Editorial: Use your head on helmet law

  • Posted: Tuesday, April 9, 2013 12:13 a.m.

Like the proverbial bad penny, proposals to scale back North Carolina’s mandatory motorcycle helmet law keep turning up at the N.C. Legislature, and this session is no different.

Well, perhaps there is one difference. If legislators are more inclined to view this as a “personal liberty” issue, rather than a public safety and cost issue, then a watering down of the existing statute is more likely. That would be a mistake, because helmet requirements for motorcycle riders save lives and reduce traumatic injuries. The Centers for Disease Control says that helmets reduce the likelihood of death in a motorcycle crash by 37 percent and, almost as importantly, decrease the likelihood of head injury by 69 percent. In fact, a recent CDC report ranked North Carolina No. 1 in the nation for lives saved and economic costs avoided through motorcycle helmet use.

Granted, supporters of the proposal to revamp North Carolina’s mandatory helmet law aren’t completely ignoring the risks. Helmets would still be mandatory for riders under age 21 — similar to South Carolina’s weaker law — and riders choosing to go helmetless would need to complete a motorcycle safety course and have insurance covering at least $10,000 in medical care. But even with those safeguards, the result would be more death and injury. Safety experts say that after Florida weakened its helmet law, motorcycle rider deaths increased by 55 percent and the costs of treating head injuries more than doubled.

As for the argument that adult motorcycle riders who dislike helmets should be allowed to assume those risks if they choose, you could make the same case for allowing motorists to ignore safety mandates. If personal liberty is the overriding factor, why not waive seatbelt laws for adult automobile drivers? Why mandate airbags or anti-lock brakes?

The answer is that accidents and the resulting deaths and injuries inevitably affect others beyond the person on the motorcycle or behind the wheel. The cost in lost or damaged lives, and greater medical burdens, can’t be isolated to the individual. And in terms of traumatic brain injury, those costs can be especially steep and longlasting. North Carolina’s helmet law saves lives and helps reduce injury. With motorcycle ridership rates on the rise, this is no time to turn back the clock on safety.

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