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Essay on Helmet Laws

August 20th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Helmet laws have become a subject for controversy over the years. Although, they are designed to protect them, many bikers believe that helmet laws violate their freedom. I think that the pros of wearing a helmet outweigh the cons. I’ve found that wearing a helmet helps to eliminate noise from wind and keep the wind from my face. Also, wearing a helmet allows me to see further, and take basic maneuvers in order to avoid a collision with another vehicle. But, most of the bikers that I know choose to ride without a helmet. Should they be denied their right to ride without a helmet, and risk their safety? Should they have to wear a helmet at all times? Or should the ability to ride without a helmet be reserved for older, more experienced riders?

Each state has a separate statute regarding the use of a helmet. Furthermore, most states have laws that discriminate younger riders from riding without a helmet. Of the fifty states, only Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire are one hundred percent helmet law free. Out of the other forty-six states, twenty-one have full helmet laws for all riders. Florida is included in those twenty-one states. Twenty states have helmet laws that exempt adult riders, riders that are eighteen years of age or older. Lastly, there are five states that discriminate against bikers between the age of eighteen and twenty-one (motorcycle laws). Most states also have laws regarding eye protection, daytime use of a headlight, mirrors, blinkers, and passenger restrictions.

The matter of insurance has also become a hot topic for debate. Some bikers believe that this is a poor attempt to compromise the helmet laws. As it stands, the motorcycle laws for Florida do not permit anybody to ride without a safety helmet. Only if the rider is twenty-one years of age or older with a minimum of ten thousand dollars in medical insurance may they ride without a helmet. Eye protection is required by law. As is the daytime use of headlight, left and right mirrors, and blinkers. Also, if carrying a passenger a motorcycle is required to have a passenger seat, footrests, and handles. Finally, the use of headphones is prohibited (Florida Law).

In protest of helmet laws many bikers have formed bikers’ rights groups. One of these groups is the Helmet Law Defense League. This group of freedom fighters was founded in early 1993 to attract others interested in putting an end to discrimination against the class of people known as “bikers.” “It is our basic philosophy that the best defense is any offense, so the strategies that we recommend in the fight for the restoration of our rights will be those constituting an attack” (Helmet Law Defense League). Such groups try to help bikers understand all the legal aspects of each helmet law, and try to help us successfully attack these laws in court. One of the flaws in the helmet law is that most states do not define what they mean by “protective headgear.” By making a list the state would take on liability if one of the helmets on their list were to cause an injury or be ineffective. But, by not composing a list of acceptable helmets, the law cannot be complied with certainty, and therefore opens up the vagueness challenge of the law.

Many of these bikers claim that wearing a helmet impairs their peripheral vision and their ability to hear traffic around them. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sponsored a study to find the effect of wearing a helmet upon the ability to visually detect traffic around the rider, and to hear traffic noises. Fifty riders of various ages and experience took part in the study. These riders drove their own bikes along a five-mile test route. During which, they were asked to change lanes when they heard a prompt from a following car. Once they heard the noise, they were instructed to check for traffic in the adjacent lane, and then proceed with the lane change in their normal manner. Each rider drove the test route with a full coverage helmet, a partial coverage helmet, and no helmet. The degree of head rotation was measured. To find the effects of the helmets on hearing the sound signal made by the car was varied. (Effects of Helmet)

The vision test proved that most riders simply compensated for the helmet by turning their heads a little further. Before changing lanes, 19 of the 23 riders compensated for the loss of lateral view by turning their head further than when they weren’t wearing a helmet. The hearing test also showed no significant differences in the riders’ ability to hear the signals. The big difference was the hearing threshold between the speeds of 30 and 50 mph. Because of the increased wind noise, all riders needed louder signals. (Effects of Helmet)

