Helmet Law Page
(Miscellaneous information on mandatory helmet laws)
TRUTH ABOUT HELMET LAWS
A report generated by Adam Fitzwater and Hadley Perry
(Former Legislative Assistants for NC Rep. Sauls and NC Rep. Williams)
What's wrong with Bicycle helmets?
Helmet Laws 101
Economic Impact of Repealing NC's Helmet Law
Helmet Law Hypocrisy
Helmets save skin and could reduce head injuries during low speed crashes
where the head comes in contact with a hard object.
- If you don't ride with a full windshield, helmets with face shields can protect your face against bugs and debris.
- The weight of helmets can contribute to a broken neck during a crash.
- Full-faced helmets can help prevent facial injuries.
- Helmets increase the temperature of the wearers head and trap two-thirds of the heads heat without allowing it to dissipate. This adds to fatigue.
- Helmets reduce side vision an average of 41 degrees, representing a 16% impairment to the normal field of vision.
- Sound attenuation represents an impairment in the ability of the rider to perceive or discriminate warning or other useful sounds that will decrease the risk of being involved in an accident.
- They cause perspiration in warm weather (bad) and keep you warm in cold weather (good).
- DOT tests helmets by a 6-foot vertical drop, impacting at 13.43 mph. DOT Helmet Test Reports, 1974-90 (Snell tests are more stringent.)
State laws here: http://home.ama-cycle.org/amaccess/laws/result.asp?state=NC
1966, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation threatened to withhold millions
of dollars in highway funds from
states failing to enact mandatory helmet laws (blackmail). Every state except California complied.
In 1976, Congress revoked DOT authority to impose fiscal sanctions against states that refuse to enforce helmet laws. Over half the states soon repealed their laws or amended them to exclude most adults.
Today, due to the efforts of MROs and open-minded legislators around the country, 30 of the 50 states have repealed their mandatory helmet laws and have given riders 21 years of age and older, the right to decide. North Carolina is one of the 20 states that has not promoted freedom of choice for adult riders.
Is the next step banning those with high cholesterol from eating NC BBQ pork? If that sounds overreaching and ridiculous, that is how the mandatory helmet laws appears to motorcyclists.
The compulsory wearing of helmets has been forced upon us with the Government's argument that the small loss of individual freedom is outweighed by the lives saved. For this argument to be valid, why is tobacco and alcohol freely available? Why is skydiving and bungee jumping permitted without helmets? Surely motorcyclists are victims of active discrimination, as well as unconstitutional laws.
laws are about Freedom. The freedom of an individual to make a decision.
No state agency, federal agency or legislature could..or should..care
more about the welfare of my brain than I do. This is a debate about
public policy, and the role of government in an individual's everyday
life. This is about civil liberty.
MROs' Position on Helmets:
Motorcyclists' Rights Organizations (MROs') are NOT against helmet USE. They are against mandatory helmet LAWS. Please stop and understand the difference. Many MRO members are pro helmet use, but anti helmet law.
Many riders just don't like wearing helmets period. They feel that the risk is worth the ride. They feel the reduction in hearing and vision, combined with the added risk of cervical damage outweighs the risk of head injury. They prefer to concentrate on accident avoidance, over injury reduction.
Many people feel that riding a motorcycle is crazy. They do not understand that the risk, for us, is worth the ride.
I would never bungee jump. But I understand that for people who do bungee jump, the risk is worth it.
really cares whether you wear a helmet or not. The purpose here is to understand
that everyone should have the choice to decide what is right for themselves.
The government shouldn't decide what is safe and what is unsafe for individuals.
If we give them that power, who's is to say that they might not decide that
riding motorcycles is too dangerous? The power belongs to the people and it
is the people who should decide.
Decisions ... Decisions ....
When we get on our bikes, we should be able to decide whether we should wear a helmet or not. We should use MANY factors when making that decision.
1) We should take the weather into consideration.
Is it 95 degrees out? If so, we may want to leave the brain heater (helmet) at home as it will cause additional fatigue and may cause us to make a bad decision. Is it 23 degrees out? If so, we may want to wear a full helmet to keep our body heat in and keep us alert and help us avoid hypothermia.
2) Are we high-risk slow riding?
That is slow riding in city traffic. If so, we may want to bring the helmet because helmets are tested to 13 MPH and they will probably help in a low-speed crash. Are we fast riding on a country highway? If that is the case, we may want to leave it home. The helmet may cause neck injuries if we go down at high speed because of its weigh.
