While traveling on American roads has become safer today than at any point in the past five decades, one group has been left behind: motorcyclists.
Some 4,500 die every year in crashes, and that hit home hard here in Michigan in the last couple of weeks. It should be noted that all the riders involved in the Wisconsin tragedy were wearing helmets at the time of the crash.
It’s a sad number which is represented in the loss of riders of all sexes, all ages and from across all walks of life.
Given the propensity we here in America have for fiercely protecting our freedom to decide how we’ll live out lives, it’s not surprising that a number of states have seen vocal and politically savvy groups work toward the repeal of mandatory helmet laws.
But those advocacy groups, not willing to bask in the glow of recent successes, aren’t satisfied to simply push back against laws requiring helmets for riders, some of them now want to forbid federal safety agencies from even talking about the problem using taxpayer money.
Here in Michigan, it only takes an informal look around the state’s roads to see that the repeal of helmet laws has been a popular change amongst riders. It seems like more than half have chosen not to wear a helmet when they ride.
A new report from FairWarning.org spells out the battle in detail and points up the fact that helmet laws have been repealed entirely in two states – Illinois and Iowa – and changed to cover young riders only in many more. At this point, only 19 states require helmets for all riders. After the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tried to distribute pro-helmet videos during the 1990′s, Congress barred barred that group from lobbying state and local officials on helmet laws – period.
New bills now in Congress for consideration seek to reaffirm the ban and block NHTSA from giving money to states for motorcycle-only safety checkpoints. While the checkpoint legislation makes sense on constitutional grounds, groups including American Bikers Aiming Toward Education (ABATE) argue that motorcycle helmets do not reduce deaths or lower insurance costs, and that personal freedom should take precedent over public health concerns.
Advocates of such legislation don’t seem at all concerned that, by every measurable metric, they’re wrong about helmets keeping riders safe.
While Michigan’s new law requires riders to carry a minimum of $20,000 in additional medical insurance, safety advocates have long argues that the cost of freedom of choice for riders is much higher in the long run.
It comes down to this; we’ll see the results of the Michigan experiment conducted by real riders acting as guinea pigs over the next few years.
While it’s a tough argument to make that taxpayer dollars should be used to force riders to wear helmets against their personal preferences, it’s also going to be brutal to see how many riders make that choice and lose their lives as a result.