Posted : 03/24/2009
When it comes to riding motorcycles, there's one topic where many people agree to disagree: mandatory helmet use laws.
To be fair, most people aren't actually against helmets per se. Rather, they're against forcing anyone to wear them. They view wearing a helmet as a personal choice, and believe that making someone wear a helmet amounts to trampling on their personal rights and freedoms as Americans. The motorcycle represents many things to different people, such as freedom from restraint, the feeling of power and speed or a certain solitude that can only be gained by riding alone with nothing in front of you but the open road. But let's face it. No one rides a motorcycle because they want to be safe. That's not to say riders don't want to be as safe as possible. It's just that many want to do it on their own terms.
Another point often raised by groups such as ABATE revolves around the fact that helmets, by themselves, don't really solve the problem of motorcycle safety. They believe that by focusing solely on helmet use laws, politicians and others ignore many other problems faced by riders, like right-of-way violations and general ignorance of motorcycles on the part of other drivers, and the lack of proper operator training and experience for motorcyclists.
The advocates for mandatory helmet use laws usually include safety organizations and governments. They also include those who feel their lives have been saved by a helmet, and people who feel that riders injured due to lack of a helmet represent a financial drain on society because of higher medical costs and disability payments. Their feelings can perhaps best be explained by a Massachusetts federal court judge responding to the argument that wearing a helmet should be a personal choice because only the rider is harmed in an accident: "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."
Obviously, this argument does not sway everyone, particularly libertarians. Many studies have been done by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the National Transportation Safety Board and other private researchers. Almost all serious, peer-reviewed studies conclude that helmets help reduce the incidence of injury and death to riders and the cost of the resulting medical treatment and that universal helmet laws increase helmet use and lower overall costs. Even the serious riders at Motorcyclist magazine believe that helmets are important (although they don't explicitly advocate use laws), so it's not just ignorant cagers (those who ride inside a vehicle, or "cage") trying to impose their will on riders due to poor awareness.
So where do we stand on the issue? Well, as you might have guessed, as an insurance agency, Insurance.com advocates following all state and federal laws, and recommends wearing a helmet whenever you ride. We believe the research supports the idea that mandatory helmet use laws encourage helmet use and reduce both injuries and medical costs. We also respect the fact that many people have different opinions about this topic, and understand that not everyone will agree.
What's your take on helmets and helmet laws? We may have to agree to disagree, but we'd love to hear your thoughts. Let us know!
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