Yesterday I mentioned that anti-helmet law arguments were “so bad and so stupid” they’re actually pushing me to oppose them. This may not be a very fun post for non-motorcyclists to read and for that I apologize, but any time a lobbying group’s talking points are so terrible they turn a would-be supporter against them I think it’s worth examining. Biker’s Rights Online, I’m talking to you.
It’s worth noting that I’m already an ATGATT guy- All The Gear, All The Time. The more I ride, the less I understand the cruiser crowd in bandannas, sunglasses and nary a bit of CE-rated armor to be found in their leathers. But I still bristled when I moved to Las Vegas in 2011 and discovered Nevada had a mandatory helmet law. I wear my gear by choice, and it just rubbed my rebellious nature the wrong way to be ordered to wear it. I should be the perfect spokesman for a group like Biker’s Rights. It’s been living in flyover country with the helmetless masses, reading anti-helmet law arguments, and maybe even getting married (worrying about someone else’s noggin beside my own) that’s changed my views. I still don’t know if I’m actually in favor of helmet laws, but I just can’t work up the give-a-damn enough to oppose them anymore.
So let’s tear apart the opposition talking points.
Myth #1. Helmets impede vision and hearing. I’ve ridden with helmets and I’ve ridden without and this is complete and utter bull****.
- Tackling hearing first, the wind roar over a bare ear is FAR more deafening and impedes hearing other traffic and road hazards (to say nothing of long-term hearing damage from sustained exposure). A proper helmet dulls the roar of the wind so you can actually hear what’s happening through it: like road noise from neighboring vehicles tires, engines and exhausts, or even an unexpected noise that could be an early indicator of a mechanical problem. I’ve got a convertible, and it’s the exact same thing when the top is up vs. top down; open air is fun and great, but it impedes hearing. Helmets help you hear better, and anti-helmet folks are either lying or so woefully ignorant they should just quit talking.
- Saying helmets impede vision is just as silly. Anti-helmet buffoons claim they obscure peripheral vision. DOT, Snell, and ECE require a minimum of 105° visibility. The average human can only use 90° of that sideways vision. So again, anti-helmet folks are lying or ignorant. And even a high school level understanding of physics (“nature abhors a vacuum”, venturi effect, etc.) should make it clear that sunglasses are poor eye protection. Goggles also obstruct peripheral vision. So really, the least intrusive and best vision protection is inarguably a full face helmet.
Myth #2. The added weight of a helmet contributes to neck injury. This is the one I think I find most reaching, ridiculous, desperate, and shows anti-helmet folks to be idiots devoid of critical thinking skills. Too harsh? Not really. While the anti-helmet crowd will say things like “there’s not enough data” or “we need more/better studies” the fact is there are LOTS of plainly evident incidents in MotoGP, World Superbike, and any other racing series. These guys wipe out all the time, and they tend to not die instantly of a broken neck. When I wrecked my Ducati, a full face helmet saved my face and teeth. Did it hurt my neck? I don’t know, because I’d just crashed a motorcycle and I hurt everywhere. But I didn’t sustain any lasting neck injuries and I did keep my pretty mouth intact (evidenced by deep gouges in the helmet from sliding down the road). Claims of neck injury are a desperate and pathetic “what if?” that completely ignore the very real certainty of smacking one’s head or face into the ground.
Myth #3. Helmets don’t reduce crashes, only ridership (and therefore crashes). The thing is, while the rebuttals of Myth #1 make it at least possible that helmets could reduce crashes, I’ve never heard a mandatory helmet law advocate make that claim. The pro-helmet law claim is that helmets reduce fatalities, which is demonstrably and unquestionably true. Anti-helmet folks are intentionally interchanging “crash” for “fatality”, obscuring the argument, and it’s just plain dishonest. (It should also be added that mandatory helmet laws could potentially deter theft. Most theft is a crime of opportunity, so unless a thief just happened to be walking around with a helmet he’d be picked up by cops whilst trying to ride away. This doesn’t stop the pickup truck method.)
Myth #4. Helmets don’t protect at speed. Again, let’s just reference motorcycle racing, shall we? Bikers Rights Online advises people to quote Snell, saying they can’t protect from an impact over 23 miles per hour. Who knew that MotoGP was so slow?!?! The problem with this very, very stupid argument is that they ignore even the most rudimentary physics yet again. Drop one baseball straight down, fire another one 90° from an equal height at 100 mph, and they impact at the ground same time. Therefore, the actual impact speed of a helmet to the ground is calculated only from the height at which it begins its descent. And even at six feet above the ground, say on a big and tall adventure bike, that impact speed is less than 15 mph. (I used WolframAlpha and Splat Calculator. Falling acceleration in Earth’s gravity is about 32 feet per second per second, for those that don’t remember.)
Again, I’m not yet actively in favor of mandatory helmet laws. It simply strikes me a common sense thing. In a world where we all wear our seatbelts, why wouldn’t we all wear helmets?! Of course, I also fail to understand wearing leather without CE armor. I bet anti-helmet riders would find a “lid” less hot and stuffy if they’d try some textile riding gear instead of poorly ventilated leather, but I digress.
The more I read Bikers Rights Online (whom I won’t do the courtesy of linking to), the more tin-foil hat conspiracy garbage I see. Phrases like “follow the money” and “they won’t tell us about neck injury” and claims of disinformation just make anti-helmet folks look like nutcases and their arguments are moronic. They claim they’re “seen as anti-social, public burdens, scofflaws, ‘scary’, etc.” but I would argue they’re seen that way not as an unfair characterisation but because of the way they behave. Loud pipes are another contributing factor to this negative image, and while rude levels of exhaust noise is a topic for another essay, it is an example of behavior being the problem in the way some motorcyclists are viewed. It’s not the helmets, no matter how Bikers Rights wants to portray themselves as victims. It’s the image they cultivate, manufacture, and bring onto themselves.
Clearly, from the strength of their arguments the anti-helmet advocates don’t have much gray matter worth protecting anyway. Maybe that’s why they take the stance they do. All I know is I’d gladly take a nationwide mandatory helmet law in exchange for lane splitting and filtering. If anybody fighting helmet laws really cared about safety, they’d put their efforts into lobbying for motorcyclist’s right to actively avoid getting hit by inattentive drivers.