Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Hard Headed

But not hard enough.

I owned a motorcycle for about 7 years. During most of that time I lived in California where the weather is just about always perfect for a bike ride. Trips up and down Highway 1 along the coast were always beautiful and I might see anything from eagles to whales to topless sunbathers. One thing I never - ever - considered (the law notwithstanding) was riding without my helmet.

Much of my family is in police work and I've spent many hours on the road with them. I've seen what happens to the human body when it meets an unyielding surface like asphalt or concrete. I've taken a few physics and engineering courses so I understand things like acceleration, kinetic energy and torque which helps me understand just why people are injured and killed in accidents. Understandably, I have very little sympathy for these morons (WSJ - subscription):

Over nearly three decades, bikers have pushed successfully to weaken or eliminate helmet laws in 29 states. Most of that activity came in the 1970s, but recently, bikers have been active again. Since 1997, five states, including Texas, have repealed laws requiring all motorcycle riders to wear helmets. The other four are Florida -- which, like Texas, is a major biker haven -- and Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Arkansas. Federal statistics show that, on average, in the years after the recent legislative changes, helmet use dropped, and motorcycle deaths increased.
They use the usual arguments against "big government" and riders making responsible choices, but despite their successes over the years, they remain unpersuasive, except to weak-spined politicians. When those politicians give in, here's what happens:

In the six years since Texas repealed its law in 1997, the annual rate has jumped nearly 30%, to an average 10.95 deaths per 10,000 registered motorcycles, compared with an average of 8.46 deaths for the two years prior to the repeal. In Kentucky, the average rate has jumped to 9.9 in the five years since its 1998 repeal, up 55% compared with the average for the two years before.

In Florida, in the three years since repeal, the rate is up 21%, to 8.94, compared with the two-year average prior to the repeal. Last year, 358 motorcyclists died in Florida. That is just 10 fewer deaths than occurred in California, the largest motorcycling state, which has 43% more registered motorcycles than Florida. California has a mandatory helmet law.

Nationally, motorcycle deaths rose 12% in 2003, to 3,661. That is the sixth straight year motorcycle deaths have risen. Twelve percent is the largest annual increase since 1988. The national fatality rate increased 4.4%, to 6.82 deaths per 10,000 motorcycles, the highest such figure since 1990. That rate is four-and-a-half times as high as the auto-fatality rate.

The jump in motorcycle deaths in 2003 came in a year when total highway fatalities dropped, federal statistics show. Alcohol-related fatalities fell 3%, to 17,013, and deaths of passengers not wearing seatbelts fell 6.5%, to 18,019. Federal officials attribute those declines to states passing tougher seatbelt and drunk-driving laws.
Riders who advocate repealing mandatory helmet laws will say that it's their choice about whether or not to protect themselves. And while the choice may be theirs, often the choice of who pays for their stupidity when they have an accident is no choice at all. Those riders without adequate catastrophic medical coverage - and every encounter between brain-pan and asphalt is catastrophic - are treated and the costs are spread to either the tax payers or to other insurance payers. That is; you and me.

I know this is a bit off of my usual topics, but it's one that never fails to really tick me off. Mostly because I can't abide stupid people, but also because it affects my wallet. Putting the two together is the perfect way to get me going...

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