Save lives by requiring motorcycle helmets
Motorcycle riding is a more dangerous way to travel. According to the National Safety Council, motorcycles make up only 3% of all registered vehicles and 0.6% of all vehicle miles traveled in the United States, yet accounted for 14% of all traffic fatalities, 18% of all occupant fatalities, and 4% of all occupant injuries in 2020, the most recent year for which full data is available.
Yet while laws require drivers and passengers in cars and trucks to wear seatbelts, most states, including Connecticut, do not require motorcyclists to wear helmets.
This makes no sense. Connecticut should mandate the wearing of motorcycle helmets. In Connecticut, the law requires only those 17 and younger to do so. Eighteen states require all riders to be helmeted, including neighboring New York and Massachusetts.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, after studying data from 2002 to 2017, concluded more than 25,000 lives were saved by the wearing of motorcycle helmets. Helmets were judged 37% effective in preventing fatalities and even more effective in preventing brain injuries, 67% effective as compared to crashes involving drivers and passengers without helmets.
Mandating head protection would mean taking on vocal and passionate opposition from motorcycle operators who see their ability to ride without helmets as a fundamental freedom. Rather than forcing this debate, lawmakers choose inaction.
Opponents of helmet mandates offer all sorts of reasons. They will tell you a helmet ruins the experience of enjoying the open road. They will complain a helmet is too heavy, confining, causes sore necks, is hot, and limits neck and head movement and the ability to keep track of surroundings.
Do you know what is also inconvenient? Being incapable of walking without help, or at all. Being unable to speak, or remember basic things, such as your kids’ names. Of going from the freedom of that open road to near total dependence on others, all because you did not want to wear that bothersome helmet.
Ask Andrew Pisano of Colchester. His efforts at Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford to reclaim the ability to walk, talk, write and remember were detailed in an April 2 story by Day Staff Writer Elizabeth Regan.
Pisano, too, thought he was fine riding without a helmet. He was careful of his road choices and made sure he was alert. He could avoid trouble, he thought. Then a deer came out of nowhere. His motorcycle collided with it. Two weeks later he regained consciousness in a hospital bed to learn he had suffered significant brain injury, along with a broken neck and collarbone.
Pisano is now featured in posters and online promotions by the Gaylord’s Brain Injury Awareness program in its efforts to convince motorcyclists to wear helmets. We applaud those efforts and thank Pisano for trying to persuade other motorcyclists not to risk suffering his fate.
But more than voluntary compliance is necessary. A helmet mandate is needed.
According to the National Occupant Protection Use Survey, the use of helmets decreased from 69% in 2020 to 64.9% in 2021. Helmet use has decreased 8.6% since 2018. The force of law is necessary to reverse this troubling trend.
Data showing trends: https://injuryfacts.nsc.org/motor-vehicle/occupant-protection/motorcycle-helmets/
Helmetless drivers will tell you they are only putting themselves at risk and should have the freedom to do so. That is a false argument. What about the family and friends who suffer when a loved one is gravely injured, or dies, because he or she did not want to wear a helmet? What about the loved ones who change their lives, surrendering their freedom, because they must care for a brain-injured motorcyclist? What about the trauma first responders and ER workers experience when dealing with these accidents?
Connecticut should pass a law requiring the wearing of Department of Transportation-compliant helmets when traveling on a motorcycle. In the meantime, voluntarily wear a helmet.
The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Timothy Dwyer, Executive Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser, retired executive editor Tim Cotter and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.