Tragic motorcycle crash underscores importance of helmet use

Consumer Reports News: December 02, 2011 09:53 AM

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I heard terrible news this week that a childhood friend lost her fiancée in a motorcycle crash. The accident occurred one day after his 40th birthday. Full details are sketchy, but his motorcycle hit another car. This news is very upsetting to me as his death may have been prevented had he been wearing a helmet.

Helmets are made to protect and cushion a rider’s head from the impact of a crash. Unlike cars, in a motorcycle crash there are no air bags, seat belts, or surrounding structure to protect the body. A helmet, while not foolproof, is a rider’s first line of defense against a traumatic head injury. The National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that helmets reduce crash deaths by 37 percent and brain injuries by 67 percent. In 2009, over, 4,200 motorcyclists died in crashes, which is 13 percent of all crash deaths. While this number is down from 2008, it’s the second highest percentage of all crash deaths since NHTSA began recording them in 1975.

Helmet laws are only in place in 20 states, plus the District of Columbia. In states with no laws, deaths from head injuries are twice as high compared to states without the laws. In states with helmet laws, compliance is 98 percent and in those without, just 48 percent. However, there is a great deal of controversy regarding helmet use. Those against them say they can cause neck injuries, reduce peripheral vision, and hearing.

This quote taken from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s website says it all, I think. In 1972, a federal court in Massachusetts told a motorcyclist who objected to the helmet law: "The public has an interest in minimizing the resources directly involved. From the moment of injury, society picks the person up off the highway; delivers him to a municipal hospital and municipal doctors; provides him with unemployment compensation if, after recovery, he cannot replace his lost job; and, if the injury causes permanent disability, may assume responsibility for his and his family's subsistence. We do not understand a state of mind that permits plaintiff to think that only he himself is concerned." The U.S. Supreme Court agreed.

Riders should consider a DOT-approved helmet as the minimum protection, and it should be augmented by quality safety gear that should include padded gloves, armored jacket, motorcycle boots, and protective pants. Lights and bright clothing can also help.

In order to keep yourself and others on the road safe, a motorcycle training course is important. There are multi-day courses available for beginners, of course, but there are also programs for experienced drivers to sharpen skills.

I’m thinking of my friend during this sad time and hope that others will not have to face the pain of losing a loved one in these tragic accidents. If you ride, consider your loved ones and take precautions to improve your safety.

State by state guide to motorcycle helmets laws
NHTSA cracks down on counterfeit motorcycle helmet labels
Scooter and motorcycle buying advice and ratings
Tips on buying a motorcycle or scooter

Liza Barth

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