Helmet statistics worth pondering


It was a beautiful weekend, and motorcyclists were out in force.

We’ve long since given up on two things:

First, that police will enforce noise ordinances on deafeningly loud aftermarket motorcycle mufflers and, second, that Maine will ever reinstitute a mandatory helmet law.

The first problem is simply a nuisance – noise pollution inflicted upon grumbling citizens trying to get a good night’s sleep.

But the second failure has real-world consequences – hundreds of brain-injury accidents that could have been prevented.

Nationally, only 48 percent of motorcycle riders wear helmets, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. That’s at an all-time low, according to a recent story done by the Scripps Howard News Service.

Motorcyclists in Maine fall into two camps: those who wouldn’t think of riding without a helmet, and those who seem convinced that it is not only more comfortable but also safer to ride without one.

They argue that they can see and hear better without a helmet, which helps them avoid accidents.

Perhaps, but riders who believe that should carefully weigh some other statistics uncovered in the Scripps Howard report.

Nationally, motorcycle deaths have risen from 2,116 in 1997 to 4,008 in 2004. That’s partly because motorcycle registrations were up 40 percent during this period, and it may also be due to an increase in the average age of motorcyclists.

But some other statistics give a more accurate picture:

Nine of the 10 states with the worst motorcycle death rates do not have helmet laws, according to the Scripps Howard survey of records provided by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

The per capita rate of motorcycle fatalities in 2004 was 41 percent greater in states that do not require adults to wear helmets.

That leads federal officials to argue that 700 lives per year could be saved if every state had a mandatory helmet law.

However, the trend is just the opposite: Lawmakers in eight states are considering repealing their mandatory helmet laws.

This is the result of a well-funded lobbying effort on the part of motorcyclists who oppose existing helmet laws.

The best we can perhaps hope for is that those who are new to the sport carefully weigh the evidence before deciding whether to buy and wear a helmet.

We believe an objective look at black-and-white – life-and-death – statistics is convincing.