Wear Motorcycle Helmets? That's a Good Question!
By Lonny Wolford
Motorcyclists are always evaluating the use of motorcycle helmets. Is this simply a matter of preference or are there significant issues to be considered?
A friend of mine (Bill) has chosen to ride with a helmet, or at times without a motorcycle helmet. He says it depends upon riding conditions for him. One day he was on a two lane road, traveling about 50mph when a tractor trailer truck pulled out from the right side of the street to go the same direction. His thought was to maintain his speed and simply pass the truck. [Which, most likely could be done.] Unfortunately the truck driver did not have enough room for the turn, and stopped dead still, crossing both lanes. Bill was now approaching the truck too fast and too close to stop safely. He tried breaking hard but immediately knew he was facing the side of the trailer head-on. With quick thinking he laid his Harley on the side and slid under the trailer and on down the road a couple hundred feet. Relaying his story to me, he was flat on his back, feet first, with his arms spread out and his head bopping on the highway. When all was finished he gave credit to God for helping him and praised his destroyed helmet for saving his life. [Plus, the leather jacket and gloves that had taken the tears in place of him.] My friend only suffered from some sore muscles and hurt pride. But, it brings up the subject of helmet safety.
In the KSL-TV News of South Jordan, the Police Chief (Dan Pearson) is likewise teaching people that helmets save lives, after losing three friends to motorcycle accidents in two years. All three suffered from head injuries and none were wearing motorcycle helmets. Then, the police chief himself was involved in an accident on highway 89 North of Afton, Wyoming. A truck towing a horse trailer had passed him and pulled in front of him, hitting the front of his motorcycle with the spare tire mounted on the back. Dan was thrown off his bike, landing headfirst. He says, “This injury would have been a fatal blow if I hadn’t had the helmet on.” Dan suffered from bruises and a few broken bones.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that motorcyclists survive a crash and receive less serious injuries when wearing a helmet. They report that at least 600 people are saved each year.
One question that is asked, “motorcycle helmets might protect your brain but can it increase your chances of a broken neck?” Dr. Michael Yorgason, a surgeon at Montana Orthopedics and Sport Medicine, states that the findings from medical literature shows: “autopsy studies done after fatal motorcycle accidents have shown that neck injuries and fractures are equally likely, whether you are wearing a helmet or not.” Yet, most medical reports support the use of motorcycle helmets. They believe that the helmet generally decreases the risk of head and brain injury significantly and surmise that wearing them does not increase your risk of neck injury.
An Italian study concluded that a helmet decreased injury by 66%. A Thailand study found that after making helmets mandatory, head injuries decreased by 41% in 2 years. Now, in Kentucky, a study revealed that brain injury increased by 4.3 times when not wearing a helmet.
In an article written by Jonathan P. Goldstein, PhD., titled “The Effects of Motorcycle Helmet Use on the Probability of Fatality and the Severity of Head and Neck Injuries.” He concludes that there are a number of variables in a study that puts the study in question. Major differences are held concerning helmet use or non-helmet use. Normal results compare death and injury rates are two and three times greater for non-helmet riders and increases in occurrence rates in repeal years that vary from 19% to 63%. On one side: the helmet verses the non-helmet study fails to consider these two classes of riders. Stating that helmet riders are more cautious by nature. One, they drive slower, thus have slower speeds in crash situations. Two, they are less likely to have an accident. Three, helmet wearers are less likely to drink and drive (alcohol or use of drugs). These behavior changes dramatically reduce a riders risk.
On-the-other-hand, factors to consider are: 1-average age of the biker 2-average miles driven each year, per biker 3-average experience of the biker 4-the size of the motorcycle driven. So, between the size of the bike, potential speed, age, risk taking and alcohol ingestion; simply, cannot realistically prove the effectiveness of helmet use.
The Goldstein study did approach these variables in question. They reported a study that evaluates the effectiveness of motorcycle helmets in accident situations. The conclusions are: 1-Motorcycle helmets have no statistically significant effect on the probability of fatality. 2- Helmets reduce the severity of head injuries. 3-Past a critical impact speed of 13 mph, helmets increased the severity of neck injuries. The report then concluded that helmet users face a trade-off between reductions in the severity of head injuries and increases in the severity of neck injuries.
Under these circumstances a mandatory helmet use law cannot be reasoned to be an effective method to stop an individuals death or injury when involved in an accident.
Perhaps other choices need to be considered in providing safety in motorcycle use. Here are three suggestions. One, educate the general driving public (car and truck drivers) in road use with motorcycles. Two, educate inexperienced motorcyclists on accident avoidance (evasive action) and the proper use of these powerful machines. Three, create a strict enforcement of drunk driving laws. [Some studies show that alcohol consumption is the major factor in deaths and injury.]
Harley-Davidson offers basic and advanced training to 200+ dealerships in 30 states. Honda has four training centers. BMW is considering advanced training but says they tend to attract seasoned riders.
It is believed that training cuts panic. You need to know how to negotiate a curve and resist the urge to brake, etc.
Here are some other factors that need to be considered. Tires should be inflated to the proper level. A riders visibility to be seen. Tests have shown that the plain white motorcycle helmets are the easiest to be seen. Clothing makes a difference between day/night.
For night riding there are reflective vests and lighted vests available. There is GLO GLOV; reflective tape for clothing and cycle; reflective vests and coats. Now back to helmets.
USA Today carried the statistic from the National Highway Traffic Saftey Administration, reporting that 24% of the fatal crashes in 2003 involved unlicensed motorcyclists, and that car drivers are responsible in about two-thirds of motorcycle fatalities.
US DOT findings discovered that following the Helmet Law Repeal in Texas and Arkansas from Aug/Sept of 1997 to May 1998, helmet use dropped to 52% in Arkansas and to 66% in Texas. In Arkansas motorcycle fatalities rose 21% following the repeal and head injuries increased 18.5%. Texas fatalities rose 31%.
One court case in California disputed what standards were set for qualifying a helmet as “safe”. For a list of the US Government “Compliance Testing of Motorcycle Helmets” you can check to see if your helmet passed or failed. Check with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
When I am on my motorcycle, I know what I am doing. I don’t know what the other driver is doing. So, with the many facets of helmet use and considering the pro/cons, I choose to wear a helmet. You will have to decide for yourself!
Lonny Wolford, website builder, visit http://www.toplinemotorcycles.com
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