Another study was administered by John Cooter. This study consisted of a number of autopsies that were performed on people that had died as the result of a motorcycle accident, to show the effectiveness of a helmet during a collision. During this study, Cooter found that at speeds greater then thirteen mph, a rider is better off not wearing a helmet. He went on to say that patients that had worn full coverage helmets were more likely to sustain facial fractures and injury to the teeth and jaws. At the same time, the people who had not worn a helmet sustained far more facial bruises and scars than the riders who had worn helmets. He also found that most of the riders wearing full coverage helmets suffered from tearing of the brain stem or spinal injuries due to the strap on a helmet. In the end, Cooter concluded that riders had a better chance of surviving a crash without a helmet, than if they were to wear a full coverage helmet. (Biker’s rights)

More than eighty percent of all reported motorcycle crashes, result in death to the rider (Missouri Motorcycle). A motorcycle doesn’t have the crashworthiness or passenger protection of an automobile. An automobile has door beams, a roof, airbags, seat belts, and it’s more stable because it has four wheels. A motorcycle provides no protection for the rider or the passenger, and ejection from the bike is a common event as the result of a collision. If a motorcycle comes to a sudden stop and the rider is ejected from the bike, they will forcibly strike objects in their path, as well as the bike itself. But, what a motorcycle sacrifices in weight and bulk, it makes up with agility, maneuverability, and the ability to stop quickly.

Many of the causes of motorcycle crashes may be attributed to the lack of experience or the failure to recognize the limitations of a motorcycle during a collision. These factors require bikers to take on more defensive driving habits, and to assume special precautions while riding. Riders must be more alert at intersections, this is where about one-third of the multi-vehicle motorcycle crashes occur (Missouri). Riders must anticipate that cars may not be able to see them, and be prepared to take defensive maneuvers at all times. Also, they must be especially cautious while driving on slippery surfaces, or encountering obstacles in the roadway.

The General Accounting Office reviewed 46 studies of motorcycle helmets and helmet laws. They found that helmeted riders have a 73 percent lower fatality rate than riders that had not worn a helmet. Helmeted riders also have an 85 percent reduced incidence of sustaining critical injuries. Furthermore, helmets are 67 percent effective in preventing serious brain injury. In 1996, there were 67,000 motorcycles involved in police-reported crashes, of which forty percent were multiple vehicle crashes. While motorcycles are only two percent of the registered vehicles nationwide, motorcyclist fatalities are five percent of the traffic fatalities that occur each year. In addition, almost one-third of the motorcycle operators killed in crashes aren’t experienced or properly licensed to operate a motorcycle (Missouri).

The source of almost all deaths caused by motorcycle crashes is impact. When a person’s head makes a sudden violent impact, the small part of the head that was struck, stops moving immediately. If the skull is fractured, the brain may be torn by penetrating objects and bone fragments. A good helmet protects the head by giving it a little time to match speeds with the suddenly encountered object. The outer shell of a helmet distributes force and stops objects from piercing the skull, while the inner liner is crushed by the force of the head inside the helmet. Today’s good helmets do all this without impairing the lateral vision of the rider.

I’ve been riding dirt bikes and mini-bikes since I was eight years old, and I would surely have a lot more bumps and scars had I not worn a helmet. Also, I know a lot of people that would be dead today had they not worn a helmet. But, I believe that people should have the right to choose whether or not to wear a helmet, and someone that has probably never ridden a motorcycle before, shouldn’t dictate whether they do or not. As an active motorcyclist, I almost always wear a full coverage helmet. But, if I’m not going to be riding in heavy traffic, I enjoy being able to go for a ride without having to put my helmet on.

In conclusion, I would like to say that helmets do save lives. But, wherever someone goes and whatever they do, they assume some sort of risk. Unless, all riders wear a full coverage helmet, protective boots, a leather suit with pads, and a neckroll at all times, chances are that you’re going to come out of a motorcycle crash pretty beat up. So, who’s decision should it be to wear a helmet? I don’t think that someone I’ve never met should decide or take a vote whether or not I should wear a helmet. It should be mine.
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