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iBerkshires.com Columnist Section

Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

EMS: Courage And Compassion In Action

By Shawn Godfrey
12:01AM / Monday, May 07, 2007

Shawn Godfrey is a certifed paramedic and the operations manager of the Village Ambulance Service in Williamstown, Mass..
My Opinion? Headstrong


Williamstown - There is an old adage, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

In my opinion, this axiom can also apply to the implementation and enforcement of a law:

“The validity and sensibility of a law is in the eye of the beholder.”

What is a reasonable and necessary law to one individual may be an unreasonable and unnecessary restriction to another.

Take for example the law surrounding mandatory motorcycle helmet use. The opinions and arguments are as varied and controversial as the many types and styles of helmets available on the market.

Many motorcyclists and researchers differ in their views of the usefulness of head protection. Some believe it protects the riders from injury, while others believe wearing a helmet may actually increase the risk of injury.

Several documented internet studies report that most motorcycle-related fatalities are caused by critical head trauma, while other research concludes that at least two-thirds of all motorcycle-related fatalities are caused by severe chest and abdominal trauma, diminishing and, perhaps, negating the helmet controversy altogether.

A Brief History Of Helmet Law

Let me start by saying, I always wear a helmet while riding my motorcycle and I strongly advocate the use of a helmet for all motorcyclists. However, despite the overwhelming data to support the life-saving benefits of wearing a helmet, I do believe it is unconstitutional for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to impose a mandatory law that all motorcyclists wear a helmet.

In 1966, the U.S. federal government claimed it would eradicate funding from any State that did not implement a mandatory helmet law. By 1976, 47 States had complied with this federal government directive. However, in 1976 the government repealed the law, ruling it unconstitutional. Most states softened their helmet law, although Massachusetts continues to recognize and enforce the law. Part of this law reads:

"Every person operating a motorcycle or riding as a passenger on a motorcycle or in a sidecar attached to a motorcycle shall wear protective head gear conforming with such minimum standards of construction and performance as the registrar may prescribe, and no person operating a motorcycle shall permit any other person to ride as a passenger on such motorcycle or in a sidecar attached to such motorcycle unless such passenger is wearing such protective head gear..."

Helmets Have Their Place: On Your Head

From an emergency medical provider’s standpoint, I firmly believe helmets work in reducing motorcycle-related injuries and fatalities. This has been proven several times, not only through what I have witnessed clinically, but through state fatality data that illustrated the comparison of deaths and injuries before and after helmet laws were enacted. The most accurate reflection of a state’s helmet law is through the comparison of that state’s motorcycle crash-related fatalities before and after enactment or repeal a helmet law for all riders, including passengers.

With all laws, you either obey them or pay a penalty. If you do not agree with a specific law, you can either lobby to have it amended or changed, or relocate somewhere where the laws are more amenable to you.

Serena Speaks:"My Helmet Saved My Brain"

Here is one motorcyclist’s account to help demonstrate my point regarding the importance of helmet use:

"Two months into riding...dolled up, excited, my dream to ride with people like me, went on the group charity run. One mile out and CRASH! Unbelievable, hurt bad, ambulance, bike damaged, embarrassed, angry, tears, alive . . . grateful. Waiting for repaired bike, going to get right back on, dreams don't die. I had new knowledge; was afraid; excited; humbled; in need of more experience."

"I have a fractured collar bone, fractured nose, bruised ribs, and bruises all over. My leather jacket & jeans saved my skin, my boots saved my feet, my gloves saved my hands, and my helmet saved my brain. I did not have a full face helmet and that's where I was cut and needed stitches, and the road rash on my right side of my face was very bad. I will wear a full face helmet from now on. I will mend, the bike is being fixed and I am very lucky and thankful to be alive."

"I am back to work, though I am still quite sore. I am 51 years old, so I think this is craziness in my "normal mind." Why would someone want to take these risks? In my "crazy mind" I say 'let’s get back on and live life the way I want to!'"

