
    The last thing I will point out is on page six of the study. It reads as follows:
    “People who do not wear helmets are more likely to be killed in a crash. Forty-one percent of motorcycle operators and 51% of motorcycle passengers who died in 2008 were not wearing a helmet.”

    Not to state the obvious but that would mean that 59% of motorcycle operators and 49% of motorcycle passengers who died in 2008 were wearing a helmet. It would appear that the majority of motorcycle fatality victims were wearing a helmet. Additionally, this statistic does not identify the cause of death in each of these fatalities. For the non-helmeted fatalities that died of trauma to internal organs, the fact that they were not wearing a helmet is irrelevant. For that matter, it is an irrelevant statistic for some who died of a head injury unless you are willing to jump to the conclusion that helmeted riders never die of head injuries. We know that is not the case. In the end this statistic tells us nothing.

    The second argument of the CDC study is that forcing all motorcyclists to wear a helmet would save money. This argument is problematic for several reasons. For starters it is not clear from where the study gets its numbers. For instance, the study states that the United States saved nearly 3 billion due to helmet use in 2008 and could have saved an additional 1.3 billion in 2008 if all motorcyclists had worn helmets. How does the CDC come to that conclusion? How did the U.S. save this money? The study does not tell us.
    So how do we test the validity of these statements? I would suggest that one way is to look at our friends in the insurance industry. For those of you who have received my prior emails forgive me for plowing old ground here.

    If states that allow adults to make their own choice have higher costs we would expect to see that reflected in motor vehicle insurance rates since we know that the costs borne by the insurance industry are passed on to the consumer by way of insurance rates. However, a study of motor vehicle insurance rates do not support the argument that states that allow adult choice incur higher costs as a result. The top five most expensive jurisdictions for motor vehicle insurance in 2012 are Louisiana, Oklahoma, Michigan, West Virginia and Washington DC. (Insure.com) Out of that list only Oklahoma allows riders to choose (Michigan had a mandatory helmet law when the study was conducted so we count them as a universal helmet law state). The other four require the operators and passengers of motorcycles to wear helmets. The five cheapest states are Maine, Iowa, Wisconsin, Idaho and North Carolina. Of those only North Carolina requires riders to wear a helmet. To take it even further, only 2 of the ten cheapest states for motor vehicle insurance have mandatory helmet laws. The other eight either allow adults to choose for themselves or, as in the case of Iowa, simply have no law what so ever.

    If you look at the entire list there is no correlation between motor vehicle insurance rates and universal helmet laws. How can that be if the majority of states allow riders to make their own choice and that choice is creating such a public cost? It is because the public cost argument is a myth. According to the US Census Bureau there were 2,035,474 injuries and deaths resulting from motor vehicle crashes 2009. 94,462 of those were related to motorcycle crashes. (http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s1107.pdf). That means that in 2009, only 4.7% of the motor vehicle crash related deaths and injuries involved motorcycles. Statistically, we are not a large enough segment of the population to contribute to the overall cost of motor vehicle related deaths and injuries.
    The last point I would make is that we should all beware when the government attempts to restrict people’s freedom to choose for themselves by using the public cost argument. Such an argument must ultimately lead to the conclusion that it is proper for the government to make choices for us in any area where there is a possible public cost. Let’s take head injuries and think it out to its logical conclusion. We will even use the numbers from those who would deny us choice.

    According to the CDC study, the United States could have saved 1.3 billion had had all motorcyclists worn helmets. Clearly the 1.3 billion must be costs associated with head injuries being that head injuries are the only injuries helmets are designed to prevent.
    In May of 2011 the CDC issued a study on traumatic brain injury related deaths from 1997-2007. (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss6005a1.htm?s_cid=ss6005a1_w) According to that study, from 1997 to 2007 the fatality rate due to traumatic brain injuries for motorcyclists was 14,972 per every 100,000 members of the total population. The number for occupants enclosed in a motor vehicle was 87,510 per every 100,000 members of the total population. I recognize that there are more auto drivers than motorcyclists, but if we are merely looking at costs it should not matter. A head injury sustained in a motorcycle accident does not cost any more that the same head injury sustained in an automobile accident. Additionally if you think the head injuries in automobile accidents were due to the victim not wearing a seatbelt, I would challenge you to sit in your car, put on your seatbelt and start knocking your head against the driver side door post. It is very easy to do.

