When I started riding my first motorcycle, my life disappointingly failed to immediately turn into an Axe commercial. I did, however, certainly get a lot more attention on my motorcycle than I did in the 1995 Mazda Protege I’d previously been driving. The first time I caught a cute girl’s eye, it was incredible. I was clearly a god among mere mortals while on my ridiculously manly 1983 Kawasaki KZ305.
As she drove off, it dawned on me that maybe being checked out in traffic wasn’t the compliment that it felt like. I was, after all, covered from head to toe in safety gear, and she couldn’t tell a single thing about me. At the very most, she could have seen my eyes. Had I been in a state without a helmet law and just riding in a t-shirt and jeans, though, getting checked out would have maybe been something to feel good about.
Unfortunately, while you’re on a motorcycle, drivers in other cars are much more likely to literally hit you than they are to hit on you, and that doesn’t feel good at all.
Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia have universal helmet laws, and 28 states have partial helmet laws that only require certain riders to wear helmets. Only Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire have no helmet laws. While I understand the appeal of feeling the wind in your hair and the thrill of riding without a helmet, it confuses me why states need to specifically pass laws requiring helmet use.
If I learned one thing during my Motorcycle Safety Foundation course, it was that having an accident was only a matter of time. Sure, there’s always going to be that one guy who claims he’s ridden for 65 years and never wrecked once, but at some point, everyone goes down. When you do go down, if you aren’t wearing a helmet, you’re in serious trouble.
According to the NHTSA, riders who crash without wearing a helmet are 40% more likely to die, and wearing a motorcycle helmet is “the single most critical factor in preventing or reducing head and neck injuries among motorcycle drivers and passengers.” In fact, in the first year that Louisiana reinstated its helmet law, motorcycle fatalities dropped by 30%.
Looking at how effective helmet laws are, it’s incredibly frustrating that there are so many riders insistent on not wearing helmets unless they’re legally required to do so. Why do they refuse? The NHTSA puts helmet use at somewhere between 34% and 54% in states without helmet laws, and in states with helmet laws, it’s 98%. That difference is huge, and it’s unnecessary.
There’s certainly an element of freedom that comes with riding without a helmet, but just because you’re free to do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should. You are also free to attempt to use homeopathy to treat your illnesses, but if you want to get better instead of swallowing water that “remembers” something it used to contain, you take real medicine.
People may say that helmets cause more injuries than they prevent, don’t prevent injury at normal riding speeds, restrict riders’ vision, and impair hearing, but they’re just trying to justify irresponsibility by spreading misinformation. All helmets do is make motorcycle riding safer: You can be as well-trained, experienced, and alert a rider as you want, but no amount of experience can help you if the car behind you decides to plow into you. A helmet, on the other hand, won’t prevent that wreck, but it will at least give you the best chance of walking away no more than a little dinged up.
Like I’ve said before, there’s a reason MotoGP riders can crash at such high speeds and get up looking more disappointed than dead, and it’s because they wear the best safety gear they can. Unfortunately, despite the overwhelming benefit of wearing a helmet, the statistics show that passing a law is the only way to significantly reduce the billions of dollars in hospital costs and emergency services that helmet-less crash victims run up.
Sure, it might be cool to ride without a helmet, and you may get a few more winks from cute drivers, but you’re also quite important to your friends and family. Trust me when I say they’d rather have you alive and in one piece. Wearing a helmet will help keep you safe for them, not just yourself. It might be a little inconvenient, but even if you live in a state where it’s legal to ride without a helmet, please go ahead and do so anyways.
You can’t ride safely without a helmet, and if riders continue to exercise their freedom to not wear helmets, the serious injury and death rates will eventually lead those states to pass more restrictive helmet laws anyways.