Thursday, August 11, 2005

Safety or looking cool...should you be allowed to decide?

We all saw the clouds forming. It was obvious there was a storm brewing ever since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released their study last week which reported that although traffic deaths declined and fewer people were killed in alcohol-related crashes on U.S. highways for a second straight year, motorcycle fatalities grew nearly 8 percent last year to 4,008.

Now personally I wear a helmet, think everyone should and enjoy the debates (arguements) that revolve around this topic with other bikers. When I first wrote about the study on August 3rd, I did mention my thoughts that there are more bikes on the road than ever and wondered if you plotted the number of registered motorcycles against the accident statistics if they would track each other in proportional growth. Sure enough USA Today added their view when reporting the study that mentioned three items that may've contributed to the rise in motorcycle accidents;

- sharp rise in motorcycle ownership (that one sounds familiar)
- rollback of mandatory helmet laws
- an increase in inexperienced bikers riding powerful machines

The news story went on to say 'Americans bought an estimated 734,000 new on-highway motorcycles last year, up from 230,000 in 1995'. So that 200% increase in motorcycle riders (and this is just new bikes, doesn't include current bikes already on the road) only raised the death toll by 7.9%. This is brought into persepctive even more when USA Today quoted Jeff Rabe, lobbyist for the Modified Motorcycle Association of California, who said more "middle-aged executives" are riding powerful machines without training. "There's a huge group of people ages 35 to 50 who have purchased motorcycles," Rabe said. "But they're still beginning riders."

But now some Editorials are hitting the papers such as this one from The Sentinel, Carlisle, Pa that sort of tipped it's hand on it's opinion with one of the opening sentences being 'Even serious bicyclists — those pedaling fanatics who perch for hours at a time on idiotically small seats in the searing heat — know to wear helmets.'

The Sentinal's sentiments are reenforced by going deeper into the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's study in quoting a statistic showing 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.

I would have to have someone with a trained eye look over the data to see the number of automobile deaths came from the corresponding catagory of under 21 year old drivers to see what change occured and if they mirrored the two wheel cousins.

This is a debate that quite rightly shouldn't go away and will most certainly get nastier before all is said and done. As a matter of fact it was interesting to read some readers letters in USA Today responding to the aforementioned article.

Jen Johnson of Atwater Ohio pointed out 'The story failed to mention that new drivers are not taught to drive alongside motorcyclists'.

'Unfortunately, the story fails to note an additional theory: the increase in the number of SUVs, which ride higher — striking a motorcyclist directly. The heavier weight of SUVs also does more damage in accidents.' is brought up by Mark Kaiser of Orinda, Calif.

Of course the 'helmet' waters were muddied further last month by a startling survey conducted by Motorcyclist Magazine that found a more expensive helmet doesn't necessarily offer the best protection. You might be surprised by some of the results regarding not only respected manufacturers but also trusted testing institutions. This a definite read for any biker.

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