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Ride without a helmet? Not on the public dime

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Feb. 4, 2013 at 8:18 pm |
February 4, 2013 5:21 pm

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

Here’s a deal for the bikers who want to repeal Washington’s helmet law:

Want to ride without a helmet? Fine.

Just don’t ask the public to pay for your future of 24-hour care if your unshielded cerebellum hits the concrete. Sign away your claim to Medicaid and other public benefits for any injuries the helmet would have prevented.

Some bikers are complaining this year, as usual, about the state’s helmet law. Strangely, none of them are pledging to refuse medical care on the taxpayers’ dime.

Before state Sen. Don Benton’s anti-helmet bill gets much further in the Legislature, let’s look at a few realities about the public costs of helmet-free cruising.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control last June released the gold-standard study on this issue. A few findings:

• We knew this already, but biking is far more risky than driving a car. In 2010, motorcycle crashes accounted for 14 percent of all road traffic deaths – yet motorcycles accounted for less than 1 percent of all vehicle miles traveled.

• From 2008 through 2010, “Fatally injured motorcyclists in states with no helmet law were more than six times as likely not to have been wearing a helmet as those in states with a universal helmet law.”

• When a state repeals a helmet law, “helmet use decreases and motorcyle-related deaths, injuries and costs increase.”

• After Florida relaxed its helmet law in 2000, the death rate per 10,000 motorcyclists increased by 21 percent and “hospital admissions of motorcycles with injuries to the head, brain and skull increased by 82 percent.”

• The total cost of a serious injury, on average, is $171,753 higher if the biker isn’t wearing a helmet.

• “Riders who do not wear helmets also are less likely to have health insurance, and therefore are more likely to require publicly funded health care.”

The supposedly factual arguments against helmets – such as the canard that they increase the chance of injury – have been discredited. Similar arguments were made against seatbelts once upon the time.

Seat belts are mandatory in this state for the same reason that helmets are: They save lives and protect human bodies. Those who want to drive unbelted or without a helmet on their own property are free to do so. But use of the public roads is a privilege, not a right, and the public can insist on not getting saddled with the cost of easily preventable injuries.

Benton’s bill would be OK, though, with an amendment that says the right to subsidized nursing and diapers disappears when the helmet does. Bikers who don’t want a nanny state shouldn’t expect the state to be their nanny after they land on their heads.

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