Darwin 1, Bikers 0
September 3, 2003 12:25 PM   Subscribe

PA helmets repealed from heads. At midnight tonight, Pennsylvania will become the sixth state since 1997 to repeal its mandatory motorcycle helmet law. Actually, there are a few qualifications. The guys who put this together are probably keen on PA's state store new Sunday hours, too.
posted by ringmaster (52 comments total)
Did Darwin co-sponsor this bill or what?
posted by clevershark at 12:27 PM on September 3, 2003

My brother and I used to joke about extreme social policy: traps for stupid people being among them. Tobacco as wealth redistribution. Spiked pits for people who stay in the left lane too long when they should merge. I didn't mean any of it, I swear...
posted by namespan at 12:34 PM on September 3, 2003

Spiked pits for people who stay in the left lane too long

A variation on this one: end the left lane suddenly with a large concrete wall. At the end of a tight curve.

That came out of jokes with my bros on a very long road trip eons ago, but even after all these years the idea never fails to put a smile on my face.
posted by clevershark at 12:37 PM on September 3, 2003

Screw it. Instead of an airbag, mandate that every steering wheel have a foot long, pointy spike coming out of it.

If that doesn't make people drive slower, nothing will.
posted by bshort at 12:42 PM on September 3, 2003

yes, yes. let's make it legal to spill your skull's contents on the tarmac- while it remains illegal for a kid to go bicycling without a helmet.

God, save us all.
posted by shadow45 at 12:43 PM on September 3, 2003

I remember someone on slashdot suggested that people on motorcycles should be exempt from wearing helmets if they've agreed to be organ donors. Seems like a reasonable trade-off.
posted by bobo123 at 12:46 PM on September 3, 2003

Several states have repealed their helmet laws, and I've heard that's largely because the insurance lobby is no longer fighting the issue. The theory is that insurers -- who were the biggest backers of helmet laws -- are abandoning that position because mandatory helmets create costly accident survivors. Non-helmet wearers (who are basically the riskiest drivers) are more likely to die in crashes and, thus, will be in no position to win big insurance settlements. (Insurance payouts to death beneficiaries are usually smaller than for severe injury.)

In any case, there has to be some reason behind the repeals. I mean, since when do legislatures agree to anything supported by Harley riders?
posted by sixpack at 12:48 PM on September 3, 2003

It mandates helmets for bikers with less than two years of riding experience unless they complete a motorcycle-safety course. And all riders younger than 21 still must wear helmets.

Nanny State, in Russia, Circus acts told to wear hard hats under new EU law.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:50 PM on September 3, 2003

In a readl free country, we would not have seat belt requirements either....my choice to get tossed from car, get killed, and have my estate sue you for my death.
posted by Postroad at 12:51 PM on September 3, 2003

Certainly it's very stupid to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, but should it be illegal? That it the question here, right? To what extent should our government be asked (be required? feel it necessary?) to enforce responsible behavior? It's not as though a non-helmeted motorcycle rider is making the road less safe for other drivers.

For the record, in my riding years I always wore a full-face helmet. It made me feel much more comfortable. And I do support helmet laws.
posted by dammitjim at 12:52 PM on September 3, 2003

On one hand, people should have the right to do as they choose: risk their lives and enjoy the sensation of bugs in their teeth.

On the other hand, it sets a lousy example. I see a cop on horseback sans helmet on a regular basis. His horse is big, too. I yell at him to wear a helmet, but he seems to think that riding a horse is just as safe as walking. He's begging for a Darwin Award.
posted by swerve at 12:52 PM on September 3, 2003

It is not like they made wearing a helmet illegal, so what is the big deal? Free choice wins the day.
I would never consider riding a bike without a helmet, but I have not been pleased that I have appeared to be complying with a draconian law.
posted by thirteen at 12:53 PM on September 3, 2003

My parents wrecked on their harley this week. They're alright -- a few broaken ribs -- but without the helmets and full leathers I doubt they'd be doing so well.
posted by woil at 12:54 PM on September 3, 2003

Lotsa posts happened while I composed that little gem. ^_^
posted by thirteen at 12:54 PM on September 3, 2003