"The crash was more mental to me, because it was "just one more bad thing" that went wrong in my life. But that's life. I've rearranged my thoughts, looked at the good that came from this and I'm ready to fly once again."

Use Your Head As More Than A Helmet-Holder

When purchasing a motorcycle helmet be sure that it has been certified by the Federal Department of Transportation (D.O.T).

All certified helmets should display a tag, usually found on the padded inner lining, or a sticker, usually found on the back outer-shell, indicating endorsement by the D.O.T..

Unfortunately, the D.O.T. certification standards are rather dated (many are based on 1972 standards), so the responsibility rests on the helmet manufacturer to ensure their helmets meet D.O.T specifications.

The D.O.T does not independently conduct safety testing of helmets.

Another reputable safety organization is the Snell Memorial Foundation. This foundation provides a rigorous set of helmet testing criteria, and is widely considered "the standard" in helmet safety technology. Unlike the D.O.T, Snell offers its testing and certification services to helmet manufacturers in exchange for testing and licensing fees.

Fit And The Field Of Vision

You cannot select a helmet based solely on its color or the material it's made from. There are many things that need to be considered before purchasing a helmet.

Believe it or not, choosing a helmet color is more important than one might think. Bright colors are far more noticeable and stand out better, even at night, while dull or dark colors are not as easily visible, even during daylight hours. Consider a brightly-colored helmet that allows for easier detection by motorists and pedestrians.

The shape of the helmet is another often overlooked safety factor.

People come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including their heads. While some people have long, thin heads, others have round or oval-shaped heads. Trying on a helmet for a proper fit is the only true indicator that it fits your head correctly and comfortably.

The weight of the helmet should be evenly distributed so that the head and neck can easily support the helmet. Do not purchase a helmet that is too heavy or may easily fatigue the neck and shoulder muscles.

In terms of on-the-road driving safety, the number one factor to consider when purchasing a motorcycle helmet is your peripheral vision.

Because of their size and/or construction, many helmets simply do not enable a motorcyclist to adequately use their peripheral field of vision. Having a greater degree of peripheral visibility allows for quicker reaction time and maneuverability out of potentially dangerous situations.

Select a helmet that provides the most visibility possible.

The most common mistake a motorcyclist can make is purchasing a helmet based solely on its “look” or “brand name.” All safety and comfort decisions should be made using a collective process. Spend some time researching a helmet and you are bound to find a product you will not only be happy with, but safe with for years to come.

Please, Do Your Own Homework

Please note that I am not a motorcycle helmet or motorcycle safety expert. I am a non-professional rider with approximately 15 years experience. This column contains many statements which are based on my opinions and not meant to be viewed as fact.

According to significant data, helmets, when worn appropriately, are vital pieces of safety equipment which can increase your chance of surviving a crash. You should be well-informed in selecting and employing the use of a motorcycle helmet, and should not use this column as your sole source of information.
Your Comments
Post Comment
Great article, Dad!!! Now I realize why its so important to wear a helmet!!!!
from: Jared Godfreyon: 05-12 00:00:00-2007

Hi shawn, great article for all ages to read. I love your column. See you soon.
from: sandyon: 05-10 00:00:00-2007

I almost couldn't find your article! This one, like many others, appears to touch on an important issue: using common sense. Thanks. Read you in a week!
from: Jorgeon: 05-09 00:00:00-2007

I have been riding as a passenger on a motorcycle for 4 years now and although we go to NH where you don't have to wear a helmet by law, we do. Of course it is a safety issue, I would rather be safe. However a couple of points that were not made- Experienced, safe riders don't take risks and really know how to react, are always aware of the road ahead and of course don't drive while drinking. My partner has ridden mc's for years and his experience makes a huge difference. Also very important is that OTHER MOTORISTS need to look out for mc's. Motorcycles are very vulnerable and can be there when you don't know it (one reason for the noise). Please don't pull out or in front of bikes or stop right up behind them. Motorists have been known to drive right over a mc rider while busy talking on a cell phone. Please have some respect for mc's. Thanks for the article and hopefully we can raise some awareness on motorcycle safety.
from: MJon: 05-09 00:00:00-2007

