The debate on Michigan’s motorcycle helmet law continues – Why motorcycle helmet laws save lives
I recently posted a blog called 7 reasons every state should pass a motorcycle helmet requirement. The blog was inspired by a document that I found on a motorcyclist association website called SMARTER.
Clay, a reader, responded on August 30, 2011 with what he termed his “rebuttal to your 7 reasons why I should be forced to wear a helmet.”
I asked Dan Petterson, president of SMARTER, to respond to Clay’s comment. I will be running the points made from my own blog (in green type), and then adding in Clay’s reader comments to it (in blue type), after which I’ve put Mr. Petterson’s rebuttals (purple type). Today I’m running the first point, and in the next several weeks, I will run the rest of the points.
Incidentally, I am the first to recognize passions run deep on the subject of helmet laws within the motorcycle community. As a motorcycle accident lawyer, I’ve been helping people injured in motorcycle accidents for nearly 20 years. I started blogging and writing on this subject years ago because I believe the facts overwhelmingly show that helmets save lives. And with that, point one: Do Motorcycle Helmets Really Save Lives?
1. Motorcycle helmet laws save lives
Reason 1 for a helmet law: Motorcycle helmet laws save lives. Death rates from head injuries are twice as high among motorcyclists in states without all-rider helmet laws. Motorcycle helmets are 37 percent effective in preventing motorcyclist deaths and 67 percent effective in preventing traumatic brain injuries.
Biker rebuttal: The last time I looked at the statistics involving injuries when not wearing a helmet, they were extremely questionable. For example, if a bike is parked on the side of the road and the rider happens to have a helmet on the ground beside them when hit by a vehicle, this motorcyclist is written up as having a helmet. Conversely, there is very little study done on how much a helmet contributes to injuries and increased incident of accidents due to limited vision and hearing. Skewed statistics used as evidence are as bad as none at all.
More information: There is absolutely no question regarding the effectiveness of motorcycle helmets in reducing and preventing injuries. The research on this is universal, overwhelming and unquestionable. SMARTER (Skilled Motorcyclist Association – Responsible, Trained and Educated Riders, Inc.) has news and legislation information that supports this. Here are additional references to support the statement that motorcycle helmets are effective in preventing deaths and injuries.
Clay’s claim that the statistics involving injuries when not wearing a helmet are questionable, is simply not supported by any facts. A 2008 review of the research can be found in the following study: Helmets for preventing injury in motorcycle riders.
A total of 61 studies were considered in this review. Questionable statistics or information would mean that about half of available research would support the effectiveness of helmets and the other half of the research would not have data supporting effectiveness. This is just not the case. There is nearly 40 years of research with overwhelming support for the fact that helmets work for their intended purpose – to protect the head and brain in the event of a crash.
Clay’s example of how the use or non-use of a helmet is recorded on traffic crash reports does not seem to be valid. I have not been able to find any examples referenced in research or in various states crash reporting data to indicate his example might be true.
Clay also states “Conversely, there is very little study done on how much a helmet contributes to injuries and increased incident of accidents due to limited vision and hearing.” The research on these two topics is also clear. Helmets do not contribute to any significant injuries and there is no research to support the claim that helmets might increase the incidence of accidents due to limited vision and hearing. Both of these claims are often used by advocates for helmet law repeal or in opposition to enactment of all-rider helmet laws. Recent research on the question of helmets contributing to neck injuries can be found in this study: Motorcycle helmets associated with lower risk of cervical spine injury.
The conclusion of this study is as follows: “Helmeted motorcyclists are less likely to suffer a cervical spine injury after a motorcycle collision. This finding challenges a long-standing objection to mandatory helmet use that claims helmets are associated with cervical spine injury. Re-enactment of the universal helmet law should be considered in states where it has been repealed.”
The second part of Clay’s statement (that helmets increase the incidence of accidents due to limited vision and hearing) is also contradicted by the research on this issue. Two studies on this question are referenced on the summary of helmet effectiveness: Helmet research.
The question of helmets interfering with vision and hearing, does not however, seem to me to need research to answer. How about common sense? First, what rider in his right mind would buy and wear a helmet that restricts his/her vision? Second, the federal DOT standard requires that helmets provide 210 degrees of horizontal peripheral vision and normal peripheral vision is between 180 and 200 degrees. Additionally, the license standard in most states is significantly less that either the DOT helmet standard or normal peripheral vision. In Michigan, for example the standard is 140 degrees with exceptions made for individuals who have site in only one eye. We also know that more than 90 percent of crashes happen within a range of 160 degrees, with the majority of the remainder occurring in rear-end collisions. Clay’s claim that helmets restrict vision and contribute to crash causation is not supported by research or common sense.
And the claim that helmets reduce the ability to hear and therefore detect hazards and contribute to crash is simply ridiculous when one considers that most states have no hearing standard in order to be eligible for a drivers license. In Michigan, a non-hearing person can obtain a drivers license, presumably based on the lack of any data that hearing is a significant factor in the ability to detect hazards. The foundational research conducted at the University of Southern California (the Hurt Study) could not uncover a single case in which a rider could not detect a critical traffic sound.
– Photo courtesy of Creative Commons, by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com
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