A helmet won't always save the life of a motorcycle rider in an accident. Straddling a bike, a motorcyclist is vulnerable. An enclosed vehicle provides a barrier between the motorist and other cars, the highway itself and all kinds of objects on and alongside the road. If a person in a car is wearing a seat belt, he can survive even when the vehicle is destroyed.
A motorcyclist, not so much.
Riding a motorcycle is inherently dangerous, and the danger is not mitigated as it is riding in a car or truck. Even so, motorcyclists resist legislators' attempts to make it safer by mandating helmet use.
Vehicle-safety laws prohibit certain behaviors and require others. Vehicle owners must have insurance that can pay for damage caused to their or other vehicles in an accident, to protect the victims of negligent drivers and to make sure things and people can be made whole as much as possible. The price of insurance rises if a driver is irresponsible, providing some incentive to drive safely.
Most states have laws requiring people driving or riding in cars to wear seat belts. In Utah, a driver can be cited for noncompliance with the seat belt law only if he or she is pulled over for another violation. Children are required to be restrained in safety seats.
There are good reasons for these laws that logically should also be applied to motorcyclists wearing helmets. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says helmet use reduces the risk of death in an accident by 37 percent, and the risk of head injury by 69 percent. People seriously injured in highway accidents may require long-term care, and taxpayers often foot the bill. But, however sensible it is to require responsible behavior to reduce the risk for everyone, anyone who proposes a mandatory helmet law is asking for a fight.
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, says he will be the next to bring such a proposal to the Legislature. And opponents are already gearing up to fight it. The American Bikers Aiming Toward Education claim that educating motorcyclists to avoid crashing in the first place is better than reducing the risk of dying in an accident by requiring helmet use. Some bikers say helmets muffle sounds and reduce visibility.
But statistics show that helmet use makes dying in an accident less likely. Over the past decade, 61 percent of the approximately 290 people killed in Utah motorcycle wrecks were not wearing a helmet.
The consequences of irresponsible behavior go beyond the reckless biker. We need to require helmets for everyone riding a motorcycle.