The point here is that bikers have to make their own decisions. Legislators don't know or understand these decisions unless they ride. Most of the legislators that I have spoken to who ride, support the repeal of the mandatory helmet law. There will always be one or two who don't. Legislators who do not ride should take their direction from the biker constituents and also do a pole of the legislators who do ride to hear their opinions.
Is this hypocritical?
government tells us that it is perfectly legal to kill a fetus, jump out of
a perfectly working airplane for fun, bungee jump, use tobacco (the #1 killer
in the United States today), use alcohol (the #2 killer), SCUBA dive, and
hang glide. However, it is illegal to ride a motorcycle without a helmet ..............................................
Is this hypocritical or is this just flat-out discrimination?
Human nature causes most people to inherently apply their personal opinion to what they think should be public policy. If we all step back and take a more humble approach, we see that our own opinion is a personal view and should not necessarily become public policy. There are many differing opinions on this subject. Repealing the mandatory helmet law will not require riders to remove their helmets. Riders would be free to choose for themselves. Erring on the side of freedom of choice gives every citizen the ability to be happy (Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness).
Another problem with the focus on helmets is that they encourage state and local governments to enact helmet laws. Unfortunately many people don't understand that just because something might be a good idea, that doesn't mean it should be against the law if you don't do it. It's a good idea to brush your teeth. Should you have to risk arrest if you don't? Using a condom is safer too ... but it shouldn't be against the law to have sex without one.
similar concept is that just because an activity involves risk doesn't mean
you should be prohibited from taking that risk. Skydiving is 495 times more
dangerous than bicycling. It makes no sense for the government to allow skydiving
on the one hand and to outlaw helmetless bicycle riding on the other.
If I am 21 years old, and have lived in my legislative district for one year, I can run for the NC House of Representatives. If I win, I can be a NC House Rep. I will then be able to vote on this helmet bill. So, a 21 year old is permitted to vote on the helmet bill, but if it doesn't pass, he/she can't ride without a helmet. So as you can see, we give 21 year olds the ability to make laws, drink alcohol, fight in combat zones in Iraq, die for our country, but they are not allowed to ride a motorcycle without a helmet.
Accident Avoidance and Injury Reduction:
Helmets contribute to injury reduction AFTER a crash. However, concentrating on accident avoidance by getting as much rider safety training as possible, and riding within your own limits, is what keeps riders upright. The point that we are trying to make in NC is that a rider's motorcycling skills had better be top notch. If not, no amount of head protection in the world is going to save him.
Some riders use helmets as a panacea for motorcycle safety. They ride around in shorts, a T-shirt, and wear a $600 helmet. Some riders wear full leathers, with no helmet. Some riders wear full leathers with a $600 helmet. Which is best? That's the point - it should be up to the individual. More on this subject later.
States without mandatory helmet laws get the bulk of the tourism dollars from motorcyclists. All of the four major rallies, (Sturgis, Laconia, Bike Week, and Biketoberfest) are held in free states. Our pro-choice sister state (SC) is the host to Myrtle Beach Bike Week which attracts 400,000 riders. NOTHING in North Carolina comes anywhere close to any of these rallies. In fact the largest rally in North Carolina (Cherokee) only draws about 20,000 riders. It has been reported by Myrtle Beach authorities that each rider spends approximately $1500 dollars during Bike Week. At 400,000 riders, that's $60M infused into the SC economy because of Myrtle Beach Bike Week.
allowing adult riders the right to decide, North Carolina could host a large
motorcycle rally and reap the financial benefits. Considering the budget crisis
that North Carolina currently faces, this should seem attractive to everyone
in North Carolina. North Carolina is losing millions of dollars in gas taxes,
sales taxes, and hotel taxes by creating an unfriendly travel environment
for motorcyclists from other states.
The worst loss created by these restrictions is when North Carolina's own motorcyclists leave the state at every opportunity to ride in states without mandatory helmet laws. Look at any crossing of the NC-SC state lines on a nice weekend and count the number of motorcycles LEAVING our state to ride free. NC motorcyclists are spending millions of dollars in gas tax, sales tax, hotel tax, etc., in other states. These are dollars that were earned here in NC!
It’s time to rethink this archaic law. The “biker” image of years gone by has changed. North Carolina's motorcyclists are well-educated, responsible citizens and are entitled to the right to choose. It’s time to open North Carolina to the motorcycling public and enhance revenue for the State treasury. It’s time to change the mandatory helmet law in North Carolina!
NHTSA and their statistics:
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration constantly spews out statistics declaring that the number of motorcycle fatalities are rising. They also usually forget to mention that 1) the number of new motorcycle registrations are increasing, 2) the number of miles driven per year is also increasing. If the number of new riders and miles ridden are taken into account, the fatality rates are actually decreasing nationwide and states without mandatory helmets laws have no higher fatality rate than those states with mandatory laws.
