Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Hard Hat Required II.....
Lots of goodies in the Wall Street Journal this week: Touting Freedom, Bikers Take Aim At Helmet Laws ($):
Sputnik isn't a typical lobbyist. He has "FREE" tattooed across his forehead, and he wears his hair in a Mohawk. Five earrings dangle from his left ear. But statehouse veterans in Texas have taken the 66-year-old motorcycle activist seriously ever since he led a successful campaign in 1997 to repeal that state's mandatory helmet law.

Sputnik (his legal name) and other unlikely biker-lobbyists like him are fighting, state-by-state, for what they see as freedom on the road. Many other people see it as an assault on safety and common sense.

Over nearly three decades, bikers have pushed successfully to weaken or eliminate helmet laws in 29 states. Most of that activity came in the 1970s, but recently, bikers have been active again. Since 1997, five states, including Texas, have repealed laws requiring all motorcycle riders to wear helmets. The other four are Florida -- which, like Texas, is a major biker haven -- and Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Arkansas. Federal statistics show that, on average, in the years after the recent legislative changes, helmet use dropped, and motorcycle deaths increased.
The lobbying efforts are soon to increase as state legislatures begin to meet next month. We have fallen down on the job somewhat here:
To some, the retreat from helmet requirements, led by a vocal minority of riders, defies logic. John Morris, head of the trauma center at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., says he sees "on a regular basis individuals who don't go home because they didn't wear a helmet." But until recently, doctors groups hadn't made a priority of countering the increasingly savvy biker-activists. For varying reasons, a range of constituencies that might be expected to oppose the helmet-free bikers haven't done so very aggressively, or at all........
......The helmet debate doesn't have a victims group similar to Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, and trauma surgeons are only now mobilizing in earnest. The Journal of the American College of Surgeons, which is sent to the group's 60,000 members, published an editorial in its August issue titled, "Motorcycle Helmet Laws: Every Surgeon's Responsibility." M. Margaret Knudson, one of the authors and chair of the group's committee on injury prevention, says in an interview that doctors have a "duty, really, to make our senators and congressman aware of the value of wearing a helmet."
Here is the editorial with an accompanying Statement in support of motorcycle helmet laws:
Total care of the trauma patient includes endorsement of measures designed to prevent injuries. Regarding the use of motorcycle helmets, the American College of Surgeons recognizes that:

Helmeted motorcycle riders have up to an 85 percent reduced incidence of severe, serious, and critical brain injuries compared with unhelmeted riders.
Unhelmeted motorcyclists are over three times as likely to suffer a brain injury when compared with helmeted motorcyclists.
The average inpatient care costs for motorcyclists who sustain a brain injury are more than twice the costs incurred by hospitalized motorcyclists without brain injury.
A large portion of the economic burden of motorcycle crashes is borne by the public.
In states with universal helmet use laws, helmet use is close to 100 percent.
When universal helmet use laws are enacted, helmet use increases and fatalities and serious injuries decrease.
When universal helmet use laws are repealed, helmet use decreases and injuries and associate costs increase.
Therefore, the American College of Surgeons supports efforts to enact and sustain universal helmet laws for motorcycle riders.
Many states are now paying the price for repealing those laws:
In the six years since Texas repealed its law in 1997, the annual rate has jumped nearly 30%, to an average 10.95 deaths per 10,000 registered motorcycles, compared with an average of 8.46 deaths for the two years prior to the repeal. In Kentucky, the average rate has jumped to 9.9 in the five years since its 1998 repeal, up 55% compared with the average for the two years before.

In Florida, in the three years since repeal, the rate is up 21%, to 8.94, compared with the two-year average prior to the repeal. Last year, 358 motorcyclists died in Florida. That is just 10 fewer deaths than occurred in California, the largest motorcycling state, which has 43% more registered motorcycles than Florida. California has a mandatory helmet law.

Nationally, motorcycle deaths rose 12% in 2003, to 3,661. That is the sixth straight year motorcycle deaths have risen. Twelve percent is the largest annual increase since 1988. The national fatality rate increased 4.4%, to 6.82 deaths per 10,000 motorcycles, the highest such figure since 1990. That rate is four-and-a-half times as high as the auto-fatality rate.

The jump in motorcycle deaths in 2003 came in a year when total highway fatalities dropped, federal statistics show. Alcohol-related fatalities fell 3%, to 17,013, and deaths of passengers not wearing seatbelts fell 6.5%, to 18,019. Federal officials attribute those declines to states passing tougher seatbelt and drunk-driving laws.
Georgia has the distinction of passing the first helmet law in 1962. Some states, such as Florida require additional insurance if a rider wishes to go without a helmet. Such policies are for such low amounts ($10,000) that they can be consumed within hours of the injury, and come nowhere close to paying long-term costs. The struggle of a libertarian physician continues.....
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