Saturday, August 27, 2005

Helmet debate in one blog

Amended August 28th

Ever Since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published their report 'Evaluation of the Repeal of the All-Rider Motorcycle Helmet Law in Florida' in early August the helmet debate saw a lot of new press. It seemed like everyday there was yet another editorial or news story either defending or attacking helmet laws, whether they were mandatory, repealed or there was a proposal in that particular state to repeal one.

Since even I've found it hard to work my way through all the fourteen or eighteen blog entries to read all of these articles or editorials I brought them all along with the relevant links into one handy dandy, one size fits all blog.

This is my warning to you however, move the computer screen back as far away as you can but still be able to read it. Some of the articles and especially the editorials can be a touch inflammatory, regardless of what side of the debate you fall on.

First the Study that started it all!
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Evaluation of the Repeal of the All-Rider Motorcycle Helmet Law in Florida

Robert G. Ulmer and Veronika Shabanova Northrup

Effective July 1, 2000, Florida eliminated the legal requirement that all motorcycle riders wear helmets. Instead, state law now requires helmet use only by riders under the age of 21. The Florida law change follows similar actions by Arkansas and Texas in 1997, by Kentucky in 1998, and by Louisiana in 1999. At the end of 2003, there were 19 States and the District of Columbia with laws requiring helmet use by all motorcycle riders, 28 States that require helmet use only by riders under a specified age, and 3 States with no law regarding helmet use.
The present report examines the highway safety effects of Florida's law change.

The (mostly) Unbiased Reports
These are publications that gave an unbiased report on the NHTSA's study.

Venice Gondolier (added August 28th)
August 28th
Motorcycle helmet law a no-brainer, to both sides
Based out of mid-west Florida, this publication has by far the fairest article I've seen on this debate. The reporter, Barry Millman brings both side of the arguement to the table giving equal time with quotes from a Harley Davidson sales representative from a local dealership, ABATE, polititians to the Florida Highway Patrol.

An interesting spin on the statistis is made, 'Some rider advocates point to statistics suggesting that head injuries comprise only 20 percent of routine motorcycle-riding injuries, but account for 80 percent of passengers in automobile accidents and suggest that helmets for automobile passengers and drivers might make more sense'.

That's not totally true
Since the reporter stays away from getting too wrapped up in statistically data, which is manipulated by either side for their own cause anyway, theres not much to pick at with this article. On the contrary, I was impressed by the balanced reporting making this the best report I've seen on the matter so far.

News Times Live
August 21st
Uneasy riders Motorcyclists seeks answers to rising fatalities
News Times Live brings a personal touch to the statistics with real life stories of some close calls experienced by local motorcyclists.

Wayne Mead was on his Harley heading south on Route 7 near Marcus Dairy in Danbury four years ago when the front tire of the car in front of him broke off its axle — thick metal rim and all. The tire bounced off the highway, launched into the air and made a beeline toward Mead and three other bikers.

"Nothing went through my mind," said Mead, 29, of Newtown. "It was so instant you couldn't react."

That's not totally true
The only real mis-statement would be 'Its April report on highway deaths said motorcycle fatalities were increasing at a faster rate than motorcycle registrations'.

There were some variations noted by the study such as age and the length of the riding season in each state with better weather states having more opportunity to ride and consequently a higher death rate. Also it's noted in the report that the most current data for motorcycle registrations in 2002.

San Bernardino County Sun
August 16th
Boomers dying more often on motorcycles
Baby Boomers not appreciating the power of modern bikes was the focus of The San Bernardino Sun's report.

Thousands of them, finished with their family obligations, are buying the two-wheelers and enjoying the freedom of the open road. But, according to traffic enforcement officials, deaths among riders 40 and older are driving up the total number of fatalities each year in the state and the nation.

That's not totally true
Although this is a great article, the figures from Florida aren't really addressed.

Lansing State Journal
August 18th
Recent motorcycle deaths highlight safety concerns
This newspaper is based in Michigan which still has a helmet law although the legislature is considering repealing it. The state has fairly steady numbers as far as motorcycle injury accidents are concerned but the article expresses concern about the lack of training for car drivers as well as bikers.

Unfortunately, there's still too many motorcyclists riding recklessly or at least illegally, said Lansing Police Sgt. Jim Kraus, who also teaches motorcycle safety courses.

"The use of alcohol and riders being untrained or not endorsed to ride motorcycles is a recurring theme across the state," he said.

From 1997 to 2002, about 44 percent of riders involved in a crash weren't licensed, according to a study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

That's not totally true
The article only touches on the NHSTA report but most diturbing about this very fairly written story is that they quote different instances of specific people dying in motorcycle accidents but never refer to the actually cause. Unfortunately no amount of training or protective gear can save a rider from some accidents.

August 12th
Number Of Motorcycle Deaths Rising
A news report that focuses on Minnesota doesn't even mention helmets as a factor for the increase in motorcycle deaths so it seems that a repeal of the law there isn't even on the horizon.