In States where they claim a reduction in motorcycle fatalities after passing a mandatory helmet law, this reduction can be traced completely to the fact that there are less motorcycles on the road because many would rather not ride than be forced to wear a helmet.
on voluntary helmet use:
(American Motorcycle Association - 265,000+ members)
AMA maintains a long-standing fundamental belief that adults should continue
to have the right to voluntarily decide when to wear a helmet.
The AMA is a strong advocate of motorcycle rider education, improved licensing and testing, and increased public awareness; all are measures proven to reduce accidents and improve safety. This comprehensive approach has contributed significantly to a dramatic improvement in motorcycle safety over the years. Such programs did not exist thirty years ago, when it was first determined that mandatory helmet use laws were the panacea for improving motorcycle safety."
What constitutes Motorcycle Safety?by J. Gary Lawson
Recently, I was reminded of a motorcycle rider who believes that as long as you wear a helmet and equip your bike with a crash bar (engine guard), you are a safe motorcycle rider. We all know that this couldn't be further from the truth.
Below, I have tried to make a list of factors that contribute to motorcycle safety. While this is a very subjective issue, I have found that once you start listing all the factors that can contribute to your demise, you realize how small a part a helmet actually plays. As we all know, many people dismiss the other factors and concentrate on the helmet issue. In fact, some legislators vote to reduce funds for motorcycle safety training because they feel a mandatory helmet law will protect riders.
This is alarming and dangerous thinking and one of the many reasons why Motorcyclists' Rights Organizations (MROs) are needed. We all know that 70% of all motorcycle deaths are caused by car drivers running over bikers. That statistic, we will have to save for another discussion. This discussion is addressing our span of control. All of the below factors are important. Any one of them can cause a fatal crash. Which factors are most important in saving your life is subjective. You decide for yourself.
Normal hearing ability
Absence of alcohol, illegal drugs and impairing prescription medications
Enough upper body strength to control the weight of the bike.
Enough lower body strength to hold up the weight of the bike.
Properly working motorcycle (brakes, tires, etc)
Crash bar (engine guard) to reduce injuries to lower legs (questionable as they have been known to increase hip injuries)
skills training classes to AVOID accidents
BRC - Basic Rider Course (Teaches Rider Safety Skills)
ERC - Experienced Rider Course (Advanced Course)
proper riding attire to reduce injuries DURING a crash:
Boots to protect feet and ankles
Gloves to protect hands
Assuming the extra weight of a helmet does not contribute to breaking someone's neck in a crash, it will probably save skin, and may reduce the chances of a brain injury. (When applying the law of inertia, the weight of an object becomes awesome. A 3-pound helmet at 50 mph becomes 150 pounds upon impact.)
The value of a crash bar has been debated as well. We all know that they will be useful in reducing lower leg injuries if you should go down on the side of the bike. However, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) has stated that crash bars may INCREASE the severity of hip injuries. That is why the motorcycles that are ridden in NC's MSF classes are not equipment with crash bars.
point here is that
and opinions on both sides of every issue. We as riders have to
keep an open mind and decide for ourselves what is best for our individual
Helmet use and crash bars are not the complete story on motorcycle safety and should never be exaggerated into becoming a safety solution. Poor physical condition, dulled senses, poor motorcycle maintenance, or a lack of rider skills training, will result in the rubber side leaving the road. Injury reduction is always welcomed. It has it's place in motorcycle safety. Unfortunately, far too many riders think they are safe because they are wearing a helmet, while they ignore the other, more important aspect of riding safety. This is the old debate between accident avoidance and injury reduction. Both are important and should be considered by all riders. However, never place more importance on injury reduction than you do on accident avoidance.
The costs of head injuries:
It is easy to gather financial statistics about the costs of head injuries by riders who don't wear helmets. Those records are readily available in hospital records and police reports.
How can we gather statistics concerning how many times a rider did NOT go down because he/she was NOT wearing a sight and hearing impairing helmet? - Probably not possible.
If we reduce the number of overall accidents, the fatality rate will also drop. The answer is more rider safety training, not mandatory helmet laws. If legislators placed as much emphasis on allocating funds for rider training as they do on mandatory helmet laws, there wouldn't be waiting lists for rider training classes and bikers wouldn't be dying while waiting to attend a safety class.