    Now let’s take the 1.3 billion that, according to the CDC, the United States could have saved in 2008 had all motorcyclists worn a helmet. Does that mean that since the number of traumatic brain injury deaths is almost 6 times higher in automobile crashes than motorcycle crashes that the United States could have saved almost 7.8 billion dollars a year if all automobile occupants wore helmets? That is a pretty good argument for having the government require that all motor vehicle occupants to wear a helmet. Why should the public be forced to carry the financial burden caused by the automobile driver who carelessly chooses to drive his car without a helmet? Will the public ever accept that argument? Of course they won’t. However many of them want to apply that very logic to us.

    I am sure that some would point out that the above argument only applies to deaths. Injuries are what drive costs. The Brain Injury Association of Indiana did a study on the causes of traumatic brain injuries. (http://biausa.fyrian.com/Default.aspx?SiteSearchID=1192&ID=/search-results.htm) Part of the study focused on transportation related brain injuries. The study looked at injuries during 1995-1996 in 14 different states, about half of which allowed freedom of choice at the time of the study. Keep in mind that this association is not friendly to freedom of choice. They also support mandatory helmet laws. That being said, their study showed that 6% of transportation related brain injuries involved motorcyclists. 62% involved standard motor vehicles. That means that 10 times more traumatic brain injuries were caused in automobile accidents than in motorcycle accidents. Using the CDC’s numbers the United States could have saved 13 billion had every occupant in automobiles worn a helmet. The bottom line is that if you are willing to regulate motorcyclists based upon the public cost theory, then you are being hypocritical if you refuse to do the same thing to automobile occupants.
    You can even take the public cost argument further. Below is an excerpt from a 2004 CDC report on causes of death in the United States in 2000.

    The leading causes of death in 2000 were tobacco (435 000 deaths; 18.1% of total US deaths), poor diet and physical inactivity (400 000 deaths; 16.6%), and alcohol consumption (85 000 deaths; 3.5%). Other actual causes of death were microbial agents (75 000), toxic agents (55 000), motor vehicle crashes (43 000), incidents involving firearms (29 000), sexual behaviors (20 000), and illicit use of drugs (17 000).

    Now according to NHTSA, in 2000 there were 2,897 motorcycle fatalities in the United States. We will assume half of those were not wearing helmets even though that according to the CDC numbers the actual number would be less. For the purposes of this argument we will further assume that every one of those fatalities who were not wearing a helmet would have survived had they worn a helmet. That means that if all motorcyclists had been forced to wear a helmet in 2000 we would have saved 1,449 lives. I rounded up. Why haven’t we made tobacco illegal? We could have saved 435,000 lives doing that. How about restricting the types of foods that restaurants and grocery stores can offer? We could have saved 400,000 lives doing that. Why isn’t alcohol illegal? We could have saved 85,000 lives in 2000 by removing people’s choice as to whether they should consume alcohol. Why don’t we outlaw firearms? That’s another 29,000 lives saved. By removing peoples choices in those areas the government could have saved 949,000 lives. Instead they want to take away our right to choose under the mistaken belief that they could save less than 2,000 lives. The argument is simply void of logic.
    When people read the CDC study many will automatically come to the conclusion that universal helmet laws are the solution to motorcycle accident related injuries and fatalities. However, when you analyze the available data, that is simply not the case. You have to make numerous assumptions and ignore facts to come to that conclusion. The government should not restrict the choices of a few adult Americans based upon the logic which is the basis of this study’s conclusions. No American should be in favor of that. If such logic can be used to restrict the rights of a few, it can certainly be used down the road to restrict the rights of the many. Personally I trust individuals to make choices for themselves. I agree with Ronald Reagan when he said the following:

    “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

  15. Russ Peterson

    A motorcyclist was struck and killed by a fire truck in Brooklyn, New York, while he was on his way to a memorial for another biker killed in a crash one year ago.

    Follow @msnbc_usThe motorcyclist, 46-year-old Reginald Brown of Brooklyn, was driving westbound on Monroe Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant when he collided with an FDNY fire truck at Marcy Avenue at about 4 p.m., officials said. He was a block away from his home.


    Witness Danae Grandison said Brown’s body “flew off the motorcycle,” and he landed in front of a beauty salon. He was wearing a helmet.