Part of the increase in the increase in motorcycle deaths and injuries is a surge in the number of motorcycles. There are more than 161,000 motorcycles in Minnesota. That's 48,000 more than a decade ago.

That's not totally true
The article is short andstrictly about Minnesota but does make mention of the average age of motorcycle being 40 adding to the theory about the older bikes skewing the numbers.

USA Today
August 8th
Motorcycle deaths rise sharply
One of the first news reports to hit the press after the NHTSA released their study USA Today managed to give a fairly unbiased article with quotes from representatives of the American Motorcyclist Association, the highway administration, Motorcycle Safety Foundation and the Modified Motorcycle Association of California.

Motorcycle fatalities nationwide have surged to their highest levels since 1987, even as overall highway deaths continue to decline.

Possible causes: a sharp rise in motorcycle ownership, rollback of mandatory helmet laws and an increase in inexperienced bikers riding powerful machines.

That's not totally true
The NHTSA's magical '81%' figure was quoted 'A study released by the agency Monday showed an 81% rise in motorcycle deaths in Florida in a three-year period after the state repealed its law in 2000' but the article certainly had great quotes from pro-motorcycle groups.

It may not be the Helmets
These are opinions of writers who feel the data may be misinterpreted or is being downright manipulated by others. This may not necessarily mean they agree that riding without a helmet is safe or smart though!

LA Daily News
Editorial - John Paliwoda
August 19th
Helmet laws don't ensure safety
John Paliwoda puts the cause of any rise in motorcycle deaths not at the feet of helmet laws but at the lack of mandatory safety training.

California motorcyclist deaths and injuries dropped in 2004, not because of helmets but because the number of accidents decreased. No helmet law supporter has ever been silly enough to claim that mandated helmet use caused motorcycle accidents to drop.

Pennsylvania repealed its helmet law two years ago, and preliminary state statistics demonstrate that their motorcycle deaths have dropped 9 percent despite a similar percentage rise in registrations. They also have a very effective motorcyclist safety program.

That's not totally true
Although this is a great article, the figures from Florida aren't really addressed.

Concord Monitor
August 12th
State motorcycle deaths increase
The Concord Monitor quotes the State Highway Safety Coordinator who feels that the repeal of the helmet law in New Hampshire is not the reason for the increased motorcycle fatalities.

Peter Thomson, the state's highway safety coordinator, says motorcycle deaths likely are up because more people are riding, but not taking a rider safety course. The three-day course is not required to get a license.

That's not totally true
The report only quotes the NHTSA study with vague references 'Two studies released this week found that states that repeal mandatory helmet laws run the risk of increased deaths and mounting health care costs for injured bikers' and as mentioned throughout this blog the report tends to have some inconsistencies and assumptions.

It is interesting to note that the State Highway Coordinator feels the rising fatalities are 'influenced by Baby Boomers retiring and taking up riding'.

Helmets should always be worn

Times (added August 28th)
August 28th
State's motorcyclists ride accelerating accident rates
With talk of repealing Michigans Helmet law, the Times Herald puts its support behind keeping the legislation in place. It's story uses real life near-misses and tragedies of examples throughout.

Statewide, the number of serious injuries and fatalities on motorcycles is on the rise even while statistics for other vehicle fatalities are falling, according to Michigan State Police figures. The trend was personified locally when local motorcycle shop owner Mark Grace was killed when a car turned in front of his bike earlier this month.

The fatality increase comes as state legislatures in Michigan and elsewhere are looking to repeal mandatory helmet laws, which police say would cause more serious injuries and deaths.

That's not quite true
Even though most of instances given revolve around drivers causing the accidents, no mention is given to the alternative of enhanced drivers education or raising thier awareness to motorcycles.

Not even mandatory safety training for new riders is discussed even after 'Richmond state police post commander 1st Lt. Robert Yorke agreed that there are more riders on the road now than in the past. "A lot of people buying motorcycles now are the baby boomers, older people, and I don't think the experience is there," he said.'

Fosters Online (added August 28th)
August 28th
There should be no denying: motorcycle helmets save lives
Even though state officials deny any connection between the rising motorcycle fatalities and the repeal of the Helmet law, this editorial draws on the statistics from the NHTSA study for rising deaths as well as the increase in medical costs.

The right to individual freedoms is a right to be cherished and protected. But when that right infringes on, or costs others, it needs to be tempered.Riders should be free to feel the wind in their hair and hear the roar of the pipes. But they should also ride responsibly, with the means to pay for the damage they may do to themselves not at the expense of others.

That's not quite right
Alhtough Peter Thomson, the state's highway safety coordinator continously denies the connection between the repeal of the helmet law and rise in fatalities it doesn't stop the columnist to draw on the NHTSA study and connect the dots anyway.

