Safe Riding

In the Wind or Under the Helmet

Written by  December 31, 2003

For years, helmet laws have been a topic of debate, and always will be. There are currently 3 helmet-free states, 21 helmet-restricted states and 26 helmet-required states.

I could print a bunch of boring numbers and statistics on motorcycle related accidents and deaths, in which helmets may or may not have been a factor, however, because numbers can be twisted and manipulated into whatever results the statistician wants you to see, let's skip all the numbers crap and jump straight to the point.

On one side of the fence are the bureaucrats, whose main goal in life is to keep the masses happy and get re-elected. On that side of the fence, you also have the majority of your non-motorcycle riding public.

On the other side of the fence are those of us who actually ride, which are sub-divided between those who choose to wear a helmet and those who do not.

I know opinions are like assholes and everybody has one, however, after more than 37 years of riding, I’ve come to my own conclusions on the use of helmets:

Because America is supposed to be about freedom, I believe the politicians and general public should, “Let those who ride, decide.” If you’re over 21, have insurance, are an experienced rider and are willing to accept the risk of not wearing a helmet, you should have the right to choose.
On the other hand, it’s obviously much safer to wear a helmet than not. Yes, full helmets can restrict your perephrial vision a little and muffle the sounds of traffic a bit, however, if you seriously think it's not safer to wear a helmet, you’ve probably already landed on your noggin’ a few too many times.
I'm also a true believer that everything happens for a reason, and when it’s your time to go, it doesn’t matter whether you’re laying on the couch eating bon bons or riding your bike; with or without a helmet.

I think the real decision to not wear a helmet boils down to the following three elements:

Vanity. Without a doubt, you look cooler riding a motorcycle without a helmet. Even your DOT approved half helmets have so much padding they look like a stupid bicycle helmet strapped to the top of your head. It's no wonder that many riders choose to wear unsafe novelty helmets.
Rebellion. Bikers, like most people, don’t like being told what they can and can’t do. Any time you force a group of people to do something against their will, people are going to rebel.
Risk Taking. You're obviously at more risk riding a motorcycle than when driving a car. Riding a motorcycle without a helmet is simply taking a bigger risk. Whether it's hang gliding, mountain climbing or riding a motorcycle, if you’re willing to accept the risk, don't come crying when you fall down and go boom!

After all this rambling, if you're wondering what my take is on helmets, and if I wear a helmet when riding in a helmet-free state, the answer is yes and no. When on a road trip and passing from a helmet-required state into a helmet-free state, I'm not so anal that I stop two feet over the border to remove my helmet. However, when making a pit stop for fuel or food, if I know my next stop is still going to be in a helmet-free state, I normally remove my helmet, let the wind blow through my hair and enjoy the freedom many riders and organizations have fought so hard to achieve. If it's rainy or cold, I normally wear a full helmet with a face shield because it’s much warmer on the ears and it keeps the rain out of my face.

For the record, I don’t recommend riding without a helmet, however, I also believe in freedom of choice, and to me, freedom of choice outweighs the risk, which I am willing to take. If you've been riding for any length of time, there's a good chance you may know someone who has been injured or killed in a motorcycle accident. My uncle was killed on his bike several years ago when a car pulled out in front of him. He wasn't wearing a helmet, and if he had been, he may or may not have survived. I don't have a death wish, however, if I happen to bite the dust while riding, you can be assured that I was already in hog heaven!

Make sure to check out our Motorcycle Laws by State map to stay current on the motorcycle laws in the states you're riding through on your next trip. In our February issue, Bart will give you a review of the local motorcycle training courses.

Ride safe and ride free!

Mike Schweder