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Freedom trumps brain injuries in battle over motorcycle helmets

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Arizona motorcyclists remain free to ride with the wind in their hair, the sun burning their scalp — and the chance of a head injury.

Without a single vote in support, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday rejected a proposal by Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson, to require adults to wear helmets or at least pay a fee into a special trauma injury fund.

The vote came despite statistics from Friese, who is a trauma surgeon, and other doctors about the number of motorcycle riders who suffer brain injuries. They said the chances of that happening are higher for those who don’t use a helmet.

But committee members said they are not convinced that the numbers override the personal rights of riders to decide what protections they want to use. And several accepted the argument that the real problem is drivers of larger vehicles failing to pay attention to the bikes.

Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, who chairs the panel, said he personally wears “every piece of equipment you can get on” when he rides his motorcycle. But he said a better approach would be incentives for riders to protect their heads rather than penalties for those who do not.

Arizona has not had a helmet requirement since 1976, at least for adults, though anyone younger than 18 is required to have headgear. Various efforts to reinstate the mandate have gone nowhere.

Rep. Randall Friese urges legislative colleagues Wednesday to enact legislation requiring motorcycle riders to wear a helmet or at least pay a fee to exempt themselves. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Rep. Randall Friese urges legislative colleagues Wednesday to enact legislation requiring motorcycle riders to wear a helmet or at least pay a fee to exempt themselves. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Friese figured he’d try a different approach: Require helmets — but allow riders to opt out by paying a fee. The dollars generated would go into a special fund designed to provide rehabilitation and other services to those who suffer head injuries in all types of vehicle crashes.

And his measure would allow cyclists to be ticketed only if police stopped them for some other reason first, like speeding.

Friese said he figures about half of riders now voluntarily use a helmet. He said HB2046 might bring compliance up to about 60 percent, with the balance choosing to pay the fee.

Bobbi Hartmann, lobbyist for the Modified Motorcycle Association, complained that fee would be set by the head of the state Department of Transportation, with no limit on the charge. She said there were other flaws in what Friese proposed, including how that exemption would work for someone visiting Arizona whose vehicle was registered in another state.

But the common theme among the objections was the belief that the solution to keeping motorcyclists from getting injured is better training.

John Dreyfus of the National Coalition of Motorcyclists said Arizona is a haven for retirees. What happens, he said, is they suddenly decide they’ve always wanted to ride a motorcycle.

“So he goes and buys one,” Dreyfus told lawmakers, with all the power available, but “has no clue how to ride it.”

But that issue of training is not limited to those on two wheels.

“We need to educate drivers to look out for motorcycles,” said Rep. Richard Andrade, D-Glendale, detailing some of his experiences when he used to ride a motorcycle.

“I got rear-ended twice,” he said, even though he wore not only a helmet but also a bright orange vest. “But I still got hit.”

Other legislators who voted against the measure had their own reasons.

Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, said he feared the mandate is so broad it would apply to farmers and ranchers who use all-terrain vehicles around their property.

And Rep. Paul Mosley, R-Lake Havasu City, saw it as matter of personal freedom.

“My first ancestor came here on this boat called the Mayflower,” he said.

“Many of my ancestors came here for freedom: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom to live the life they want to live,” Mosley continued. “I don’t believe that the government should dictate everything that we do.”

Campbell said he’s willing to give Friese another chance — if he tries the carrot versus the stick approach.

“Let’s make it an incentive and let people choose to be incentivized to wear a helmet,” he said, perhaps a tax credit for wearing a helmet rather than a penalty.

Figures from ADOT show there are close to 200,000 motorcycles registered in Arizona out of close to 8 million motor vehicles.

Out of 116,609 crashes in Arizona in 2015, the most recent figures available, 2,988 involved motorcycles, with 134 people killed and another 2,497 injured.

5 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. In other words, statistically the only difference a helmet makes is whether the casket is open or closed.

    Additionally, according to the Brain Injury Association of America, motorcyclists comprise but 6% of all transportation-related traumatic brain injuries. At 6%, the motorcyclists’ total is smaller than all other groups of road users. If helmets are required for that 6% in order to save lives and money, think how much more lives and money would be saved by requiring helmets for the other 94%. In other words, if motorcyclists should have to wear helmets then so should everyone else.

    Get the facts. Read Helmet Law Facts here: http://www.cmtabate.com/Legislative/Helmets/helmet_law_facts.pdf

    And please join me in prayer. Oh God, please save me from busybodies like Rep. Randall Friese. Teach him to take the log out of his own eye before concerning himself with the splinter in others.

  2. I’ve been fighting the good fight for 40 years here in New York & will add my 2 cents for what it’s worth. Some talking points I’ve used over the years in no particular order are as follows:

    Helmets do not prevent accidents & mandatory helmet use does not result in lower fatality rates. Helmets can at times save lives but can just as easily take them thru neck snaps & basal skull fractures. That shiny helmet might protect the head but the energy of the impact will telegraph to the neck/spinal column which breaks at only 7 pounds of pressure hence the adage “save the head trauma & create a paraplegic”. As for styrofoam, no standard exist for helmet foam thickness. Helmets are tested & measured by how well they dissipate energy upon contact not by how they’re padded. No standard is set forth by FMVSS218 or the Snell standard memorial foundation for foam thickness, helmet girth or fabrication. Both these entities are dedicated to the study of helmet related head & neck trauma & correlated injuries. In order to determine helmet compliance with FMVSS218 it requires the necessary lab procedures, lab equipment & the appropriately trained engineers to operate it. And in the process of testing the helmet they do in fact destroy it! It should be clearly evident already that helmet law enforcement techniques are seriously flawed as no ordinary LEO or biker could possibly posses an embryonic clue as to what FMVSS218 requires. Riders can read it & still not know how to comply & the LEO likewise cannot possibly apply it as they posses no way to discern whether a helmet meets FMVSS218 standards. The video is correct in the statement that DOT does not “approve helmets”. Helmet manufacturers may choose to certify their helmets as FMVSS218 compliant. Although there should be, no list of approved helmets (none that I know of) that MC riders or LEO can refer to in order to find out if a particular helmet complies with FMVSS218.

    I’ve seen just about every trick in the book & I’m all too familiar with the game of statistical manipulation to justify helmet laws. In conclusion, motorcyclists display a vested interest in their own safety. Ultimately, the issue is not helmet efficacy but a question of whether adults should be able to make their own personal decisions regarding their own safety, free from state interference. There are risks inherent in any form of transportation but most riders (no all unfortunately) I know are adult, responsible, free spirited individuals who can evaluate safety issues for themselves. As for the flawed social burden theory, the problems evident in our nation’s health care system are in no way the fault of America’s motorcyclist…

  3. Such an informative article. I get to know many newer things about a motorcycle helmet. Thanks a lot for sharing this post.

  4. Motorcycle is a thing of love. This article is so informative and helpful. I gather some important tips and informations to read this article.

  5. Motorcycle is a thing of love. This article is so informative and helpful. I gather some important tips and informations to read this article.

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