He even speculates that the increase in the Granite State is due to aging baby-boomers taking to the roads without proper training. Rather than the editorial opening up the possiblitiy of saftey training, they use it to re-enforce why a helmet law is needed.

Pasadena Star-News
August 12th
Headgear drives drop in motorcycle deaths
By claiming that motorcycle fatalities are down the Pasadena Star-News is at odds with the San Bernardino Sun mentioned above in this blog. It uses these numbers to re-enforce why California should keep the helmet law.

A recent study by the federal Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported 4,008 motorcycle fatalities nationwide last year, compared with 3,714 in 2003. California authorities reported 351 motorcycle deaths last year, compared with 368 in 2003.

That's not totally true
Aside from the California newspapers disagreeing statistically this is a good article which does give a nod to the rising enrollement in motorcycle safety courses.
August 9th
Motorcycle fatalities soar
The subtitle of this news article is 'After helmet law repeal, deaths up 81%' and even though it discusses some causes other than helmets for the increase, the reader is left with the firm impression that 'its about the helmets, stupid'.

A federal study has found motorcycle fatalities in Florida increased more than 81 percent and the number of deaths for riders younger than 21 nearly tripled in three years after state lawmakers repealed a law requiring riders to wear a helmet.

Thats not totally true
Although the increased number of bikes was mentioned 'James Reichenbach, president of American Bikers Aimed Toward Education in Florida, said....the increase in fatalities can be largely attributed to motorcycles' increasing popularity' it wasn't explored further. In one of the reports over 700,000 new motorcycles were purchased in 2004 and the NHTSA study acknowledges their data doesn't include motorcycle registrations beyond 2002.

Thunder Bays Source
Editorial - Rick Smith
August 17th
One Man's Opinion - Motorcycle Helmets
This Canadian columnist puts himself firmly in the mandatory helmet law corner.

Our neighbours in Michigan are debating the issue. The AAA estimates that repealing that states law will result in 22 additional deaths in the state every year along with 132 added incapacitating injuries and 140 million dollars in added expenses.

That's not totally true
'(The) Florida study showed that in the 30 months after their law was withdrawn hospital costs in the state from motorcyclists with head, brain, or skull injuries more than doubled to 50 million dollars and the average cost of each case rose by 10 thousand dollars'.

The figures quoted from the study are 'The average head injury treatment cost increased by almost $10,000, to $45,602. In 1998 and 1999, the acute care hospital charges for head-brain-skull principal injury cases per 10,000 registered motorcycles were $311,549 and $428,347 respectively. The comparable figures for 2001 and 2002 were $605,854 and $610,386, adjusted for inflation', however even this doesn't take into account the huge increases in the cost of overall healthcare since 1998 for everything from pregnancy to the most basic medical operations.

Added sensationalism (low blow)
Dorothy Rushton lobbied hard for the right not to wear a helmet in Florida. One month after the law was dropped she was killed while riding her Harley, without a helmet.

The Sentinel
August 11th
Let's get those helmets back on
This editorial is firmly of the pro-helmet law position and isn't afraid to show it!

Even serious bicyclistst, those pedaling fanatics who perch for hours at a time on idiotically small seats in the searing heat, know to wear helmets.

Thats not totally true
The numbers are once again vaguely referred too with not much qualification. The arguement against the numbers are made throughout this blog about the magical 81% and raising helathcare costs.

Added Sensationalism
And who do you think pays those medical costs? The public, that's who, the same folks who squeal about property taxes rising so relentlessly that soon they'll be reduced to living in cardboard boxes and diving into Dumpsters for stale doughnuts.

The Final Word
You can obviously make up your own mind and decide whether or not you want to wear a helmet (law permitting of course) but since it's my blog I do get the last word.

Should riders wear helmets? I think so.

Should laws be repealed? I personally think it's near impossible and expensive (with lobbyists making all the money) to repeal something like this. It shouldn't be done with figures that aren't completely accurate and especially when there are more important things that could be done to lower the statistics.

The study isn't purposefully wrong but misses essential data such as motorcycle registration numbers after 2002 when the huge surge in motorcycle sales seems to have taken place. I can't tell you how many times I've heard the story about waiting months for the delivery of your Harley because they were so back-ordered.

The other things that should be done to help the statistics? Mandatory safety training instead of the DMV tests. The ego's of older men who think they can hop on a motorcycle with no consequences after being away from riding for for ten or fifteen years need some polite direction to a refresher course on the newer crowded roads with more powerful machines.

If people are so gung-ho for new legislation lets look at car drivers awareness education, laws against the many distractions going into automobiles such as elaborate stereos, sound systems and TVs.

This is just my opinion of course

1 comment:

The Oracle said...

Excellent analysis and I agree 100% with your conclusions. It's always a pleasure to find an articulate fellow rider making good sense on the highly emotional subject of helmet laws.

John ('03 BMWK1200GT, retired MSF instructor, yadda yadda...)