Motorcyclists either like wearing helmets or they don’t.

I like helmets, always have.  In fact I like helmets as much as my wife likes shoes and I probably have as many.  The graphics of my helmets fit my personality and I never ride without one.

As much as I like helmets there, are those who would rather ride without one and feel that it should be their right to do so. 

Should a rider have the freedom to choose to ride without a helmet? 

That question is coming up again in one of the 3 states that don’t have some form of mandatory helmet use law, Illinois.  Proponents of mandatory helmet laws will argue that helmets save lives, reduce long term or permanent brain damage and reduce the health care costs associated with motorcycle accidents.  Opponents will argue that it should be their choice to wear or not wear a helmet.  They don’t want government dictating what they do.

Here are some numbers to consider first.

People who wear helmets will still die in motorcycle crashes.  Lets face it, getting on a motorcycle and mixing it up with all the cages on the roads isn’t that safe.  You’re sitting your ass on, not in, something that’s going as fast as the cages and a crash in any form isn’t going to do your health any good.

If you wear a certified helmet you have a 39% chance of surviving a crash compared to someone who isn’t wearing one.[i] 

If you do survive a crash, you have a 67% chance of not suffering a brain injury if you were wearing a certified helmet.[ii]  This is the number that means something to me when it comes to helmet use.

I think it’s safe to say that helmets do help, but there’s no getting around the fact that being belted in a cage provides much more protection then what a helmet and protective gear can provide. 

If you ride the best way to avoid injury or death is to avoid crashing in the first place.  So with this in mind, what kills the motorcycle rider?

In 2008, 46% of all motorcycle related deaths were from single-vehicle (motorcycle only) accidents.[iii]  No matter how you look at this figure, almost half the fatalities that occurred in 2008 were from rider error alone.  While the statistics don’t give all the details, they do show that in almost 60% (59.3% to be exact) of the single-vehicle accidents, the motorcyclist rode headlong into a stationary object.[iv]

A “sobering” statistic in the single-vehicle numbers is that 43% of the riders killed had blood alcohol levels at or above 0.08%.  In comparison, 19% of riders killed in multiple-vehicle crashes (usually car vs. motorcycle) had blood alcohol levels at or above 0.08%.[v]

In the other 54% of crashes resulting in death, other vehicles were involved and in most cases were caused by the driver of the other vehicle either running a light or stop sign, or turning left in front of the motorcyclist.  As in single-vehicle accidents the majority of the crashes were frontal.[vi]

Based on the statistics and a little common sense, here are 5 things a rider can do to help keep the rubber side down and stay healthy and alive.

  1. Don’t drink and ride, not even one.  Alcohol reduces reaction time and even a small delay can make the difference in avoiding disaster.
  2. Ride within your comfort zone.  Going a little over is part of the fun and is part of becoming a better rider, but if you go too far it could be the last thing you do.  This is especially true if you’re on a motorcycle that you’re not familiar with.
  3. Adjust your riding to the weather, light and road conditions.
  4. Check your motorcycle before each ride to make sure it’s in great condition. I don’t care if you have the best mechanic in the world; it’s still the responsibility of the rider to make sure their motorcycle is in great running condition before hitting the road.  It’s your ass that’s on the bike, not the mechanic’s.
  5. Pay attention!  If you watch out for yourself, those around you and are aware of the areas where danger could be, like intersections, you have a great chance of staying on your motorcycle.
  6. Ride!  Find an empty parking lot and practice tight turns, quick stops and all those things you needed to do to get your license in the first place.  Take a course.  The more seat time you have on your bike the better you’ll get.

Perhaps if we didn’t die as often, the heat will be off in those states that currently have no laws or restricted legislation to get tougher.

By the way, here’s my opinion on helmet laws.  Helmets should be required for riders and passengers who are under 21 years of age. 

Lets Ride!

Gerald Trees

[i] www.iihs.ort/research/fatality_facts_2008/motorcycles.html

[ii] www.iihs.ort/research/fatality_facts_2008/motorcycles.html

[iii] www.iihs.ort/research/fatality_facts_2008/motorcycles.html

[iv] www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/Vehicles/VehiclesMotorcycles.aspx

[v] www.iihs.ort/research/fatality_facts_2008/motorcycles.html

[vi] www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/Vehicles/VehiclesMotorcycles.aspx

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