Motorcycle riders are known as a kind of independent-thinking group of people. Bikers and bike enthusiasts love the experience because of the freedom it represents, the liberating thrill they get from the perfect ride and the camaraderie they enjoy as part of such a fun lifestyle.
I have been a rider and bike lover for a long time. And even though I am currently between bikes – our family has been boating a lot more lately – I have spent many hours behind the handlebars, and have covered a lot of Florida's best roads for riders.
One of the main choices we need to make as a biker is whether to wear a helmet or not. The very same independent mindset found in most bike owners really comes into play here – it is purely a singular and personal choice under Florida law – unless you are under the age of 21, or don't carry at least $10,000 in medical insurance coverage – then, it's mandatory here.
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Before the year 2000, you had to wear a helmet in Florida. But that law was repealed in favor of a “partial use” law, based on the requirements noted above. The rider is left to decide for him or herself if they want to suffer from ‘helmet hair', or prefer to feel the wind through their hair. When a group of riders pass you by on a beautiful Saturday morning, 20-deep and heading out along a rural central Florida highway, you'll see many wearing helmets, and many who aren't. If you look at the statistics reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a 2013 report on helmet usage and safety, 99% of riders in Florida wore a helmet when the law was mandatory, and now only 53% of riders wear one.
Here are some more interesting stats about helmet safety:
- Motorcycle-related deaths have increased by 55% since 2000
- Motorcycle crashes killed 4,502 people in 2010
- In 2010, more than half the people killed in motorcycle crashes were 40 or older, up from 25% in 1995
- Un-helmeted motorcycle riders are twice as likely to suffer traumatic brain injuries from crashes
- Helmets are estimated to reduce the likelihood of death in a motorcycle crash by 37%
- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that helmets saved the lives of 1,544 motorcycle riders in 2010 alone
- Helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 69%
- There are no negative health effects from helmet use
- Helmets do not restrict a rider's ability to hear important sounds, or to see a vehicle in the next lane
I think those are some pretty significant findings. Bottom line, wearing a helmet saves lives, and reduces the risk of serious head injuries.
As a motorcycle accident attorney, I could insert some photos here of the aftermath of a serious bike crash – gory images of traumatic head injuries, mangled bikes strewn across the highway, or people in a hospital bed wearing a body cast or in a head and neck harness. Our law firm has represented many people who have been seriously injured in a bike crash, through no fault of their own – some who were wearing helmets and others who weren't.
But I'll spare you the images we've all seen before. Instead, I'll ask a question; what is it that makes a rider decide not to wear a helmet?
If you ask a group of bikers who aren't wearing lids why they've made that decision, you'll likely get some very similar answers. Most will tell you that as an American, they have the right and personal freedom to opt out of wearing a brain bucket. Freedom of choice, after all, is one of the founding fundamentals on which our country was built, and most will tell you that the only person affected by not wearing a helmet is them – so, basically it's none of the government's business whether they wear one or not.
Interestingly, if you ask the same riders if they've ever had a buddy who was injured severely in a bike crash and was not wearing a helmet, a large percentage will answer yes. Some will even admit that their friend's head injuries may have been less severe had they been wearing a helmet.
But yet within that same group of riders, there are those that still decide not to wear a helmet. Their reasons are solely their own, and there can be many. Some feel a helmet limits their ability to see and hear everything around them while they ride, but studies have proven that wrong. Maybe they don't want ‘helmet head' when they get to where they're going – or maybe they just don't think they're cool looking.
I almost hate to use the term ‘no brainer' when it comes to deciding to wear a helmet or not, for fear of the implied pun about traumatic brain injuries caused by motorcycle accidents. But candidly, it is very much an easy decision to make, and even the most accomplished psychoanalyst would have a tough time understanding the logic of those who choose to go without.
There are hundreds of online sources, published reports and white papers about how wearing a motorcycle helmet saves lives, and thousands of personal accounts of those who have suffered a serious injury that could have been lessened or prevented had they been wearing a helmet. And still other stories from a surviving widow, widower, son, daughter, father, mother or best riding buddy who has lost someone in a fatal motorcycle crash.
OK, so I'll go ahead and put a link here to the recent CDC report about helmet safety – if you like facts and figures, you'll love reading it. Who knows – maybe you'll decide to start wearing one after you think it over. I guess that's totally your call.
I'm also going to post more blogs about helmet safety, including how to select a proper helmet – one approved by the DOT for use in Florida – plus information about motorcycle insurance laws in the sunshine state, and what happens to you after another person's negligence results in you suffering serious head injuries in a bike crash. No lectures, no bloody head photos – just real information to think about.
Riding a motorcycle is a blast, and everyone is entitled to their own personal opinions. I'm pretty sure that those who choose not to wear a helmet understand the consequence if something bad happens. I also know that a lot of them will be sitting across from me in my office, looking for legal help in getting the at-fault party's insurance company to pay for their injuries, extensive medical care and rehabilitative treatments. If more riders wore helmets, there would be fewer of those people – and that's fine with me.