    Today’s news, take a look at the last line here, 7/3/2012

  16. Russ Peterson

    Georgia, very sorry to hear about your son-in-laws brother and what happened to him. My concern here that people make choices everyday right or wrong in their lives. These choices that that make may at times involve more than what they bargained for and it may involve other people in those choices. From your statement above we have no idea if he was not carrying insurance?
    Here is a example: People go out hiking in the mountains every year, some of these people get lost and require search and rescue to go find them which costs manpower sometimes risking their own lives to save these people from their situations, where they have made that choice which is a risk. My point is in general here that in life everyone takes risks. Should every risk be backed by all these people whomever to be paying money before any type of risk is made outside of your home when you decide to make that choice? The list is endless on risks people choose to make. I don’t buy the philosophy that people show pay for that other than being insured. So does it make sense to pick on one certain group? No iy does not.

  17. Russ Peterson

    You know what is really interesting on this website is how all the posting from June 7,2012 end up as the last comments to this issue, a re-arrangement to fair warnings advantage I don’t know but it’s interesting.

  18. TJ

    PEOPLE,… this issue is not about helmets. It’s about FREEDOM! I wear a helmet EVERY TIME I go out on my bike, BUT I want the RIGHT TO CHOOSE to do so. Why? Because I live in the United States of AMERICA,…. the “Land of the FREE, and the home of the brave.” Stop trying to take away my RIGHT to live my life as a I chose, as I willingly face the consequences. I carry a sidearm (legally) for the day the liberal Socialists come to my door to take away my ‘banned by law for your own good’ matches so I don’t accidentally set myself on fire. Keep FREEDOM alive, “Let those who ride decide!”

  19. Chuck Butler

    First item Ricky has an obvious bias against bikers and really had his facts lined up to support his case like the death total per year of motorcyclist. Only one problem with that chart – what is it based on???

    Really simple fact in 1997 there where 2116 fatalities for 3.8 million motorcyclist or .055% deaths , in 2010 there where 4,502 fatalities for 8.4 million riders which works out to ..053%. So it appears that Rick like the rest of the liberal nanny nation media forgot to give all the real facts to the story.

    Now part on Thursday at 5:50 am, I was involved in a multi-car and single motorcycle accident. First point a helmet would not have saved my life, what saved my life is training, knowledge and 45+years of riding. The majority of my injuries occurred on my left leg and foot. I was not lucky – luck had nothing to do with it. Again it was training and knowledge. The knowledge that the road I ride on has the highest per day accident rate in Texas and the knowledge on what to do and how.

    This is the point that organizations like MRF and ABATE have been hammering on for years. Helmet do not and will not save your life if you don’t know what to do and when.

    As far as all of the sob stories about how a loved one lost their live, or was turned in to a vegetable, sorry for you loss, however I am willing to bet a helmet would not have done a damn thing for them except make them a vegetable.

  20. Russ Peterson

    Wanted to say thanks to you jeddy tranquil for being a voice for the riders. I ride and I wear a helmet. The statistical numbers these people come up with aren’t the true facts. Most people that have commented on here have a problem with the motorcyclist choosing not to wear a helmet and it is costing them money out of their pockets, it’s kind of funny in a way I see it. It’s like a bandwagon and by hell their on it and your gonna wear it. So there, neener neener neener! We won! So now what should we force people to do next, it’s costing us money. Let’s take headlights out cars at night……nobody should be driving after dark, that’s a good one! Cracks me up. Good post James Dean, exactly how I feel. Get the facts people before you start jumping on this helmet wearing bandwagon. Don’t force you views on people and don’t worry about all your money fixing broken up motorcyclists. It’s a microscopic amount compared to big government bailouts and a open checkbook spending! Thank about it, Thanks again Jeddy! You the Man! I’d Love to shake your hand!

  21. jeddy tranquill

    Just for the record I am the guy who “muzzled” the USDOT and NHTSA back in 1975 when I proved to Congress that these bureaucrats lied and lied again about helmet performance. Now you (rick) go and buy all their diatribe of propaganda hook line and sinker that has been built on fact number one and that is that DEAD BIKERS CANNOT SPEAK for themselves and if they could you would be told just how miserably a helmet and the law failed them. If you ever become interested in the “real truth” call me at 585 230 9303 and I will provide you with the same testimony that was given by me to Congress. We will not rest until the law is repealed in EVERY state because it did not work back then , is not working now and will NEVER work in the future. The only thing that does work is a properly trained biker who is taught NOT to rely on a helmet to “protect” them and therfore does NOT take the daredevil chances that helmet wearing promotes. I am the real expert with over 1.3 million miles of riding 56 out of my 70 years and will continue until I am boxed up and in the ground.