I bet the insurance companies would be happy to allow this if they can attach a no helmet = no payout rider.
posted by mzanatta at 12:57 PM on September 3, 2003

motorcycle riders make good donors actually, usually die from brain damage.

as someone who didn't own a car until he was 25--vespa only until then--i think that the feeling of riding without a helmet is amazing, but that riding without one is just plain stupid. A helmet won't save you from a bad wreck, but it will save you from distracted drivers merging into on suburban streets, hitting oil slicks at 15 mph [not fun, trust me] and other hazards of two wheeled travelers.

will they have a "wears a helmet" discount on their insurance? Will an auto driver than hits and kills them be given a settlement discount because they weren't wearing a helmet?
posted by th3ph17 at 12:57 PM on September 3, 2003

I've seen asphalt sliding by my face at 20mph. I've seen it more than once. Why would anyone ride without a helmet? (on preview - I'm a donor!)
posted by pejamo at 1:00 PM on September 3, 2003

Does anyone remember the Maryland law from ten or fifteen years back mandating the wearing of a helmet but not specifying where said helmet must be worn? I remember seeing guys with helmets strapped to their knees.
posted by swerve at 1:01 PM on September 3, 2003

That it the question here, right? To what extent should our government be asked (be required? feel it necessary?) to enforce responsible behavior?

Federally doesn't our government support; helmets and neon vest. The military folks have too.
posted by thomcatspike at 1:02 PM on September 3, 2003

I mean, since when do legislatures agree to anything supported by Harley riders?

You're living in the past -- the median Harley rider demographic is middle aged and middle class.

will they have a "wears a helmet" discount on their insurance?

Dead people rack up fewer hospital bill than quadraplegics with perfectly intact noggins.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:03 PM on September 3, 2003

As the survivor of two too many car accidents, I can attest that safety devices like seat belts are quite a good thing.

At the same time, I'm one of those crazy libertarians, and so if you want to go on riding without a helmet, I don't see any way that impinges on my freedoms, so have at it. The government shouldn't be standing over our shoulders forcing us to be safe unless it makes things unsafe for someone else.

On the plus side, as pointed out by namespan above, we'll probably have less to worry about from the helmet-free riders after they're all allowed to bounce their craniums off the pavement once.
posted by ringmaster at 1:05 PM on September 3, 2003

The federal government seems to have dropped this as a major issue, so they no longer withhold federal highway dollars from states that don't have helmet laws. Personally, I don't understand why you'd ride without a helmet, it's the same as not riding without the seat belt: stupid.
posted by MediaMan at 1:11 PM on September 3, 2003

Too much cold medicine today... that should be riding in a car without a seat belt is stupid.
posted by MediaMan at 1:12 PM on September 3, 2003

Few things feel as good as riding helmet-less. That said, I almost always wear mine, and always on long rides. Those non-helmet-wearing idiots you see swerving in 80mph freeway traffic are just asking for it, in my opinion.

I like the idea of encouraging MC riders to be donors. However, as for it being a legal requirement to wear a helmet? Silly. Let people kill themselves if they so choose. World's overpopulated as it is.
posted by widdershins at 1:18 PM on September 3, 2003

No person shall operate . . . unless he is wearing

I see Pennsylvania's not into getting rid of gender-specific pronouns when they amend their laws.
posted by JanetLand at 1:36 PM on September 3, 2003

Eh, so what. It's a person's choice to wear a helmet or not and if they choose not to then we're likely better off without them.

There doesn't need to be laws to protect people from stupidity.
posted by xmutex at 1:43 PM on September 3, 2003

As someone who would be dead (twice) were it not for a full face helmet I can only encourage wearing them. Freedom is very good but there is also the freedom to not lose a loved one & the freedom not see a fellow human being have their skull splattered all over the road in front of you to be considered.

No doubt somewhere you will be able to find out how much the average road death costs your county/state.
posted by i_cola at 1:54 PM on September 3, 2003

Having said that, the spike on the steering wheel idea & the Darwin effect do have a certain appeal...
posted by i_cola at 1:56 PM on September 3, 2003

xmutex: There doesn't need to be laws to protect people from stupidity.