The Medical Community:
Doctors and nurses try to do a great job. They are appreciated very much by the motorcycle riding community. However, they only see one side of the issue. They see the injuries. They don't see the times when riders avoid accidents by having their hearing and sight intact. They don't know about the instances when perspiration does NOT get in someone's eyes. They only see one side of the issue, and their opinions are based on a one-sided view of the circumstances. Anyone who has ridden without a helmet can tell you that your level of awareness and alertness is heightening by not having a helmet on your head. If you don't believe it, try it for yourself.
Are bikers a social burden?
The insurance companies would like legislators to think that motorcyclists are a bunch of uninsured public burdens.
Do you know a motorcyclist? Do you know ten motorcyclists? If you do, you should ask them if they have medical insurance. Ask to see their insurance company card and policy number. EVERY motorcycle rider I know has medical insurance. The "Public Burden Theory" just doesn't hold water.
The fact is motorcycling is a public asset, not a public burden. Motorcycle sales are booming, and the states with freedom of choice have the highest growth. Motorcycle sales equal jobs in motorcycle dealerships, custom shops and service centers. All these jobs equal additional revenue for the state. More motorcycle use means less congestion, less road wear and less fuel consumption.
"IT IS NOT ABOUT SAFETY... IT IS ABOUT MONEY" This is said to illustrate the fact that the government really doesn't care about our safety, they only want us to spend less of the taxpayers' money. HOWEVER, we are not public burdens because we pay taxes and share the same burdens as every other taxpayer. We pay for welfare even when we don't use it. We pay for lung cancer treatments even though we don't smoke. We pay for alcohol abuse programs and treatments even though we don't drink. We pay for uninsured auto accident victims and the list goes on and on. If the safety nannies are so worried about social burden, why don't they mandate condoms for people when they engage in high risk sexual lifestyle? It has been proven that certain, high-risk sexual lifestyles promote the spread of AIDS. We KNOW for a fact that AIDS is a real social burden, and it is the direct result of people pursuing a high risk lifestyle. If the social nannies do not want to mandate "helmets" (condoms) for people, why do they insist on helmets for our riding lifestyle?
Mandatory Seat Belt laws:
MROs do not support mandatory seat belt laws any more than they support mandatory helmet laws. Mandatory safety laws of any type take away personal freedom of choice. However, it is not the agenda of MROs to fight that battle.
Many believe that if the government required helmets for car drivers, the general public would understand the infringement on personal freedoms and support the repeal of all mandatory helmet laws for motorcyclists.
Mandatory Helmets for Automobiles:
"You care so much about OUR head injuries and deaths? Helmets would help? Well, what about all of the people who have head injuries and even deaths resulting from head injuries, in CAR crashes? I bet there are a hell of a lot MORE of them than there are bikers with head injuries, just because there are so many more cars on the road. Why don't you try this: Drive around for a day in your car or SUV or whatever you drive, and see how you like it? ABSURD to think that there ought to be a law, MAKING YOU WEAR IT, isn't it?? Good! NOW YOU KNOW how WE feel!" Thanks to SamBikeLaw for his position on this issue.
Are Helmet Laws Effective? From Cindy Hodges
1) There is NO discernible difference in motorcycle accident or fatality rates between states with mandatory helmet laws and those which allow for freedom of choice. In fact, states which support voluntary use routinely achieve accident and fatality rates equal to or lower than states with mandatory helmet laws for all riders. (AMA, 1995)
2) Helmets are minimally effective in preventing most injuries. (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report to Congress, the CODES Study, 1995)
3) There are no appreciable differences found relative to fatality rate, severity of injury, hospital stay, and discharge status between motorcycle accident victims who wore helmets and those who did not. (Arizona’s Governor’s Office of Highway Safety Study, 1990)
4) Helmet use is not associated with overall injury severity, discharge status, or insurance status. (University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center, June 1992).
5) Relative to the number of registered motorcycles, states with mandatory helmet laws had 12.5% more accidents and 2.3% more fatalities than free choice states for the 14 year period 1977-90. (Accident and Fatality Statistics, analyzed by A.R. Mackenzie, M.D.)
6) "It is concluded that: 1) motorcycle helmets have no significant effect on probability of fatality; and 2) past a critical impact speed, helmets increase the severity of neck injuries." (Dr. Jonathan Goldstein, Bowdoin College)
7) Injured motorcycle operators admitted to trauma centers had lower injury severity scores compared to other road trauma victims. They accrued lower hospital charges. They were less likely to rely on Medicaid and Medicare, and they had the same level of commercial or private insurance as other road trauma victims. (University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center, June, 1992)
8) The average inpatient charge for a helmeted motorcyclist receiving a brain injury was equal to that of an unhelmeted motorcyclist receiving a brain injury. (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report to Congress, the CODES Study, 1995)
9) Motorcyclists are no more dependent upon public sources for medical costs than motor vehicle operators. (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report to Congress, the CODES study, 1995)
Why Does The Government Care? From Cindy Hodges
- It is not the role of government to protect one from oneself. The Declaration Of Independence states that all men are, "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." Being a free citizen of this country means being free to live our lives as we see fit, provided that we do not physically harm the person or property of another. It means bearing the responsibility of one's choices and decisions. Motorcyclists have shown that they are no less responsible for bearing the consequences of their choices as any other vehicle operator.