  22. Russ Peterson

    I’m absolutely overwhelmed at the concern here for motorcyclists safety and helmet issues, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I still think that if everyone that has posted on this issue that those people that choose when and where they feel like wearing a helmet should also jump on some of the overwhelming issues about safety in the United States. Such as climbing on your roof to put up Christmas light that if you fall and break your neck that your left there like road kill. If you ride your bike on a interstate or other busy roadway with your little plastic foam helmet thinking your invincible and every motorist is supposed to give you distance and you get hit you should be roadkill. I don’t think any of you have a cold enough heart to leave somebody for roadkill, so all you big talking commenters, somebody may come along when you are in a life or death situation and save your life at some point, just be thankful there are good people out there that give rats a$$ about you. You just never know you big talkers out there and you be thanking somebody for stopping on your account. There’s bigger problems in this world than trying to force people to wear helmets. Don’t do anything stupid yourself either, youv’e all taken a chance at some point, it’s like standing to close to edge of cliff just to get a better view. I know you’ve done it and you all just a bunch overhyped hypocrites.

  23. Gena

    I agree with previous comments that they are not taking into consideration the number of bikes on the road that has increased enormously. That said, I used to ride and chose to wear a helmet even though I lived in a state that had repealed it’s helmet law, most often I was the only one in the group wearing one, but that was my choice. I don’t think wearing a helmet should be mandatory with the exception of those under a specific age, be it 21 or 18. I do also know people that had serious head injuries in motorcycle accidents who were not wearing helmets. That was their choice. We all have to live (or not) with the choices we make. Leave motorcyclists alone to make theirs.

  24. James Dean

    How dare that hard working tax paying biker get in a accident and we have to foot part of the bill. Umm… We are footing the bill for thousands of people that aren’t even citizens. Not to mention how many drug attics and dope dealers we are giving welfare. I used to have to ride my motorcycle by the welfare office on my way to work everyday and see all these people lined up with their brand new cadillacs, big shiny wheels, gold teeth, and big gold necklaces, talking on the latest technology in cell phones. Granted there were some that I could tell needed to be there but there was a whole lot that had no business there. Just collecting a free check while I’m working everyday paying taxes and can’t afford dental or medical insurance and barely gas in my motorcycle.

  25. Matt Barnhart

    What a bunch of jerkoffs, want to take away everyones freedom until we all have none. I’m sick of idiots you like taking away our liberties one by one. Why don’t you just ban motorcycles, cigarettes, alcohol, fatty foods, pesticides, or anything else in the entire world that could be bad for you. Matter fact maybe we should ban cars too because they are dangerous as well. Lets just walk. Wait no you might trip over a rock and hit your head so lets make it mandatory to wear a helmet while walking. Then again you could still sprain your ankle and that would cost tax payers so nobody leave your homes. We will feed you from a tube so that you don’t choke, vegetables only of course. No tv’s as they could hurt your eyes. No computers you might get arthritis. Matter of fact all homes should be padded and you should remain in your straight jacket at all times. How can you sit there and bitch about what it costs to take care of injured motorcyclists. It’s not even a fraction of what it costs to take care of cancer patients which people do get without smoking by the way. Hell just leave everyone as roadkill that gets sick or injured period because it costs the non sick or non injured tax payers. If your worried about what it costs tax payers then why don’t you do something worthwhile and start with the politicians. Do something to help americans get affordable insurance so us motorcyclists can get insurance that would cover the cost if we were to wreck without a helmet instead of writing this biased garbage. I think we should make it a law that you should get a fine or go to jail every time you write this garbage.