You're new here, aren't you?
posted by shadow45 at 1:56 PM on September 3, 2003

on preview, I didn't mean that as rude- just that we've been making silly/stupid laws to save people from themselves for quite some time now. Aside from dropping bombs on innocents, it's what we do.
posted by shadow45 at 1:57 PM on September 3, 2003

I have a coworker who told me today that during her trip to Milwaukee last week (to the Harley Davidson anniversary celebration), she never wore her helmet. Considering it's over an eight hour ride, that's a lot of distance to cover.

She's fine, but I still remember my old neighbor who didn't make it after not wearing a helmet one time. He and his friends always rode their helmets on the highway, but on one trip they were driving from a restaurant to a gas station and didn't feel like putting them on just to ride a couple blocks. Weird things happen.
posted by mikeh at 3:08 PM on September 3, 2003

I think this rule should be adopted: Paramedics arriving at the scene of an accident must perform a triage in which anyone not wearing a helmet/seatbelt/whatever are the last to be treated, regardless of the severity of injuries. This includes hangnails on bystanders, the ambulance driver's indigestion, etc. If someone chooses to reduce their chances of surviving an accident, shouldn't the civil infrastructure honor that choice? (OK, some tweaking is needed for kids whose parents won't belt them up, but the rule is a work in progress.)

On preview: mikeh, I had a friend who fractured his skull on his first day of learning to drive a bike. He hadn't even started it up -- he was being instructed on the gauges when he lost his balance and fell against a curb.
posted by joaquim at 3:24 PM on September 3, 2003

I like the age trade-off. When it comes to minors, or those under 21, its best to help them develop safe habits and protect them from ignorant parents and themselves (see also: seatbelt laws, child seats). After 21 its your own fault if you end up with 1/4 of your brain mass after being hit by a minivan. Though I'm sure this is a cycle that will repeat itself. Greiving families of motorcycle victims press politicians to force helmet laws, bikers get outraged again, etc. I wouldnt mind keeping these laws on the books, but its something of the American way that kind of demands they be removed, for good or bad.

What I'd really like to see is any attempt at mandating helmet use should come with tax breaks or subsidizing of said helmets. I think price is a factor for a lot of people, especially those who consider themselves low risk like cyclists, not to mention "affordable" helmets don't seem very sturdy to me. The 20 dollar bike helmets are nothing more than styrofoam with a plastic covering.
posted by skallas at 3:48 PM on September 3, 2003

People who ride without wearing a helmet don't really need them. Helmets protect brains.
posted by srboisvert at 4:47 PM on September 3, 2003

well put srboisvert. whether i am riding a bicycle or motorcycle, my brain makes me wear the helmet. not me.
posted by lsd4all at 4:55 PM on September 3, 2003

I've ridden around a campground without a helmet. I can understand the appeal.

I've also seen the results of my wife's head being bounced off the asphalt in a low-speed residential-area collision (<30kmh). she'd be brain-injured if not for the helmet.

I think those that think they don't need a helmet if they're just going a short way are deliberately not thinking. the risks of being in an accident are monumentally more likely within your own neighbourhood/town than they are out the highway.

I also think that those people who choose not to wear helmets should not have any option to sue in any accident situation that is not entirely the other driver's fault.

I think the insurance companies should provide a discount to those riders who wear a helmet, and the laws should allow them to withhold payout to any rider who subsequently goes helmet-free.

And, finally, I think that any rider who is underinsured and rides helmetless should not be subject to extreme life-saving measures. Let them be organ donors.

