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Helmet Laws Are Public’s Business

The motorcycle enthusiasts who want Washington state’s motorcycle helmet law repealed, and the 20-plus Washington state legislators sponsoring the House bill to do just that, should spend some time with head-injury victims.

Start in the intensive care unit. Sit in the waiting room with the victim’s family. Comfort them when their loved one dies.

If the head-injured person lives, the enthusiasts and legislators must then spend LOTS of time watching the victim rehabilitate. Learning to walk again. Or talk again. Watch as the victim tries to retrieve memories that have been erased. One brain-injured person said: “It was like someone wiped away the thesaurus in my head.”

The enthusiasts and legislators must keep in touch with the headinjured person over several years. They will discover that many survivors never totally heal. They may look, act and seem OK, but still be plagued with problems. Survivors have an increased chance of abusing drugs and alcohol, of losing their jobs, of becoming violent, of injuring themselves again.

Simple tasks seem impossible. One head-injured woman who lives in Spokane and leads a seemingly normal life carries a card in her wallet. She refers to it when her brain misfires. It reads: “What am I trying to do? What are the steps? Go through the steps.”

Finally, the motorcycle enthusiasts and legislators must write some checks. The per-patient cost of motorcycle injuries averages $16,732 for riders without helmets. That’s the average, and rehabilitation for a severely injured person costs much more. Even those with insurance sometimes tap out their policies. So hospitals, taxpayers and employees make up the difference. By forgiving unpaid bills. Or through Medicaid. Or through higher insurance premiums on company health policies.

The public often gets stuck with the bills. And the disability pensions. That’s why helmet laws are the public’s business.

Mandatory helmet laws save money - and lives. In California, just one year after the helmet law went into effect, 122 lives were saved, and there was a sharp decline in the time victims spent in intensive care units. When Washington state’s law was first repealed in 1977, fatal motorcycle accidents more than doubled and disabling bike crashes increased by 148 percent.

The law was revived in 1990. Now it’s under threat once more. So we make this challenge to those who wish it repealed: Talk to some head-injury survivors about your alleged right to ride down the street, helmetless, free as the breeze. Let us know the reaction you get.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Rebecca Nappi/For the editorial board



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