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This is Jacob Hill: victim of a motorcycle crash that could have taken his life - if he wasn't wearing a helmet.

The accident happened Tuesday when Hill was riding bikes with his friend, Alex Vick, on an unfamiliar road alongside State Route 201 in West Valley City. Hill ran into some loose dirt on a turn that prevented him from braking.

"I'm pretty fortunate to have walked away," Hill said. "I was airborne, landed on my head, and tumbled with the bike until a fence stopped me. I have no doubt the helmet saved my life."

Hill is one of the lucky ones.

In 2003 there were 766 motorcycle crashes in Utah alone, including 22 fatalities. Eighty-six percent of those were injury crashes. The majority of crashes happen between May and September, the summer riding season that's upon us with Memorial Day weekend. Fifty-nine percent of those involved in crashes were not wearing a helmet.

One reason for the lack of helmet use is that only those under 18 are required by Utah law to wear helmets.

"It's really too bad it's not mandatory for everyone to wear helmets," said Lt. Steve Myer of the Utah Highway Patrol.

Only 19 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico require helmet use for motorcycle operators and passengers.

According to the Utah Highway Safety Office, the largest population involved in and injured in motorcycle crashes is the 20 to 24 age bracket (21 percent). Riders ages 20 to 24 and 55 to 59 are those most involved in motorcycle fatalities (both at 18 percent).

Myer said it is usually the younger riders who don't wear any gear at all, while older riders usually put on long pants, jackets and gloves - but not helmets.

"Those who wear helmets may get here [for treatment], but those who do not wear helmets do not get here," said Ben Shaver, nurse manager for the Emergency Department of the University of Utah Hospital.

Shaver said wearing a helmet is no guarantee of protection, but it does decrease the likelihood of open head injuries, though there is always the risk of internal injuries as the brain slams back and forth in an accident.

Nonetheless, said Derek Jensen of the Utah Department of Public Safety, "Wearing helmets and other safety gear definitely increases the chances of surviving a crash."

Luckily, Hill was wearing a helmet when he crashed, and leather gloves as well.

And, he said, with other gear, perhaps a leather jacket, his body might not have suffered so many bumps and bruises.

Hill was treated at a hospital and released the same day. Though he still does not remember everything that happened during the accident, his friend does.

"It was an accident neither one of us ever saw coming," Vick said.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, from 1984 to 2002 helmets saved the lives of 13,774 people nationwide. If all victims of motorcycle crashes had worn helmets during that period, an additional 9,508 lives would have been saved, it said.

"Riders need to be responsible and take all the safety measures they can," said Rolayne Fairclough, spokeswoman for AAA Utah.

But apparently some aren't getting the message. The Utah Highway Safety Office says that from fall 2000 to summer 2002 helmet use among motorcyclists dropped from 71 percent to 58 percent.

Leading causes of motorcycle crashes involve speeding, driving under the influence, driving too close, reckless driving, and improper lookout.

Hill says the cause of his accident was driving too fast on an unfamiliar roadway. He tells riders to "know the roads you're riding on, and if you are unfamiliar with them, then take it slow. If I wasn't going so fast, my accident could have been avoided."

He also encourages riders to wear other safety gear and "to learn how to fall defensively."

"I see other riders all the time who are irresponsible," said Vick, "like some bullet-bike riders who don't wear any gear, popping wheelies and trying to act all macho. I just think to myself, 'Good luck.' "

Vick said witnessing the accident of his friend shook him up quite a bit, and said he has no plans to ever ride without a helmet. On the other hand, Hill said he's not sure if he'll ever ride again.

"It'll be at least a long time before I get on a bike again," he said.