I think helmets should be mandatory. that said, i'm okay with allowing the darwin candidates their choice, provided things are structured so that I don't have to pay for their idiocy.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:12 PM on September 3, 2003

When it comes to minors, or those under 21

Even though I am now several years past it, I still get pissed off by the "21" thing. Either 18 is the age of adulthood or it isn't. I'm sick of this full responsibilties without full priviledges bit. Especially when our courts are charging very young minors as adults on a regular basis. When 13y/o's can be sent to an adult prison, but a 19 y/o soldier can't buy a drink...something's wrong.
posted by kayjay at 5:29 PM on September 3, 2003


Sorry 'bout that.
posted by kayjay at 5:30 PM on September 3, 2003

I think helmets should be mandatory. that said, i'm okay with allowing the darwin candidates their choice, provided things are structured so that I don't have to pay for their idiocy.
Well said and I totally agree.
posted by dg at 8:47 PM on September 3, 2003

My husband and I are two of those middle age, middle class Harley riders, and we're in Pennsylvania in a prime riding area. (Out in the country, low traffic, gorgeous views, lots of leisure riders.) We plan to go out tomorrow -- we haven't decided if we're riding or driving -- to see how many idiots are out and about bareheaded. I've laid money on 50% or more, much to my own dismay.

The one good thing about the increasing middle age, middle class ridership is that a lot of the people who ride on a regular basis these days are people with responsibilities which prevent them from being foolish and selfish. A home, a family, a prestigious job all tend to require intact brainpans and the riders I know (admittedly all of that yuppie biker mold) I know would never go without full-face helmets for even a short trip to the gas station. I sincerely hope that holds true across the state.

In any case, my biggest regret about the amended law is based in my tremendous respect for our emergency personnel. I really hate the idea of our EMTs and firefighters being forced to scoop idiot's useless brains off of asphalt. While personal choice is all fine and good, it's easy to forget that there can be tremendous consequences to those choices, and they're not all personal.
posted by Dreama at 9:09 PM on September 3, 2003

>Even though I am now several years past it, I still get pissed off by the "21" thing. Either 18 is the age of adulthood or it isn't.

I used 21 because that was the age in the article and also as an ex-rider I can see where they're coming from. It takes a few seasons before you can really handle the machine, unlike a car which can be driven anytime of the year for even the most trivial of trips.

I don't think its a sticking point 18/21, the people of each state should decide. Personally, I've always thought it to be a huge injustice not to let 16 year olds vote; they work, they pay taxes, they drive cars, etc.
posted by skallas at 9:15 PM on September 3, 2003

Helmets are vital for safety; they should be considered as part of the bike.

And I'm sure having these extra fun loving handicapped folks won't cost the taxpayers, will it?
posted by romanb at 9:20 PM on September 3, 2003

I'd never ride without a helmet (though to be fair, since my second bike accident, I just don't ride at all anymore). But that bein said, if you want to risk your life, I don't think there should be a law against it.

I wouldn't want hanggliding or desert hiking to become illegal, just because they involve some very real risks. Who am I to tell somebody that they can't take the risks they want to take?
posted by mosch at 9:45 PM on September 3, 2003

the risks of being in an accident are monumentally more likely within your own neighbourhood/town than they are out the highway.

I've been seeing this claim for thirty or forty years now and I've never believed it. Obviously most accidents happen close to home because we spend most of our time close to home. That's one of the things that make it "home". What are the accident numbers per hour of travel of home versus away? Anybody know?

(I always wear seat belts, and I avoid motorcycles like the plague. I have enough power between my legs already. :-)
posted by anewc2 at 3:49 AM on September 4, 2003

I'm thinking of getting a scooter, and was talking to my dad, who rode many a motorcycle at dangerous speeds when a youth, and I was complaining about having to wear helmets on mopeds, and how it looked much cooler how they did it in Italy, etc. without helmets.

He explained to me the crashes he had, and how, despite his best efforts, it was impossible to keep his head from meeting with the tarmac, as I, uninformed, assumed it would be naturally easy.

I have no intentions of avoiding wearing a helmet now.

(The fact that a woman living in another street form me has brain damage she got from a bycicle accident involving a car, and now obviously behaves in an impaired manner, is another sobering thought: she had a promising academic career, which the presence of a helmet, ostensibly, would have preserved.)
posted by Blue Stone at 4:54 AM on September 4, 2003

Risk-taking shouldn't be illegal, only the harming of someone else in the process. And don't ask the majority to pay for the acts of the minority, either. If that means expensive insurance, so be it. Just allow discounts for any risk reducing acts, like helmets, no speeding tickets, etc.

