Guest Opinions

For mandatory helmet law: Requiring helmets would save lives and money in Idaho

It’s probably not too surprising to hear that AAA, an organization that advocates for traffic safety and provides roadside assistance to its members, favors legislation requiring all motorcycle and moped drivers (and their passengers) to wear a helmet.

Motorcyclists are directly exposed to their surrounding environment in a way that’s immersive and thrilling. But that exposure also leaves riders vulnerable to the risk of severe injury in the event of a collision. The Idaho Transportation Department points to an alarming rise in the number of serious motorcycle-related crashes in recent years.

ITD reports that in 2015, a motorcyclist was injured in a traffic crash every 16.5 hours. Out of the 611 motorcyclists who were involved in crashes that year, there were 28 fatalities — a 12 percent increase over the previous year – along with 174 serious injuries (a 19.2 percent increase), and 225 visible injuries (an 8.7 percent increase).

For the year, the total economic cost of motorcycle-related crashes in Idaho, including traffic delays and lost productivity, was calculated at $381 million. The cost in human life was much higher.

It’s a disturbing trend. Apart from a slight dip in 2014, the number of motorcycle-related fatalities and serious injuries on Idaho roadways has steadily increased each year from 2011 to 2015. On average, less than 56 percent of riders 18 and older were wearing helmets at the time of the crash. When the 2016 crash data is shared with the public, there will likely be more bad news.

Motorcycles are small and nimble, and can quickly occupy a space that was available just a moment before. Drivers in passenger vehicles and heavy trucks should do their part to protect motorcyclists by actively scanning the road, checking mirrors and avoiding sources of distraction. But collisions between motorcycles and other vehicles are only one part of the equation.

ITD’s 2015 crash report notes that 45 percent of motorcycle crashes were single-vehicle crashes, and 64 percent of fatal motorcycle crashes involved only a single motorcycle. On some occasions, the driver lost control of the motorcycle and was thrown or dragged, with tragic consequences.

Every year, automakers produce another batch of passenger vehicles with the latest innovative safety features, yet prevailing wisdom and the law still require drivers to wear a seat belt. Seat belts are basic, highly effective pieces of safety equipment that have saved lives for decades, including here in the Gem State.

Motorcycle helmets fit in the same category. They serve an important function that cannot be replaced by any other safety device. Unlike passenger vehicles that surround drivers with a variety of protective barriers, motorcyclists must embrace innovations in personal protective equipment. Over the years, helmets have been redesigned to maximize safety, comfort and convenience. They’re better than ever before.

Idaho law currently requires all motorcycle drivers and passengers under the age of 18 to wear a helmet. Some would say that the law goes far enough. Eighteen-year-olds are considered adults. They’re old enough to join the military, work at a construction site, become a firefighter or work at any number of other dangerous jobs.

But what do these jobs all have in common? In a combat zone, soldiers are issued a helmet. At the construction site, workers wear a hard hat. A firefighter wouldn’t dream of entering a burning building without wearing a helmet.

When it comes down to it, helmets are and should be worn based on the presence of dangerous conditions, not a person’s intelligence, age or skill level. Even the smartest and most experienced people can’t see in all directions, all of the time. They also can’t guard against every sudden and unexpected situation.

To reduce risk in a dangerous environment, at work or at play, people often rely on safety equipment, including helmets. We encourage motorcyclists to do the same.

Matthew Conde is the director of public and government affairs for AAA Idaho.

Related stories from Idaho Statesman