Guest Opinions

Against mandatory helmet law: ‘It should be our own choice’

ABATE of Idaho generally supports the American Motorcyclist Association’s stance opposing mandated helmet use. The group emphasizes education and defensive driving in support of preserving riders’ freedom of choice.

“It should be our own choice,” said Bree Walker, legislative affairs officer for ABATE of Idaho. “Government doesn’t always know what’s best for us.”

The case for voluntary helmet use

The American Motorcyclist Association, as part of a comprehensive motorcycle safety program to help reduce injuries and fatalities in the event of a motorcycle crash, strongly encourages the use of personal protective equipment, including gloves, sturdy footwear and a properly fitted motorcycle helmet certified by its manufacturer to meet the Department of Transportation standard.

The AMA believes that adults should have the right to voluntarily decide when to wear a helmet. The AMA does not oppose laws requiring helmets for minor motorcycle operators and passengers.

The AMA asserts that helmet use alone is insufficient to ensure a motorcyclist’s safety. There is a broad range of other measures that can be implemented to improve the skill of motorcycle operators, as well as reduce the frequency of situations where other vehicle operators are the cause of crashes that involve motorcycles.

The AMA opposes provisions conditioning adult helmet use choice on economic criteria such as, but not limited to, additional medical insurance coverage. This rationale is based on the negative and incorrect view that motorcyclists present a “social burden.” The AMA maintains that acceptance of such requirements is contrary to the long-term interests of motorcycling.

Mandatory helmet laws do nothing to prevent crashes. Regardless of the protective equipment worn, any motorcyclist involved in a crash is at considerable risk. This makes it all the more vital to avoid a motorcycle crash in the first place, a strategy widely recognized and pursued in the motorcycling community.

The AMA is a strong advocate of voluntary motorcycle rider education, improved licensing and testing, and increased public awareness. All are measures that can reduce the likelihood of crashes and improve overall safety.

The AMA holds that a common principle should be applied when consideration is given to mandating personal safety, whether it be for motorcycling or some other risk-related activity: Adults are capable of making personal safety decisions for themselves. Society’s role is not to mandate personal safety, but rather to provide the education and experience necessary to aid adults in making these decisions for themselves. Other points:

▪  Motorcyclists are just as likely to be privately insured as any other road user. Injured motorcyclists are less likely than the general population to use public funds to pay for injuries sustained in crashes, and no more likely to be uninsured than other vehicle operators.

▪  The costs associated with unhelmeted motorcyclist injuries and fatalities do not compel the enactment of mandatory helmet laws to save taxpayer dollars. The costs associated with the treatment of motorcyclist injuries account for a tiny fraction of total U.S. health care costs. A miniscule portion of these costs is attributable to unhelmeted motorcyclists, the majority of which are paid by privately purchased insurance.

▪  The most effective way to reduce motorcyclist injuries and fatalities is to prevent crashes from occurring. Mandatory helmet laws do nothing to prevent crashes that injure or kill motorcyclists.

What can be done?

Motorcycle safety programs that promote licensing and testing can further reduce motorcycle crashes. Slightly more than one of five motorcycle operators (22 percent) involved in fatal crashes in 2011 was operating with an invalid license. More than one-third (37 percent) of all fatally injured motorcyclists had consumed alcohol. Alcohol awareness campaigns and intervention programs can drastically reduce alcohol-related crashes and fatalities.

About one-half (49 percent) of all fatal motorcycle crashes involve another vehicle. The most common crash involves the driver of the other vehicle turning in front of the motorcyclist (38 percent), followed by both vehicles colliding while going straight (23 percent). Motorist awareness campaigns and motorcyclist visibility programs can reduce the frequency and/or severity of these types of crashes.

This is adapted from the American Motorcyclist Association position statement on voluntary helmet use.

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