Facts dont support a helmet mandate
- Ken Ray
- Portland Tribune - Opinion
First I want to state for the record that BikePac does not oppose helmet use. We do, however, oppose helmet mandates.
Some say the mandatory helmet law is good because it has saved lives. But has it? Since Oregon's mandate was enacted in late 1988, fatalities have dropped. But that's only part of the story. Ridership fell dramatically in the months and years following the helmet mandate. Anytime you reduce exposure, fatalities are sure to drop as well. But the death rate has not changed. That is, deaths per accident have not changed and are no different here than in freedom-of-choice states.
Some say the law should remain because voters passed it by referendum. Again, there is more to that story. Some members of the Legislature in 1988 knew that Oregon's motorcyclists could stop a helmet law from passing in the Legislature with our facts and our reason. They also knew that we could never afford the education campaign it would take to win the PR battle on motorcycling issues with the public.
Voters were sold a bill of goods in 1988. They were told that insurance rates would go down and fatalities would drop. Well, insurance rates didn't go down. And death rates still didn't drop. Additionally, it is easy to vote away someone else's freedoms. If only motorcyclists had voted on the helmet law, it would have been soundly defeated. Is the next step banning those with high cholesterol from eating cheeseburgers? If that sounds overreaching and ridiculous, that is how the helmet law appears to motorcyclists.
Some believe that having helmet mandates saves taxpayers money. The notion is that 'unhelmeted riders cost the public money when they crash.' First, this is insulting. Would society put up with singling out any other minority group for this kind of nonsense? Second, it is untrue. The only comprehensive, empirical study done on this subject found no such 'public burden.' In fact public assistance for hospital visits is constant whether the vehicle involved in a crash is an automobile or a motorcycle.
The fact is motorcycling is a public asset, not a public burden. Motorcycle sales are booming, and the states with freedom of choice have the highest growth. Injuries and deaths in those states have increased slightly, but overall miles traveled have exploded. Florida, for example, changed its law, and motorcycle registrations jumped 40,000 almost immediately. Antichoice groups will claim that deaths were up. This is true. However, registrations were up 20.4 percent. Using the figures compiled by the Florida Department of Highway Safety, the death rate was down 5.2 percent.
Motorcycle sales in Oregon equal jobs in motorcycle dealerships, custom shops and service centers. All these jobs equal additional revenue for the state. More motorcycle use means less congestion, road wear and fuel consumption. All of these are good things.
Helmets are promoted as a one-size-fits-all approach to motorcycle safety. BikePac sees it differently. We see them as a part of a total safety picture. Since their efficacy has not been proved in unbiased studies, their promotion is a way for nonriders to feel they have 'solved' motorcycle safety.
We join the major motorcycle organizations such as the American Motorcyclist Association and the Motorcycle Riders Foundation in asking for voluntary helmet use.
Ken Ray of Clackamas is executive director of BikePac of Oregon, a nonprofit motorcyclist political action committee. He has been riding for 20 years.