Earlier this month, a 24-year-old man suffered a serious (thankfully not fatal) head injury after rear-ending an automobile in Dania Beach. According to the driver of the scooter, the vehicle pulled out in front of him, making the collision unavoidable. As the driver of the scooter was taken to the hospital, a spokesman for the Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue noted, “A helmet would probably have saved him a trip to the hospital.”
The question of whether a motorist using a motorcycle or scooter should wear a helmet is one that seems to be split throughout the country. At the moment, only nineteen states have enacted universal helmet laws, requiring helmets for all riders. Twenty-eight states currently have partial laws on the books, those which require riders or drivers meeting specific criteria to be helmeted. That leaves three states, Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire, as the only states nationwide that have no motorcycle helmet laws at all.
Florida, a state that has enacted a partial law, requires those under 21 years of age, or those with less than $10,000 in medical coverage for motorcycle-related injuries to strap on a helmet. At one point the Sunshine State did have a universal law, though it was repealed in 2000.
There is a delicate balance between the government’s responsibility to ensure the safety of its citizens while also affording its citizens the freedom to make voluntary decisions in their personal lives, and is probably a driving factor (no pun intended) as to why the states are nearly split on this issue.
Proponents of universal helmet laws claim that such laws not only promote safety, but also save states substantial amounts of money in both the areas of taxpayer covered medical costs, as well as lost productivity of those who are injured. Thomas R. Frieden of the Center for Disease Control states that “In 2010, more than $3 billion in economic costs were saved due to helmet use in the United States. Another $1.4 billion could have been saved if all motorcyclists had worn helmets.” Now while it may be difficult to pin down precisely how “economic costs” are calculated, or moreover, how accurate that actual number is, it would be even more difficult to argue that wearing a helmet doesn’t diminish the chance of suffering a head injury in an accident.
However, there are those that are willing to make that argument. The American Motorcyclist Association (“AMA”) believes that adults should be able to voluntarily make the choice whether or not to wear a helmet when riding. The AMA responds to claims that helmet laws save money by citing studies purporting to show that the rate of injured motorcyclists actually rely on public funds at a lower percentage than that of the general public and only represent a fraction of healthcare costs overall. Further, they say that drivers of automobiles and motorcyclists are covered by insurance at a nearly identical rate. In addition, the AMA notes that mandatory helmet laws do nothing to prevent accidents and it supports increased motorcycle safety and education programs as a more effective alternative.
It seems that there is merit to both arguments when it comes to the debate surrounding motorcycle helmet laws. Perhaps Florida, and states like it, have the right idea. While requiring minors or even passengers in general to be helmeted is smart, also requiring riders who decide to go without a helmet to carry enough insurance where an injury won’t necessitate taxpayer funds could alleviate concerns on both sides. Because in all honesty, if a rider wants to have the freedom to go without a helmet, he should also have the responsibility of bearing any consequences that come with that risk.