A few days ago, our local paper printed an article noting the increase in deaths and serious injuries from motorcycle accidents, noting as well that the victims of such accidents have been, more and more frequently, older and not wearing helmets. One would have thought that as you grow older, you realize that you are not, in fact, immortal (as you thought in your teens and early twenties), and that if you’re going to do something inherently risky like propel yourself on top of two wheels, an engine, and a gas tank at sixty miles an hour down a freeway amidst multi-ton behemoths, wearing a helmet might be a useful thing to do, providing at least some insurance that in the event of an accident, your brains will not end up a red and black smear on the roadway.
A curious aspect of this article: even though it focuses on motorcycle helmets as a factor in deaths and brain injuries (and even though helmets have been shown to reduce the incidence of death and injury in accidents), it never once mentioned that Wisconsin had several times tried to pass mandatory helmet laws. I e-mailed the author of the article, who said that she had limited space and that material had been edited out (fair enough) – but it still seems a curious omission.
Perhaps it has something to do with the same bunch of people – regular people as well as lobbyists – who ensure that a Google search for “motorcycle helmet law” yields, first, a slew of pages ranting about the jackbooted thugs’ attempt to limit bikers’ freedom to crush their skulls on America’s highways. And probably the same bunch of people sending abusive letters to the author for even mentioning the concept that helmets might save lives (as she also noted in her reply to me).
When I get in my car (which at least provides some sort of protection), I am legally required to strap on a seatbelt. Yet motorcyclists are legally allowed on the roadways wearing pretty much nothing more than what they might wear to the beach. Such freedom: freedom to subject other motorists to your grisly death, freedom to cast your parents, lovers, or children into mourning. I wonder what Angeline Schreiber, the young woman quoted in the article whose parents were killed in a (helmetless) motorcycle accident, thinks of their exercising such “freedom.”