  26. Kevin Baughman

    There are plenty of people who climb into cars EACH DAY. Are these a real necessity or just a convenience? Sometimes the operation of a car is just for, (gasp) FUN. Yet there are tens of thousands of wrecks (I can’t buy the PC, ACCIDENTS word) each year resulting in many deaths and injuries. Yet, we have not gotten to the point of requiring car occupants to wear titanium and Kevlar body protection. The very act of riding a motorcycle puts me at a higher exposure level to bodily harm due to not being wrapped in a steel Cage. I make this choice Each time I ride. I even spent ten years in the Navy’s Submarine community to ensure I have the right to make choices. Now days I have to go through a government checkpoint/inspection to travel to the next county or state (this is Hawaii, think about it, is your state next?), Now someone is arguing that we need laws to tell me how to dress? The head of a brain injury no-profit corporation is telling me that I may be no better of a person than road kill? WOW! There are European studies that show the total number of bicycle injuries went up after requiring the use of helmets on BICYCLES. What makes you PRO helmet LAW people the god of all who choose fewer than four wheels as a mode of transportation?

  27. Scott

    I’ve been on bikes my entire adult life. I wear a helmet. However I believe if someone chooses not to wear one that is their personal decision. We do not need the nanny state checking over every move we make. I further believe motorcycle only check points are discimination. Why don’t we have black people only check points or asian drivers only check points? You can pull me over. You aren’t touching my bike and I refuse any search of my person or property. either cite me or i’m leaving. grow up america.

  28. Nicki Rogers

    Here’s one for YOU MR. MICHAEL DABBS AND YOUR FOLLOWERS, If YOU are found with a cellphone on your person, ANY alcohol on your breath, find out you have been eating Sushi. or Steak Tartare, missed doctors or dental appointments, didn’t take your prescribed medication or forgot to take it at anytime, ate red meat, didnt exercise this week, your BMI is not ideal, or you have ever done ANYTHING others deem DANGEROUS OR UNHEALTHY in their OPINION, WE will leave you for roadkill! !! Oh but it was your choice…. Defense Rests….

    – A Harley Riding Trauma Nurse and former EMT

  29. Fred Wheeler

    @Bob Allende it’s not the stupid bikers it’s the morons in cages who are too busy to stop making a phone call they run over us stupid bikers. It’s the idiot’s who need to text or read or put on mascara or half a dozen other things then pay attention and drive. I wear a helmet not because of the law but because of nut jobs like the driver’s ed instructor who rear ended my Gold Wing one of the largest touring bikes made because he wasn’t paying attention. Motorcyling is a risk based activity take cars off the road and that risk goes down significantly. So look twice save a life motorcycles are everywhere.

  30. Ken & Deb

    As a motorcyclist I would like to take issue with the recent article Despite Death Tolls, Motorcycle Groups Strive To Muzzle U.S. Regulators by Rick Schmitt on June 7, 2012.

    In my opinion, a large part of the article questions the value of motorcycle rider safety training. Going as far as to use the 2009 study Effectiveness of Motorcycle Training and Licensing. The following sentence in the conclusion of the 2009 study on page 212 raises the question why it was referenced and the validity of the entire article: One of the major findings of the review is that many of the studies suffered from methodological shortcomings that cast varying degrees of doubt on their findings.

    Also, the acknowledgment of the VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled) provided by the FHWA (Federal Highway Administration) are inaccurate. Even though data inaccurate it was used on page 211 with the following explanation: It is anticipated that the inaccuracy should not greatly affect a comparison between trained and untrained motorcyclist in the same area and time frame since they are both calculated with the same data. ‘The fact remains the data was highly flawed.

    In conclusion, I wish the article had been less contemptuous towards motorcyclists, motorcyclists rights and data was accurate.

  31. Max

    I’m totally in favor of the “road kill” solution. I feel no need to enact laws that would save the lives of stupid adults. I just don’t want to pay for their health care. Though I’m actually fine paying/subsidizing the health care needs of people who are actually trying to take care of themselves. In fact, I’d be in favor of radical libertarian solutions across the board. Don’t want to pay any taxes? Great–let’s create a special status for residents who have renounced their citizenship. You get a special card, and must wear some kind of identifying garment at all times. You have the right to be here and work, but that’s about it. But you can’t drive on the roads unless you pay a hefty annual fee. You can’t own property. Any goods that receive a government subsidy anywhere on the supply chain, including food, will come with two prices–one for people who pay taxes, a higher one for people who don’t, in to make up for government subsidies they’re not paying into. You will have no rights. Police, EMTs and firefighters will be legally barred from helping you in any way. If someone attacks you anywhere besides your legal residence, you will have no right to defend yourself–in fact, if you do, police will be authorized to use lethal force to protect your attacker against you. You want to live the libertarian dream? I say bring it on.

  32. Bob Allende

    In addition, we may have to take care of bikers’ children if a parent is killed, e.g., food stamps and welfare.

