Motorcycle Helmets, a Matter of Choice

"The battle raged on and on", a contemporary metal song tells us; I believe there will be no things settled too soon between those who wear motorcycle helmets and those who would refuse their heads covered. Yet, the matter of whether to wear a bike helmet or not is a very serious one, despite how much some of the no-helmet-whatsoever supporters would try to minimize it.
There are a lot of pros and cons when it comes to deciding to wear a helmet or leave it at home, but since this is an editorial, I'll just tell you what I believe. I always wear a helmet when riding my bike, no matter whether I'm riding to the office, cruising around the city, shopping, or during long vacation rides.

Before some of the readers start snapping their teeth at me, I must openly say that wearing a helmet when on the bike does not make a person a better or a worse rider, nor does this make him or her more/ less courageous.

The first two reasons for wearing a helmet are very easy to understand. First of all, in my country motorcycle helmets are mandatory for both rider and passenger regardless of age; failing to comply with the law results in a fine and penalty points “awarded” in my driver's account and summing up too many “awards” of this kind ends up with a suspended license, while repeated similar offenses can lead to voiding it completely.

Since I truly enjoy both riding and driving and would rather spend my money on beer or guitars than on paying fines, it's somewhat obvious that in this respect I have nothing against wearing a helmet.

The other important reason for not riding my bike without my helmet is that nasty head injuries can happen at almost any time, when on two wheels. I am a fairly experienced rider, so I won't stall the engine and fall flat in the parking lot, but this does not mean I won't ever spill.

My teen years pleasantly spent playing volleyball and handball on an almost daily basis have also taught me that one can indeed hit his or her head against the ground or other surrounding objects even in the least dangerous of situations; basically, when it's your turn to hit your head, you will. And in those moments, wearing some protection can really make a difference.

Now, I hope most people will agree that riding a bike is significantly more dangerous than a game of handball; there is no need to run again through all the possible scenarios that can turn a pleasant ride into a nightmare. Taking a quick look at statistics, we'll see that most motorcycle rider deaths occur because of spine and head injuries.

When it comes to crashing head-on at a high speed, little help could ever come even from the best gear. There is simply nothing a leather suit, the best racing gloves and the best helmet can do for the rider who misjudges a corner at 100mph (160 kph) and goes off the road crashing into a tree. It's just RIP and the bitter memory that remain.

So much for “flying too low”, yet I strongly believe that hitting my head against the ground or other vehicle at 30 mph (~50 kph) while wearing a helmet gives me way more chances to walk away with only a concussion. I've crashed into a dell while riding an ATV, and  fell off my bike on both asphalt and mud: each time my head would hit the ground and each time I was glad I had my helmet on. Had it not been on my head (assuming I would ever get on the bike without it) during my latest spill in late November, a very nasty left parietal skull injury would have most likely shaken my brains, with no pleasant consequences whatsoever.

It just happens, and a lot of experienced riders know this: when it comes to you – you just fall, and when you do, you'll be glad that you're wearing your gear. It just seems silly to try out your luck, at least I'm not willing to try mine this way.

Those opposing the mandatory helmet laws usually claim that a motorcycle helmet dramatically diminishes the range of vision. A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study carried out it 1998 seems to disprove this claim as it states that “Normal peripheral vision is between 200 degrees and 220 degrees. Federal safety standards require that helmets provide 210 degrees of vision. Over 90 percent of crashes happen within a range of 160 degrees (with the majority of the remainder occurring in rear-end collisions), so it's clear that helmets do not affect peripheral vision or contribute to crashes.”

There are indeed chances that some riders feel very uncomfortable wearing even a ¾ helmet, let alone a closed modular or a full-face one; even more, anxiety and even claustrophobia can also negatively affect the way a person rides a bike. Nevertheless, even with a braincap, a quick shoulder check is one of the best ways to make 100% about traffic coming from a certain direction; and if some people are simply too lazy to do so, the problem lies with them, and not with the helmet.

Further data presented in the NHTSA study reveals that “Helmeted riders have up to a 73 percent lower fatality rate than unhelmeted riders while helmeted riders have up to an 85 percent reduced incidence of severe, serious, and critical injuries than unhelmeted ones.” (this data comes from the United States General Accounting Office, July 1991).

It may have been more than 20 years since that study, but few things changed since then. Two things have changed, for sure: the traffic has increased dramatically, the number of both cars and bikes and vehicle operators on the roads is growing. On the other hand, today's helmets are far better than those of old: they are made of improved materials, absorb shocks better, come with better visors and are better cooled; myself, I'm glad about this.

There are lots of riders ready to testify that helmets help them reduce fatigue caused by wind constantly blowing in their faces, insects, dust and all sorts of debris hitting their faces and vouch for the benefits of reduced wind noise thanks to improved helmet aerodynamics and better protection against sun and rain. And since there are a lot of riders with long hair out there, they too would most likely agree that not spending 30 minutes to disentangle their ponytails after a 200 mile (320 km) trip IS really nice.

Finally, there's the one point made out by riders who don't like helmets: making motorcycle helmets mandatory violates individual rights and diminishes the pleasure of riding. Personally, I can't argue with the amount of pleasure a pilot gets from his or her rides, but to claim a helmet law unconstitutional is like claiming the unconstitutionality of the Give Way sign, driving on the right side or any other similar traffic regulation.

In the end, I just ask myself: since there's no law requiring it, are rally/ race drivers, motocross riders, ski jumpers or American football players wearing helmets just for fun?
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