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Why helmets do NOT increase spinal cord injury or motorcycle accidents

December 23, 2011 by Steven M. Gursten

Michigan motorcycle accident lawyer and president of SMARTER explain that helmet laws protect motorcyclists – not put them at further risk

This is the last blog in my series of posts on reasons every state should have a motorcycle helmet law requirement. In Michigan, SB 0291, which would repeal Michigan’s motorcycle helmet law is looming.

SB 0291 would enable motorcyclists to ride without a helmet and require them to purchase No-Fault insurance coverage that is dangerously too low to protect a motorcycle operator in the event he or she is seriously injured a motorcycle accident. Take a look at an “animoto” cartoon our motorcycle accident lawyers recently put together to show the absurdity of SB 0291: Ignore the spiel behind the helmet repeal.

Why take a stand? I’ve even had some people write in and say that I and other Michigan motorcycle accident lawyers should want the repeal. But I’m very opposed to repeal as are practically all of the motorcycle lawyers in Michigan that I know of (sorry to burst the stereotype – but most personal injury lawyers go into this business to help people – we don’t actually wish or want terrible things to happen to people).

Here are the facts: Repealing our motorcycle helmet law will cause more motorcycle accidents, injuries and deaths. It will also put the financial burden of paying for motorcyclists’ lifetime, catastrophic injuries on the taxpayers, as the motorcyclists under SB 0291 will not have enough No-Fault insurance to cover their extensive medical bills and will be forced onto Medicaid.

A refresher about this blog series: A reader named Clay responded to my blog on 7 reasons every state should pass a motorcycle helmet law with what he called his “rebuttal to your 7 reasons why I should be forced to wear a helmet.” Dan Petterson, president of SMARTER USA, a safety group for Michigan motorcycle riders, was generous enough to respond to Clay’s comment.

This blog has individual points made from my original blog (in green type), with Clay’s reader comments (in blue type) and Petterson’s rebuttals (purple type).

Reason 7 for a helmet law: Helmets don’t increase the likelihood of spinal cord injury or motorcycle crash.

Critics of helmet laws often cite a highly disputed study by J.P. Goldstein indicating the added weight of helmets cause neck injuries and spinal cord injuries during crashes. More than a dozen peer reviewed medical studies have refuted this claim. A study reported in the Annals of Emergency Medicine analyzed 1,153 motorcycle crashes in four states and determined that helmets reduce head injuries without an increased occurrence of spinal injuries in motorcycle trauma. Studies also show that helmets do not restrict vision, interfere with hearing, or cause heat discomfort.

Biker rebuttal: As for the last one, as a rider of over 30 years and a helmet wearer for most of that time, clearly you have no idea what you’re talking about if you think that a full-face helmet does not restrict vision, hearing and I love this, cause heat discomfort. I don’t give a damn how well ventilated your helmet is, you’re uncomfortably warm if you’re wearing it in 90 degree or above weather.

More information from SMARTER: Hundreds of thousands of riders who wear full-face helmets would disagree with Clay. Common sense and research also contradicts Clays claim that full-face helmets restrict vision, hearing and cause heat discomfort.

Using common sense, first why would anyone buy and use a helmet that restricts vision and why would a manufacturer even make one? DOT standards require a 210 degree horizontal peripheral visual opening. Normal horizontal peripheral vision is 180 to 200 degrees. The Michigan license standard is only 140 degrees and exceptions are made for individuals with vision in only one eye.

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/her 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. The 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 crashes is simply ridiculous when one considers that Michigan (like most states) has no hearing standard in order to be eligible for a driver license. In Michigan, a non-hearing person can obtain a driver license, presumably based on the lack of any data that hearing is a significant factor in the ability to detect hazards.

Regarding heat discomfort – the statement is the helmet does not cause heat discomfort. This does not mean that in 90 degrees or above a person is not uncomfortably warm, as Clay says; it is simply that the helmet is not the cause.

The cause is that it is hot.

Many of my friends are motorcycle enthusiasts. I truly appreciate my clients who have survived motorcycle accidents, their strength, their beliefs and their different perspectives on the helmet law issue. But as a lawyer and safety advocate, I am taking a strong stance on this issue because I want to keep people alive and healthy.

Stay tuned for more information from our motorcycle accident lawyers on why this repeal proposal is senseless and what you can do to help. For now, you can contact your state Senators and urge them to vote NO. You can find your Sen. here.

Steven M. Gursten is partner of Michigan Auto Law and is recognized as one of the nation’s top motorcycle accident lawyers. He received the highest motorcycle settlement in the state last year, according to Michigan Lawyers Weekly. Steve has spoken at trial seminars on motorcycle lawsuits and is available for comment.

– Photo courtesy of Creative Commons, by Mike Licht, NotionsCapitol.com

Other blogs from this series:

Motorcycle helmet laws save lives

Motorcycle helmet laws increase helmet use

Why wearing a motorcycle helmet is fiscally responsible

Motorcycle deaths and injuries are climbing

Why the public overwhelmingly supports helmet laws

Why alternatives to helmet laws are costly and ineffective

Michigan Auto Law is the largest law firm exclusively handling car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Sterling Heights to better serve you. Call (248) 353-7575 for a free consultation with one of our Michigan motorcycle accident lawyers.

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