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Arizonans go head to head on motorcycle safety laws

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Motorcyclists who roll down Arizona highways agree that riding in the open air is one of life’s exhilarations. The disagreements become sharp when the subject of whether to wear a helmet – or whether the state should mandate helmet use – is on the table.

In an attempt to appease both groups, Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson, has introduced House Bill 2052, that would require all motorcycle riders to wear a helmet, unless they pay a fee when registering the motorcycle. The fee would be determined by the Arizona Department of Transportation. Current Arizona law only requires motorcycle riders under 18 to wear a helmet.

Under this legislation, an officer could not pull over a rider if they weren’t wearing a helmet; it would be a secondary offense. A rider who is cited would be fined $500, with $200 going to the Highway User Revenue Fund and $300 going to the Spinal and Head Injuries Trust Fund.

Friese, a trauma surgeon who frequently takes care of head-injured patients, said the bill is a step in the right direction for improving public safety and reducing costs.

“Certainly any program that promotes safety on the road I would be supporting,” Friese said. “But I believe firmly that if we can persuade, or if we can increase the amount of riders wearing helmets, we would recognize, realize some decrease in healthcare costs.”

The legislation is a middle ground between achieving the freedoms riders want, and reducing the risks of head injury, Friese said.

Motorcycle helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 69 percent and reduce the risk of death by 42 percent, according to areport by the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a pro-helmet safety organization.

“I believe, and I listen to the motorcycle riders saying ‘we want to choose,’ ” Friese said. “I don’t believe it is a right to not wear your helmet. I believe it is a privilege, just as driving is a privilege.”

Cathy Chase, vice president of governmental affairs for the Advocates group, said that a compromise is a disappointment and a weakening of an already weak law.

In 2014, states lacking an all-rider helmet law saw 10 times more unhelmeted fatalities than states with an all-rider helmet law, according to information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the Advocates report.

“All of our positions are based on research, and research has clearly demonstrated that all-rider motorcycle helmet laws are the most effective way to get motorcyclists to wear their helmets,” Chase said. “So our position, which is based on safety and research, is that all riders should be required to wear helmets.”

Head injuries are debilitating and sometimes have the effect of limiting the ability of members of society to function, Chase said, which then leads to a “ripple effect” of changing more than one life.

“Some of the motorcyclists who don’t want to be required to wear a helmet argue that they should be given a choice,” Chase said. “Their mantra is kind of, ‘let those who ride decide.’ The problem with that is that all taxpayers wind up footing the bill, so our response is, let those who pay have a say.”

The economic cost of motorcycle crashes in 2010 totaled $12.9 billion, and helmets save $2.7 billion in costs, according to information provided by the NHTSA in the Advocates report.

John Dreyfus, the designated lobbyist for the Arizona Confederation of Motorcycle Clubs, said helmets do not protect riders; helmets interfere with the ability to be alert and that is why he chooses not to wear one. “When I’m riding I feel like I’m part of the outside world,” Dreyfus said. “I can feel the air, I can hear the sounds around me.” Helmets also have blind spots that can lead to life-threatening mistakes, Dreyfus said.

In contrast, Mick Degn, the motorcycle task manager for the Arizona Strategic Highway Safety Plan, chooses to wear a helmet, and believes it is a minor part of larger efforts to being safe.

“The issue is, there needs to be more on safety gear when you’re riding a motorcycle because you’re in the open, you’re riding down a concrete blacktop road and you should have the proper gear,” said Degn, who is also the chairman of the Arizona Motorcycle Safety and Awareness Foundation.

“The proper gear, to me, is a helmet, long-sleeved shirt, long pants, good boots, and gloves.”

Although Degn and Dreyfus differ in the personal choice of wearing a helmet, they both agree that wearing a helmet should not be a requirement for all and that House Bill 2052, is leaving out a major initiative in motorcycle safety promotion.

Dreyfus said that helmets are a “placebo” and that prevention is the most important aspect of motorcycle safety.

“What our position is, is that the best way to survive a motorcycle crash is to not get in it in the first place,” Dreyfus said.

Some of the most effective forms of prevention are taught in motorcycle training courses, Degn said. “You have to look at the whole package of motorcycle safety and awareness.”

During these classes riders learn the dangers of drinking and driving, how to react when facing obstacles, how to turn properly and how to choose the best safety gear, for example.

Degn said safety in the motorcycle community should be encouraged more.

He said helmets should not be mandatory, but the effects of helmets should be learned through first-hand experience in a training course. “A choice is the right way to go,” he said. “ We shouldn’t demand or create a bill that says we have to wear a helmet.” According to the Advocates report, 19 states and Washington D.C. have all-rider helmet laws, 28 states have age-specific helmet laws and three states do not have any helmet laws.

The motorcycle riders who feel strongly about the ability to choose are the reason this bill will most likely not go very far, Friese said. “There’s a minority of people who don’t want this to move forward and they’re very vocal,” Friese said.