- It is not the role of government to protect people from the emotional effects of others’ choices. If this were the case, laws would have to be enacted against everything that has a potentially negative emotional effect on others, such as divorce and death! The circumstance in which a person is injured in an accident, be it in a car, truck, or on a motorcycle, is unfortunate, however operating a car, truck, or motorcycle is a legal activity. The only way to completely eliminate these situations would be to outlaw operating all motor vehicles.
- In the absence of any convincing data demonstrating that helmets reduce societal costs, it must be concluded that the state has no compelling interest in mandating helmet use by all motorcyclists.
- Responsible adults should be entrusted by the state to make certain personal safety decisions, and the right to decide whether or not to wear a helmet should be among those choices.
- Society's role is not to mandate personal safety, but rather to provide the education and experience necessary to aid us in making these decisions for ourselves.
Another writer's view of it all (non-rider):
"There are some good arguments on both sides of the issue. Those who support maintaining the law say helmets help protect against head injuries — or at least lessen the impact to the head — if the motorcyclist crashes or is otherwise thrown from the vehicle. That’s a pretty logical conclusion. Any protection is better than no protection, one might think. Wearing helmets could — and most surely has — saved lives.
Some who want to rescind the mandatory law may admit that helmets offer protection for the head when it is pounded into asphalt or another vehicle. But they’ll also tell you that such helmets obstruct their vision, which could lead to the crashes occurring in the first place. Removing the restriction could lead to better peripheral vision, which could lead to fewer wrecks, which could also save lives.
Safety experts, motorcycle enthusiasts and statisticians will argue until the cows come home which probabilities are more likely to occur. And I certainly don’t have an opinion from personal experience. It seems to me that such a decision should be made by the individual who’s riding on the motorcycle, not by people in Raleigh. A bill that has been introduced in the General Assembly would give motorcyclists who are at least 21 years old that opportunity. And why not?
After all, someone who’s 21 can volunteer to do things that are much more dangerous than riding a motorcycle. People of such age — and younger — are already in the military, many of whom are in foreign lands fighting terrorism and protecting our freedom. People who are 21 have the right to drink alcohol. And we hope they’ll have the wisdom to know that it’s dangerous to drive — a car, a motorcycle or anything — after consuming too much alcohol. People who are 21 can run for local office and help make decisions about taxes, spending and an array of other things that affect our daily lives. Some decisions should be left to individuals. Whether to wear a helmet on a motorcycle should be one of them."
- Motorcycles represent only 0.5 percent of the crash-involved vehicles nationwide.
- Between 1990 and 1999, annual motorcycle crash fatalities per 100,000 registered vehicles declined 16% while crash injuries dropped more than 35%.
- Between 1990 and 1999, annual motorcycle crash fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled fell over 22% while crash injuries plunged over more than 40%.
- There are 6.7 million motorcycle owners nationwide. The average motorcyclist is 38 years old, married, college-educated and earns slightly more than $44,000 a year.
According to Bell Helmet Dealers Guide "... an incorrectly
fitted helmet can do more damage than
no helmet at all."... and that people will usually buy a helmet that fits too loose as it is more
- Nationwide, in the year 2000, over 120,000 motorcyclists completed the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) Motorcycle Rider Course: Rider and Street Skills (MRC:RSS) rider education course and more than 9,100 riders completed the Experienced Rider Course (ERC).
- Forty-seven states have rider education programs designated through legislation.
- The economic value of motorcycling in the U.S. was 14.3 billion dollars in the year 1999.
- Per the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC), there are 205,000 registered motorcycles in North Carolina. 156,000 of those motorcycles are on-road motorcycles and 49,000 are off-road motorcycles.
Legal help and education:
Helmet Law Defense League
"The Helmet Law Defense League was formally founded in early 1993 to attract Freedom Fighters especially interested in putting an end to helmet laws and all other forms of discrimination against the class of people known as "bikers." "
Links to Helmet Suppliers:
motorcycle helmet communicators:
It all boils down to whether you think the government's job is to dictate personal safety and control individuals.
Again, it's not about helmet USE. It's not about the DEVICE. It's about the LAW.
Those Who Ride Decide!