Earlier this month, I published “Maryland’s Mandatory Helmet Law: Two Opposing Opinions.” In that article, my friend Steve Strohmier and I presented our opposing opinions on the topic. Below, Steve and I respond to each others positions. Please feel free to comment and let us know your thoughts.
Baltimore Motorcycle Travel Examiner
Steve Strohmier’s Response
“I must address your last point first. I agree that the knuckleheads that are weaving through traffic are bad business for all responsible motorcyclists. I disagree that this is a helmet issue except for one possible scenario. I believe their irresponsible driving is a behavioral issue and that for some wearing their full face super helmet only reinforces the feeling of invincibility that many of that type of rider carry with them. The crash they cause is not victimless but it is also not the result of helmet choice but poor driving and reckless behavior. Should I, as a responsible rider, be penalized for the actions of the knucklehead?
As for the EMT’s, police, fire department personnel, and doctors that have to deal with the aftermath I am sure all riders appreciate their efforts and the fact that they take on the sometimes horrible aspects of the job. You state that as a police officer you have seen where a helmet saved a life and times when it could have. Did you also see when the helmet did nothing to prevent the death?
While driving is a privilege, individual rights should be protected from undue interference. Should the state have the right to tell you that you must take the most direct route to a destination instead of the scenic route? Should the state have the right to tell the driver of a convertible that they must keep the top up, or perhaps they should have to wear a helmet since their head is exposed just like ours? Driving is a privilege but where is the line drawn between privilege and personal freedom? And for the record I also disagree with the mandatory seat belt law.
Statistics can be argued forever. A recent NHTSA chart, when studied thoroughly, showed that the 30 helmet choice states had lower fatality rates than the 20 mandatory helmet states. Why, I don’t know, but it could be because they have better education and awareness programs. Other charts are ‘adjusted for variables.’ Is this so the results ‘prove’ the point they want the data to prove? As Mark Twain said: ‘There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.’
The key for all, helmet choice or not, should be avoiding the crash. That is the best way to save lives.”
Tom Bachur’s Response
“Like Steve, I place great value on liberty and personal freedom. However, I completely disagree with Steve’s statement that ‘choosing to not wear a helmet affects no one but the individual that makes that decision.’
Helmets reduce the rate of brain injuries in motorcycle crashes. That fact is accepted, proven, and common knowledge. It's so common sense that it seems ridiculous to debate. Riding without a helmet DOES affect others, particularly during a crash where a brain injury occurs. Just to name a few, families, other crash victims, and the entire Emergency Response community are all affected. Ramifications go even deeper – who pays for all of the medical treatment, aftercare, and in some cases, life-long support? Rarely does private insurance covers anything but a small fraction of these expenses, and if the rider or their family can’t pay the unpaid balance, in one way or another, it falls upon the public. Personally, I don’t want to pay that bill, and if it means another rider has to wear a helmet, so be it.
As I’ve previously indicated, I wasn’t always an ATGATT rider. As a younger rider, it was tennis shoes and sunglasses, but that was before Maryland’s helmet law, and before I discovered the safety, and comfort of today’s riding gear. Having plenty of helmet-free riding experience, I understand Steve’s point about feeling more attuned to the environment without a helmet. Yes, you feel the breeze more, you feel more bugs hitting your face, and you definitely know when there is a dump-truck ahead of you on the highway! However, I can honestly say that you don’t hear, or see more (or less) whether you're wearing a helmet or not. Helmets are designed NOT to impede peripheral vision, but if you’re worried about peripheral vision, wear a ¾ helmet, or turn your neck more! I have never found my hearing impaired by a helmet. In fact, on highway trips, I wear earplugs to protect my hearing from wind noise damage, and I still hear all that I need to hear! I find it interesting that many of the riders complaining about having their hearing impaired by a helmet are the same riders whose loud pipes are so loud thay can be heard blocks away!
Our right to live freely and make our own choices should never be regulated frivolously. However, society does have the right to govern through laws that are based upon the reality of fact. Helmets save lives; that's plain and simple fact.
After years of listening to anti-helmet law arguments, I have come to the conclusion that for many of the riders making the arguments, it is not that they have to wear a helmet that bothers them, but the fact that the non-riding majority is telling the riding minority what they HAVE to do… and that's something that really doesn't bother me!
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