Making the wearing of helmets mandatory is a reasonable solution when the system does isolate the risk-takers from the risk-averse. Ours doesn't though, and only the relatively small number of motorcyclists compared to cars will keep the financial impacts down.

(I always wore one, but of course in NY I had to. When I had an accident, it saved the left side of my face from the pavement slide.)
posted by tommasz at 7:46 AM on September 4, 2003

anewc2, I don't have the statistics, but most accidents involving motorcycles happen when a driver makes a left hand turn at an intersection in front of a cyclist.

Here's a study (PDF) done by the UNC Highways Safety Research Center for North Carolina, explaining the burden placed on the public because of motorcycle riders. It's based on states that have "choice" helmet laws and how much they cost the public. They expect that 86% of the cost of injuries would be placed on the public, through insurance and taxes.
posted by romanb at 7:50 AM on September 4, 2003

anewc2: Nothing to do with hours. Everything to do with intersections.

On a highway, you and the traffic are all going the same direction at about the same speed, with little need to jump from lane to lane. Very little risk provided you aren't driving like a bat out of hell, passing vehicles before they can even begin to be aware of your presence.

In the city you have intersections, opposing traffic, stop-and-go speed changes, people turning, people trying to jump into the flow of traffic. Much more dangerous. Couple that with people not seeing what they don't expect to see -- ie. your motorcycle is invisible -- and it's much worse than riding on the highway.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:21 AM on September 4, 2003

OK, point taken. I'll stick with my bicycle. (And its helmet.)
posted by anewc2 at 10:43 PM on September 4, 2003

As planned, my husband and I did go out on our bikes, to a route favoured by other cyclists, just to see what we'd find. We came upon a party of about half a dozen riders, all helmeted, and we talked to them about the law when we all pulled off briefly. All agreed that helmetless=thoughtless. On our way back home, we passed two dozen riding together in the opposite direction, all helmetless, enjoying their new "freedom." My husband owes me on our bet.

I was pleased to see on our local news that another group went out riding in helmets, but in only their underwear (bikinis on the women) to promote the idea that if you're riding without a helmet, you may as well be naked. They got attention, at least. Maybe it'll sink in.

A local radio host asked a good question. "How is a cop supposed to know if the guy he sees riding without a helmet is 21 or has 2 years of experience? It's not like young or new riders have to wear signs or have special license plates." Knowing our legislators, they'll probably institute a special license plate before they reconsider this ridiculous change.

There was also great talk of the irony: in the same legislative session which gave us optional helmets, our seatbelt law was changed and police now have the authority to stop drivers of cars just for seatbelt violations. Previously, you were only ticketed for failure to buckle up if you were stopped for something else. There is absolutely no logic in suggesting that adult car drivers and passengers must be compelled to take basic safety precautions while motorcyclists are held to a much lower standard (relatively speaking), but yay PA legislators. Logical thinking has never quite been their collective forte.

Very little risk provided you aren't driving like a bat out of hell, passing vehicles before they can even begin to be aware of your presence.

That's true, 5FF, but it seems to me that the kind of personality that would be drawn to riding bareheaded would be the kind of personality that sees no problem passing like idiots, riding the yellow line between two lanes of slow or stopped traffic, merging without signals and other stupid behavior. It all stems from some mistaken sense of extraordinary freedom and invincibility. Most of us grow out of it by the end of our teen years, certainly by our twenties, but others never seem to get over it. They're the ones I predict we'll see with craniums cracked open like eggs on the pavement fairly soon.
posted by Dreama at 3:34 AM on September 5, 2003

I think seatbelts in cars would stop accidents from happening. If the car turned sharply to avoid something the passenger or driver, if not wearing a seatbelt could be thrown around inside the car, leading to an accident.

if a cyclist/motorcyclist needs a helmet, its already too late....
posted by Iax at 9:37 PM on September 5, 2003

All too frequently the sort of decision you don't get to live to regret...
posted by five fresh fish at 8:11 AM on September 6, 2003

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