    Cities spend thousands of dollars on police, coroners, and city attorneys investigating a fatal accident.

    And innocent survivors might suffer post-traumatic stress disorder and medical cost because a biker was too stupid and too selfish to wear a helmet.

  33. Artie

    I started riding a motorcycle again after many years. I used to ride a lot when I was younger and am now 60 yrs old. I have recently taken the motorcycle safety course offered by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Because I have the previous riding experience, I know that some dangerous situations for riders are predictable. For example, risks are greater later in the afternoon, also, intersections, younger (and older) car drivers are more likely not to see a biker, and there are other situations too. Knowing these things can make riding a safer experience. I think that the MSF should focus on these kinds of things to a greater extent than they now do so. New motorcyclists could drive more defensively and be safer as a result. I personally like riding with a helmet. I have a DOT approved helmet that is the lightest and smallest made and it is great. It keeps my ears warm during the cooler months, cuts down on fatigue due to wind buffeting and noise, and actually looks pretty cool. I feel naked and exposed without it.

  34. Sean

    Regarding Mr. Bongard’s impassioned invocation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, driving and riding are not rights. They are privileges. If it is society’s collective decision to require you to wear a helmet, you’ll wear one. And you’ll have the right to free speech to complain about it every day.

  35. Lobo

    So, 732 deaths in 2009 were due to not wearing a helmet – where is the explanation for the remaining increase (from 1997) of 1614 deaths? Seems like we should be paying attention to the root cause of those deaths. Oh wait, that would be the “I didn’t see the motorcyclist” excuse that nobody wants to hold (distracted) automobile drivers for. The same people who are probably commenting how our “rights” don’t count and want to mandate laws on motorcyclists. Let’s mandate helmets in automobiles – how many of the 30,000+ deaths were due to head injuries in automobiles? Theres a bigger opportunity for the concerned to save lives. Let those who ride, decide.

  36. Fred Wheeler

    I live in a helmet law state, it was enacted in 1967 so Alabama could maintain the funding from the Fed’s. Unfortunately for the riders in Alabama it was all that out legislators did, they didn’t consider rider training, they didn’t consider a skills test evaluation, they didn’t even consider that someone 14 may not need to ride a motorcycle in traffic even with a helmet. No all they done was cave to the NHTSA and bend to big government, just for a few miles of asphalt. Whet most riders are up in arms over is the “safety” check money should have been spent funding more accident investigations in the crash causation study being done at Oklahoma State University instead the government stripped about 600 crashes and decided to only study 300, that’s 600 fewer then Professor Harry Hurt’s study, instead of forcing states to fund rider education the same way they do drivers ed in schools, instead of having more Motorist Awareness programs that tell those in cars they need to look for us. If government would just get past telling riders what to wear and worry more about educating everyone I’m sure the rate would go down.

  37. Rusty Bongard

    As long as people can have the choice to smoke, over-eat, not practice physical fitness, drink alcohol, disregard physician guidance regarding their wellbeing, and a plethora of other lifestyle choices, then I can choose whether or not to wear a helmet when I ride. The medical costs of obesity related heart disease and diabetes make non-helmeted head injuries look like a penny on a football field. I always ask you idiots why, since there are 10 times the number of TBI resultant from car crashes compared to motorcycle crashes, you don’t push for helmets in cars. And you ALL continue to ignore the question.
    I also find it disturbing that americans completely disregard the Declaration of Independence and Constitution which were created to protect indivdiual liberties from the likes of YOU. The forefathers intelligently, and with tremendous knowledge of the worlds historical record, created these founding legal documents with the intent that government would be instituted specifically to preserve, defend, and enhance these unalienable rights that came to each of us from our god. Definitively the intent was to establish a Constitutional Republican Form of government which protected and defended the rights of individuals from groups, majorities, and democratic socialism. That you facistic people feel you opinions and social concerns outrank the rights of individuals is as abhorrent to the genesis of this country as can be imagined.

  38. Sean

    Is the motorcycle lobby really stronger than the insurance lobby? Where are the insurers in this conversation?

  39. Joe

    The police are going to set up roadblocks and check motorcyclists for “violations?”

    What the hell is this country coming to?

