Today's edition of USA Today has a couple of articles dealing with mandatory helmet laws for motorcycle riders. First up is this article that details a renewed effort to pass mandatory helmet laws after many decades of moving in the opposite direction. The driving force behind the new push was the crash of Pittsburgh Steeler's quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who wrecked his bike just before the season started last year. He was not riding a helmet at the time and suffered some minor head injuries (nothing that kept him from missing more than a game or two, mind you).
The other article details the lobbying efforts over the years that have produced a rollback of lots of helmet laws that were already on the books. That, to me, is the much more interesting story. I get the argument against mandatory helmet laws - part of the allure of a motorcycle is the sense of freedom it brings, the wind rushing through your hair, etc. It's a popular belief - when I'm visiting the girlfriend in Pennsylvania, I see bikers from neighboring states who take their helmets off at the border to enjoy riding sans brain bucket. In addition, my libertarian streak sees this as unwarranted government intrusion.
But the lobbyists in the article aren't just anti-mandatory helmet laws, they appear to be anti-helmets completely. Witness:
The latest result of helmet-law opposition has been to stall a landmark study that motorcyclists themselves say would save lives.This would seem, to me, to be akin to blocking a study to show whether water is, in fact, wet. Does anybody serious argue that, in the event of a crash, a head hitting the pavement with a helmet around it is in better shape than a bare skull? If the anti-helmet folks want to maintain the right to not wear helmets, shouldn't they focus on philosophical/political arguments rather than blocking studies into their effectiveness? Surely the motorcycle folks don't want to become the Tobacco Institute of the 21st Century.
Motorcyclist groups have long sought an in-depth analysis of why riders are killed. Researchers would rush to the scene of hundreds of motorcycle crashes to determine why they occurred. By finding the main causes, the study would urge safety improvements in anything from training to motorcycle design.
The study was the top priority of a broad motorcycle-safety plan written in 2000 by safety experts, motorcyclists and NHTSA.
When lawmakers in Congress proposed in 2005 that the Department of Transportation conduct and fund the study, the American Motorcyclist Association objected.
'We don't want DOT to do the study,' association lobbyist Edward Moreland said in a recent interview. 'They want to focus on protective equipment' such as helmets. The association wanted 'an independent third party' to run the study, Moreland said.
For what it's worth, while I agree with the anti-mandatory helmet law folks in principal, their libertarian argument fails in a modern interconnected world. If there was someway to completely limit the excess cost of caring for the brain damaged victims of bike accidents, I'd be all for it. But as long as I and the rest of the insured and tax paying have to help foot the bill, you owe us a little courtesy.