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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Helmets required

I wrote about nonsensical helmet laws fourteen years ago, and helmet requirements still puzzle me to this day.  I am not against helmet use, but mandatory use for selected activities seems discriminatory to me.

Actually, facts pertaining to head injuries and resulting death indicate that expanded use of helmets would be fortuitous, but I still object to legislation.

Popular wisdom indicates that we should don helmets when we ride motorcycles or bicycles.  That may be prudent, but why pick on those two endeavors?  Head injuries are generally the result of velocity — the head meets an object at speed.

So, since motorcycles and bicycles allow the head to gain velocity, injuries often occur when it collides with an object.  Lives can be saved if everyone riding a motorcycle or bicycle is helmet-equipped.  But if saving lives is the intent of legislators, why are just those two actions selected and not the many other activities that cause death from head injury?

Skiing and ice skating are now being more-noticed as potential head injurers, but little if any legislation has risen.  Even more so, I wonder why there has been no effort to mandate helmet use for automobile drivers.

Whereas total deaths while riding motorcycles, bicycles and even walking average less than 3000 annually, automobile deaths perennially continue at more than 100 per day, or around 40,000 annually.  On top of that, while only around 50% of two-wheeler deaths are from head injuries, over 90% of auto deaths result from head trauma.

Again, if the goal is to save lives, there are many more to potentially save that rise from auto crashes to potential as compared to motorcycle and bicycle mishaps.  The auto deaths come from occupants’ heads coming into contact with an object or with one another.  There is no dispute on this, evidenced by the proliferation of airbags in vehicles which now number as many as ten per vehicle, intending to protect driver’s and passenger’s heads.  There is even a typical airbag that deploys between rear seat passengers to act as a pad between their heads during an accident.

I know that some of the bicycle death statistics represent children — a horrible tragedy, but many more children yet are dying of head injuries while riding in automobiles and engaging in other play.  How about helmets at the playground?  It would probably save lives, but where does one stop?  I think it should be the choice of individual riders and parents of young riders as to when to don the dome cap.

While there would be wisdom in wearing helmets when driving automobiles, we engage in many other activities that warrant head protection as well.  The category of home accidents is the only other one to rival the automobile as a cause of death from head injury — other sports activities (basketball, football, snowboarding, and skateboarding) even surpass bicycling for head injuries.

I don’t wish to wear a helmet while driving my car — I tolerate the risk — but a law requiring me to would make more sense than a motorcycle or bicycle requirement.  I wear a helmet while riding my motorcycle at speed due to personal safety choice, however, on a 100-degree day, I would consider a slow helmetless ride through the park if wearing it were not mandated.

My stance is that helmet use, like other personal risk decisions, should be left up to individuals or their legal guardians. 

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at