American Bikers Aiming Towards Education is a state motorcycle rights organization. ABATE believes in freedom of choice regarding most matters. We are not opposed to voluntary helmet use.
I've had numerous requests that I respond on others' behalf to Annie Valentine's commentary "The great motorcycle debate," on June 14, and D. Louise Brown's "Homefront" column of July 15, "Play it safe while riding," both of which addressed motorcycle helmet use. I've been reluctant to do so as most of our country's issues have turned into a dialogue of the deaf, with both sides merely repeating their positions over and over. So it is with the great motorcycle debate.
Valentine started her commentary by saying " It amazes me that motorcycles are legal." Brown states, "helmets are like seatbelts. They don't work unless you actually use them." She goes on to address her group members' belief of natural selection. "a sort of thinning the herd so to speak," and concludes by saying, "keep your head on straight. Wear a helmet."
As usual, the great motorcycle debate is based mostly on emotional response and opinion rather than evidence. Our intent here is not to start debating statistics. In Utah we have had 10 fatalities so far. Fortunately, this is two less than last year. Of the 10, five were wearing helmets and five were not. Neither of the authors talked about studies which address neck injures attributed to helmet use, or mentioned the fact that helmets are designed for slow-speed crashes. They also failed to mention that manufacturers accept no liability for injuries. Neither author mentioned that at times helmets are literally brain-buckets, or should we say, head containers. In short, we are not missing the points the authors are trying to make.
Wearing helmets is a 50/50 proposition at best. It amazes us that people will wear a helmet in shorts, sandals, and no eye protection -- or talk on a cell phone while driving -- and then criticize motorcycle riders for not wearing a helmet.
If you ride a motorcycle, it is not a question of if you will go down, but when and how bad will it be. Fortunately, I have not yet had to hold a loved one in my arms waiting for he or she to die. However, I have friends who have, and friends who have watched fellow bikers die on the side of the road.
This is the cold reality of a worst-case scenario. If you do not understand that riders without a helmet are "40 percent more likely to die in a crash and 15 percent more likely to incur a non-fatal injury," wear a helmet or drive a car! The fact is, if you crash on a bike, you will probably suffer. If you are lucky, a helmet will reduce your injuries.
The most common causes of traumatic brain injuries are motor vehicle accidents, slips and falls, and firearm incidents. Stating our case to a legislator several years ago, we brought this fact up. We also mentioned skiing and argued if you are going to require motorcycle helmet use, then you should also require it for other dangerous recreational activities. Race car drivers would not be caught dead without a helmet, but they are not required for driving a car. Maybe they should be.
I read both Standard-Examiner columnists regularly and find them insightful. However, following Valentine's reasoning and based on the number of workplace fatalities, work should also be illegal.
My grandson is five and I want to be around for him. When he decides he wants to ride, he will wear a helmet until he is 18. At that point, it should be his choice.
After being cooped up all winter, bikers come out in droves. Nationwide, 70 percent of the time when a motorcycle and a car crash, the car driver is at fault, normally for making a left hand turn.
Bikers will suffer this year. In 2009, we had six fewer fatalities in Utah. This is quite notable when you consider the huge increase in riders. We estimate that 20 to 30 people will die on motorcycles in Utah this year, affecting hundreds of people.
Don't misunderstand us. Bikers do their own stupid stuff. I tell my students that some of us deserve to die by engaging in reckless behavior. But please, do not help us die or be safer. We believe in accident prevention, not safer crashes.
It is typical to read in the Standard-Examiner that a reckless biker goes to jail, but the reckless car driver only gets a citation. This occurs even though the driver of the car causes numerous injuries.
ABATE of Utah's heart goes out to the families and friends whose lives are forever altered by these tragedies. Every one is out to enjoy the day and camaraderie most bikers share; no one wants these crashes to happen. Life is not without risk, nor should it be.
Our thanks to the Utah Highway Safety Office for its recent commitment to motorcycle awareness, ABATE of Utah's Share the Road Instructors, our membership, and the motorcycling community at large. Most importantly I want to thank the car driver who was paying attention last year when I was not. A helmet would not have saved me.
Ride aware. Drive aware.
Stine is education coordinator for ABATE of Utah. He lives in Ogden.