A recent trip to Arizona to visit my son in college reminded me again of how shocked I was, and still am, to see motorcyclists breezing down the freeway at 70 or 80 miles per hour with absolutely nothing on their heads but their hair. Arizona is one of those states that lack mandatory helmet laws for riders. Call me crazy, but that seems insane to me. Sure it looks cool and it has to feel really nice too, to feel that wind blowing through your hair and across your face like that. But I also can’t stop thinking how that would feel in the case of an unfortunate put down of the bike and the rider’s head hits the ground with no protection, or their face slides on that asphalt. I know we don’t want to focus on what can go wrong when we ride, but there is certainly something to be said for common sense and taking precautions. As I have heard it said, you only have one head, so its best to protect it. I stand on the side of states requiring riders to wear helmets. Yes I believe the law should make us do it even when we don’t want to. Sometimes people just don’t exercise good judgement and in a case like this, then the law should do it for those that don’t.
I already know the arguments against mandated helmet laws. Some say people have a right to be stupid if they choose to. Especially in situations where the only person they might be hurting is themselves. I also know that it is argued that motorcycling in and of itself is a risky mode of transportation and that a biker that goes down at highway speed, or even regular street speed, is likely in for a bad head or other injury regardless of whether they are wearing a helmet or not. And then there is the simple old argument that motorcycles are all about being wide open and free so anything that limits that feeling goes against the very heart of motorcycling.
To all those arguments I say hogwash. On the right to be stupid and the fact that only the motorcyclist is at harm if he or she goes down without a helmet. Not true. Everybody pays a price with an unnecessary death or traumatic injury in terms of medical rates, insurance rates, tax dollars for emergency personnel, etc. And that is not to even consider the trauma to someone else who might have been involved in the accident and who has to live with the aftermath of what could have been a much less damaging accident.
As to the argument that terrible injuries will come anyway, helmet or not, that rationale simply ignores facts. The National Highway Transportation Safety Association reported that for the year 2013 helmets saved the lives of 1,630 motorcyclists and that 715 more lives in all states could have been saved if all motorcyclists had worn helmets. And there’s this:
According to a 2012 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, “laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear helmets are the only strategy proved to be effective in reducing motorcyclist fatalities.”In states without an all-rider helmet law 59% of the motorcyclists killed were not wearing helmets, as opposed to only 8% in states with all-rider helmet laws in 2013.
So on to the argument that motorcycling is about freedom and unencumberances. Well while there is certainly truth to that and it is indeed what I particularly love about getting around on a bike. But it is also true that motorcycling, at least responsible motorcycling, is about being safe, and living. Good motorcycling means doing everything we can to ride safely, respect the rode and other drivers and riders, and not taking unnecessary risks. That means we make sure our bikes are safe and that we wear proper gear. The fact is motorcycling is indeed riskier than sitting in a steel cage of a car. The fact is we can go down, and often it won’t be our fault, but some driver’s fault. And the truth is without that steel cage around us, or air bags or anything like that, the only thing we have to protect us, besides leather jackets, gloves and good pants and boots, is that helmet on our head.
I am proud to be part of the motorcycling fraternity. And I salute all riders. I just wish I didn’t have to cringe when I see fellow riders ignoring the real risk they are taking just to have an extra feeling of freedom and wind in their face and hair. Put a helmet on. The ride is still invigorating.