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Motorcyclists who don't use helmets throw life away

| Monday, Sept. 15, 2003

I was disappointed when I heard the helmet law had been repealed on Sept. 4.

Motorcyclists no longer need to wear protective helmets when riding, unless they are younger than 21. Helmets still are mandated for riders with less than two years experience, though that waiting period will be waived for those who take a motorcycle safety course.

There was a great deal of jubilation from Pennsylvania cyclists when the new law went into effect. Men and women were seen throwing their helmets in the trash or tossing them into bonfires.

I understand that motorcycle helmets may be hot, heavy and restrictive, but they might save a life or prevent a brain injury.

Living with a respirator, ventilator and catheter might seem to be a stretch for a young man or woman, but it could happen. A slick pavement, a pile of debris, gravel on the highway, a drunken or disoriented motorist, a tailgater, an idiot talking on a cell phone, a mother or father looking over the back seat to yell at their kids, an elderly driver who hits the accelerator instead of the brake or a young inexperienced driver who makes a mistake in perception. In a split second it could all be over.

From 1984 to 1996 helmets saved the lives of 7,940 motorcyclists in the U.S. and the District of Columbia, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. If all cyclists had worn helmets the number saved could have been 14,505, they say.

If you are in a crash, if you're lucky, you simply will die of your injuries. That would be better than being impaired so severely you never recover.

Riding a motorcycle can be dangerous. Several years ago, my husband and I had the misfortune of arriving at the scene of an accident between a motorcycle and a van on a treacherous curve on Route 66 in Manor. The motorcycle driver was dead, lying on the highway, covered by a blanket.

The older couple whose van hit him was devastated. His cycle had spun out in front of them. They weren't traveling too fast. They weren't impaired. They simply had the misfortune of traveling behind someone who was driving his cycle recklessly.

He paid dearly for his carelessness. But so did the van driver and his passenger. They had to live with what happened for the remainder of their lives.

I have absolutely nothing against motorcycles. I think they are fun and exciting. When you ride on a bike, you get a feeling of freedom like no other vehicle can offer.

But helmets were mandated for a reason -- the safety of the rider.

Now, that no longer applies.

For their own well-being motorcycle riders ought to continue to wear helmets, whether they be hot or uncomfortable or unwieldy.

And if insurance companies are sage, they might refuse to sell insurance to drivers who refuse to wear helmets. Sure, it would be hard to monitor, but random checks by police might put pressure to bear.

Likewise, anyone who is injured in an accident in which he/she is not wearing a helmet should not be permitted to sue for their injuries. Nor should their survivors be permitted to sue in the event of the death of a loved one not wearing a helmet.

Sound harsh and ugly?

But if you are riding a motorcycle and happen to have had one too many drinks or are high on drugs, and are driving irresponsibly and are caught in a crash, what right do you have to ruin someone else's life because you didn't care diddly squat about your own?

The only advice I have to offer those who will ride without helmets is this: Make sure you have a signed organ donor's card in your wallet. That way someone will be able to benefit from your senseless, futile death should it occur.

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