As a cop, I too see the results of crashes. C-R-A-S-H-E-S. To often the mile of road prior to the crash is overlooked when it comes to really pinging the bell on riding safely and decreasing deaths and injuries. Mandatory motorcycle awareness training in all drivers training classes, including test questions on motorcycle awareness in license renewal exams, severe penalties and fines for Right of Way violations resulting in death or injury, harder enforcement and penalties for drunk driving AND drunk riding, highway and road engineering that has motorcylists incorporated into the plan, banning cellphones and other causes of inattentual blindness in drivers, (and even riders), mandatory rider certification and training. If as much emphasis was put into these efforts as is put into clamping helmets on the heads of riders, we would realize as the deaths and injuries decrease just how little importance helmets play in the grand scheme. Not that helmets have no utility, just that helmet laws are a means of futility if your main concern is saving lives. I live in a mandatory helmet state. All the deaths I have experienced involved helmeted riders. I have been riding for over 30 years and logged maybe close to a million miles on a bike. I can without any doubt say that a helmet never KEPT me out of a C-R-A-S-H.
from: Thorsbloodon: 05-08 00:00:00-2007

I too believe it should be the riders choice to wear a helmet. Although common sense tells me to always wear mine! good info thanks.
from: bernieon: 05-08 00:00:00-2007

I also belive it's an individual's right to choose to wear a helmet or not (I ride motorcycles and choose helmut). Being a health care professional myself, I feel, due to the extreme cost of maintaining head injury patients, a person deciding not to wear a healmet should have higher insurance rates. Why should everyone else pay for their consequences.
from: Arthur Sachson: 05-08 00:00:00-2007

Love you read your articles you always put in personal touches that keep me reading. Keep up the good work.
from: Sharonon: 05-08 00:00:00-2007

Great information! Definately alot of informatin to take into consideration. A friend, just last night, had to lay his bike down to avoid hitting a car that did a lane switch in order to do an illegal U-turn. He's ok w/ many bruises, dented crome, scrapes, bent foot rests, etc. Having a full face helmet definately helped him out!
from: Colleenon: 05-07 00:00:00-2007

Great info for the public!
from: Stephanon: 05-07 00:00:00-2007

Shawn - good balanced article. Thanks for writing it. And I appreciate your statement that the government should not mandate helmets.

I'd be interested in seeing a story based upon your experience how many head injuries and/or fatalities may have been prevented if motorists were required to wear helmets also.

PC
from: Paul W. Coteon: 05-07 00:00:00-2007

Great story. I myself do wear a dot approved helmet,but I do also think that should be a choice not a law.I also know that some of us wear non dot approved helmets (tupperware) on their heads.
from: winnieon: 05-07 00:00:00-2007

Great Column! Extremely informative;one of the best. Thank you, Shawn!
from: Geneon: 05-07 00:00:00-2007

Another great article, Shawn! I agree it should be an individuals choice to wear or not to wear... I will admit that I have ridden without a helmet a few times. (Please don't tell my mom.) It is an awesome feeling! However, my sister had an accident last year and, since then, neither of us will ever ride helmetless again. Thankfully, she was wearing one at the time and I am certain it was helpful. She now opts for a full face helmet and, when I ride my GSXR, I also wear the standard full face.(Don't get me wrong, I love my Harley!) I actually prefer it over my "brain bucket" as it keeps debris from hitting my face that has been kicked up from vehicles in front of me, as well as insects...OW! Still, keeping in the biker fashion, I wear the half helmet when I am on the deuce. Such a slave to fashion! Let's ride, Shawn!!! ;)
from: gold deuce girlon: 05-07 00:00:00-2007


 
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