But, Chase said safety is unlikely to be achieved until the most strict helmet laws, all-rider motorcycle helmet laws, are put into effect. The current Arizona highway and auto safety status was given a “danger” rating in the Advocates report, suggesting Arizona strengthen its laws.

10 comments

  1. “If helmets have significant safety benefits, then the ratio of deaths to accidents should decline as the use of helmets increases, such as after a mandatory helmet law is enacted. Yet in most states the Death to Accident Ratio (DAR) averages between 2% to 3% both before and after helmet laws have been enacted.”

    Get the facts. They sure aren’t in the propaganda spouted in the article above. Read Helmet Law Facts here: http://www.cmtabate.com/Legislative/Helmets/helmet_law_facts.pdf

  2. If they want to make an argument that an individual’s riders RIGHT to make a choice on helmet/no helmet causes such a fiscal burden to the state, reform the state’s welfare program! The current helmet law in Texas is that you don’t have to wear a helmet (provided you’re over the age of 18), you MUST have personal health insurance. NOT the coverage provided by your auto insurance. NOT the coverage provided by the welfare system. Very simple.

  3. This is ridiculous. It should be the rider’s choice without penalty. If they really wanna protect bikers, ban cellphone use while driving. Idiots on the phone are what kill motorcyclist and if they’re really that worried about medical costs, stop throwing money away on people that don’t have medical insurance but stay weeks in the hospital racking up $80k bills. People with motorcycles have insurance. Bikes are not cheap and the responsible bikers….the ones you want to penalize are the tax paying insured bikers. Stop pretending this is about safety when it’s really about the all mighty dollar.

  4. How much money is the Helmet makers giving you for this?, Have you priced a Helmet lately

  5. When you find yourself in the market for a street motorcycle helmet, there can be a few elements that are crucial to you. How safe is this motorcycle helmet? How does the helmet look? Along with how much does this helmet charge?

  6. I support wearing helmets and other safety gears when driving to keep myself protected. I know accidents happen even if you’re very careful as other drivers might not but wearing these safety gears will lessen your worries somehow. I just wish everyone would be responsible enough to wear these safety gears, mandatory or not.

  7. Worth reading. However nothing to say about safety. For protection and safety, a helmet is the first gear that you will need while riding. Not every time you will get a crash, but the safety must be assured. Studies and researches say that the riders wearing helmets are less likely face crashes. I don’t need to mention that the properly constructed motorcycle helmets will save you from serious head and neck injury. However from here you can find more details about helmets- http://ultimatehelmetguide.com/cheap-motorcycle-helmet/

  8. Motorcycle helmets are only useful to keep your head pretty for your own funeral when you crash and that’s it! Helmets are not going to keep the cars from running over you and your body when you go down. They are not going to keep your head from looking like a smashed bug on a car’s windshield when your head impacts on any vehicle’s bumper when you are on the ground.

    I’ve know riders who have been riding for 30 years and I agree with him that people getting their drivers license should first be required to drive motorcycles first because a responsible motorcyclist are the most aware and careful drivers out there and give full attention to dangerous obstacles on the road and we don’t have stupid cell phones in our hands or eat or drink like all and most drivers behind the wheel do nowadays.

    I’ve been riding since 1995 and I have never been involved or responsible for the cause of any accident. I can go down the road and be high enough to look down into so many people’s cars who are looking down and reading their stupid cell phones or eating breakfast with their knees holding the wheel as they go down the road.

    Motorcyclist are the safest people on the road out there (responsible motorcyclist, I’m not speaking for those stupid riders that give the rest of us responsible riders a bad rap). But in general we’re more responsible and I have complained more times to get roads fixed because of when I experience a traffic hazard on the road I describe to them the dangers of motorcyclist hitting long going gouges from people who gouge out chunks of roads on streets or freeways and tell them my tires will get caught in those gouges almost causing me to wreck if those trouble spots aren’t fixed clearly showing liability on their end and they usually have them fixed fast.

    Before someone says “Well, you should just go another way if you don’t like road the conditions you go by then”. My point is, someone driving a car isn’t going to care much about something like that because they’re in a car, and this also shows that responsible motorcyclist are the most cautious people on the road out there looking for road hazards since we are more aware because we pay attention to the road.

  9. My daughter and husband witnessed a motorcycle accident where the guy landed on his head…. they had to stay on the scene while medics literally scraped his head up off the asphalt… why are we punishing our first responders with having to deal with this unnecessary duty? Let’s face it wrecks happen and no helmet means death and/or life altering events for victim and their loved ones. Sadly laws have to be put in place for the entire community for everyone’s good because there are so many out there that don’t have the sense to put a seatbelt on, don’t text and drive, have insurance, etc… without the law we are just weeding out the stupid which sadly isn’t acceptable to witnesses, first responders and loved ones.

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