  40. Bruce Rester

    After posting the above comment I read the preceeding three pages of posts, and realized I had been deficient in failing to comment, as others have, on the fact that most car-motorcycle accidents are caused by the car driver’s inattention and disregard for the motorcyclist’s right-of-way. The most common excuse is, “But officer, I didn’t SEE the motorcycle”.
    I have the cure for that excuse. Wear the biggest hogleg you’ve got, in a very conspicuous shoulder holster, and I GUARANTEE they will see you, and not get within 50 feet of your motorcycle! If you are fortunate enough to live in a state that has not stripped you of the right to self defense, try it….it works!

  41. Bruce Rester

    This is another typical example of liberally-biased nanny-state journalism. The article conveniently omits the fact that motorcycle registration has increased at a greater rate than fatalities: the 2010 rate is only 0.053% of riders, DOWN .002% from the cited 1997 numbers.
    My experience in 47 years of riding motorcycles is that helmets severely restrict visibility and hearing, and greatly contribute to rider fatigue. The effect of this is to greatly increase the probability that a rider will get into an accident in the first place. I think it should be up to the individual to decide whether to take the chance that he will be more likely to get into an accident, or take the chance that he is more likely to be injured.
    And as far as motorcycle checkpoints go, what part of the Fourth Amendment don’t these people understand?

  42. Dwight Kalas

    Mr.Schmitt saw you on The News Hour the other night.I am not a rider..I was originally against helmet laws.I believe in freedom of choice.I guess the question should be put to survivors of motorcycle crashes and ask them if they could still talk if they could do it again what would they do.I knew a famed photographer who crashed.he went from the life of a party to a man who could manage a walk to the tavern but could not talk.

  43. Mike Fenerty

    Nothing wrong with liberty, but is our society ready to leave a no helmet biker to bleed to death if there is no proof of insurance? We need the freedom to stop subsidizing their medical costs.

  44. George Ehmer

    I CHOOSE to not wear a helmet. As a responsible adult(39),I realize the dangers and CHOOSE to accept them, that is why I have insurance, remember when we were told to get or not drive or ride unless we have insurance. So if I have said insurance, WHY IN THE HELL ARE YOU TRYING TO FORCE MORE OF YOUR PERSONAL VIEW POINTS ON ME? I don’t tell you how to drive,maybe I should, how would you like that? You can put a helmet on my head ONLY after you PRY my gun from my COLD, DEAD HAND.

  45. Clark Edwards

    Last night I saw Dr. Phil’s program on Drinking and Driving. See if he will do one on Riding and Dying. Show him sitting on a dead bare headed rider’s bike then on a live helmented riders wreck. The bikes will be similar but not the riders.

  46. Roy Barnes

    Nice unbiased reporting there Rick. Saw your interview on this article and your defensive crossed-arm posture. You really can’t stand for somebody to have liberties that you don’t understand, do you?

  47. Jack Tereck

    I know of an individual who moved to Florida from New York because his needed organ transplant was short listed due to the helmet laws. He is alive today because of someone else’s choice for liberty from helmet requirements.

  48. Judith Claire

    For young boys and girls who prefer to have wind in their hair…and choose not to have or can’t afford insurance…ask them to put names of doctors who will give free care for head injuries and do most of the care in their homes. Many doctors, nurses who ride motorcycles will be glad to offer free services…perhaps a church would allow beds where motorcycle owners can hang out and visit injured and nursing homes for brain dead. Think outside the helmets. Ignorance of wearing helmets to protect the brain is not against the law. Ignorance is bliss!

  49. William E. Bruner, MD

    As a physician and a relatively conservative republican, I have seen too many severe head injuries due to motorcycle accidents over the years. In Ohio, you are fined for not wearing a seatbelt in a car with up to 7 airbags, yet allowed to ride totally unprotected on a “bike” without a helmet. I agree that everyone ends up paying the medical costs for the “freedom” of not wearing a helmet. Though not a big fan of over-regulation, this is one area where states need to do more!


  50. Georgia D. Davis

    My son-in-laws brother was in a comma in a vegetable state for 9 years after a motorcycle accident on which he was not wearing a helmet. Tax payers paid for every day he was in a nursing home, also for a handicap van so his parents could take him to the hospital; and for many stays in the hospital. I have other members of my family who ride bikes. THey wear helmets. My suggestion is that states require riders either a helmet or purchase a bond to pay for nursing home care for those who do not want to wear a helmet. Individual choice is great if it does not inflict cost to the tax payer.

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