16 December 2004

They're Doing It Again

The safety nazis. They're out there trying desperately to nanny you and me.

You remember them; the people convinced you're not smart enough to look after yourself. The ones who have given you more warning labels than instructions on everything from toasters to canned peas. They're the folks who think Ralph Nader is the second coming and you'll refrain from using that top step if there's a black and yellow sticker on it.

Emboldened by their decisive and ongoing emasculation of the tobacco industry disparate groups of hand wringing worriers have searched long and high for the next cause du jour. In doing so they've splintered. The skinny pale vegans attacking fast food. Secular humanists and earth-worshipping environmentalists have launched against the dreaded SUV and suburban sprawl. Carrie Nation's long lost kin are opposed to my drunken antics. And malcontent psuedo-hippies want the US out of everywhere.

But the ones most threatening to me, personally, are the helmet law fanatics. The mad mothers of a different stripe. The pointy-headed sycophants who've never boarded a two wheeled instrument of death. The ER physicians and EMTs with a book of gruesome second-hand stories and ‘donorcycle' quips. The legislators and politicos driven by polls rather than individual freedom.

They all have two things in common. They don't ride and they make a more aesthetically pleasing spokesperson than the rest of us.

I have yet to meet a fellow rider of any brand loyalty who will lecture me on the merits of a mandatory helmet law. Even my friends who prefer their helmet, I have a few, agree it is a matter of choice. In my experience people who ride are either reluctant to tell someone to wear a lid or honestly feel it is a matter of personal preference. I've never held a grudge against anyone in a helmet and can mount as many arguments against as those who argue for. Anecdotal tidbits, physics and physiology, warped statistics from DOT, vision and hearing, fatigue and perception ... Regardless one's bent on the issue of helmets one thing holds: we feel strongly but refuse to legislate what is a matter of choice. I would never suggest a law preventing helmet use and don't expect my fellow two-wheeled compadres to impose their theories on me.

The people who will actively work to impose what they feel is best for you by and large do not ride. They've never been in your engineer boots and will probably never throw a leg over but they honestly feel they're doing us a favor by legislating away what we consider our freedoms.

Physicians, EMTs, ER docs. These guys see only the worst of motorcycling. Thank God they're there, but too few of them get to ride with friends and NOT witness the carnage resulting from excessive speed, bad choices, and poor judgment. None of us are immune to the gore-filled "It Could Happen To You" tales of every rider impacting every obstacle from here to there. It's always a story about a promising young man who had the world by the ear and lost it all in a split second. Most are likely true, but they're also tailored to make a point rather than provide a cautionary tale. None of the stories ends with, "I think he should have counter-steered going into the corner." Or, "Maybe some rider education courses could have prevented this..." Not even, "You know, if he'd been going slower on a machine tailored more to his ability ..." Much like the evil SUV the death, paralyzation, or gruesome scarification and amputation are attributed to a personified villain: the motorcycle. As a corollary morality tale they all end with "And he wasn't wearing a helmet." When he was, they end with "Motorcycles are dangerous."

The helmet ending particularly galls me when it follows the newspaper "He impaled himself on a fence post and had a car bumper sticking out his ass" story. Because head cover would have compensated for the internal decimation? Prevented it how? Shit people, my brother died in a Jeep Cherokee from massive internal injuries. Know what; he wasn't wearing a helmet either.

And as pointed out by my father at the time, "Had he died in the airplane everyone would have said, ‘Oh, those airplanes are dangerous' and had he died on his motorcycle they'd have all said, ‘Oh, those motorcycles are dangerous' but he died in a car - and we'll all drive to the funeral."

Mothers, in an irrepressible and natural maternal nurture mode, steadfastly endorse any law which appears, even slightly, to prevent injury to any child. Be it theirs or not. I applaud these natural actions when they apply to keeping kids off drugs, keeping pedophiles dead, or ensuring daughters don't date until they're 30. When they infringe on the legal exercise of a personal preference, however, then I have to be the asshole son. My own mother still, on occasion, will drop an offhanded remark regarding my lack of lid. All I ever reply with is, "Helmets Kill."

Hey, if the pro-helmet clan can claim they save lives I can claim they kill. Neat thing is - we're both right. There are a million different scenarios where helmets save, or contribute to the end of, a life.

Moms are a terrific tool of the helmet nazis. Politicians have known the power of a weeping mother for years. One watery-eyed mom pleading into a television camera about how a helmet may have saved her promising son negates any facts about him powering a sportbike into the back of an F-150 at speeds jet aircraft consider takeoff velocity. No argument about proper bike power and size relative to experience can trump a mother's sorrow. Even if that mother bought, or helped to buy, an incredibly powerful motorcycle for an inexperienced young rider. And regardless if that son was videotaped doing 120 mph wheelies on broad thoroughfares in the wee hours of a school night, her appearance will always look better than the leather-clad hoodlum with 30 years in a saddle and 10 years growth on his face. AARP voters and loafer-wearing white collars will not be swayed by a guy named Bear, regardless how much sense he makes, when he is placed counter to a distraught parent. It's not right, and it's discriminatory - but it is our reality.

I discount no mother's grief. I've seen it. And everyone seeks a cause in the face of tragedy. The easiest target in the case of motorcycle accidents is a helmet. No one demands better riding training or sensible purchasing decisions. Helmets are easy. Helmets sound good. Helmets are a panacea. Helmets make perfect sense to the non-riding masses.

To those holding, seeking, and seeking to hold on to political office what the masses want the masses get. Tracking surveys and an unquenchable thirst for power have changed what was intended as a representative democracy into a circus of legislation via judicial fiat and election though whims of the poll. No one is elected based on what the honestly believe. They are elected on what the majority of the respondents tell them to believe for that particular election cycle. If the propaganda machine repeatedly tells the public helmetless riders are a danger to the social structure and a burden on our country's strained health system those same voters who willingly raise your gas taxes with the proven bullshit promise it's ‘for the children' will take away all our rights to ride free. People are issue voters. And motorcycles are not seen as the benefit they truly can be.

We lessen traffic, gas consumption, parking congestion, and pollution. We add to the tax base and common good with punitive fees on a mode of transportation which burdens our nation's infrastructure less than anything out there, save bicycles. We pay the same fee per axle on Oklahoma's archaic turnpike system as 8,000 pound SUV's ferrying the cell-phone addicted soccer moms. The same distracted and overstressed individual who will run us over from behind when we get to an exit and hit the stop sign. We tag, insure, and fuel our motorcycles despite the fact most of us are also supporting at least one car at home as well. We are an economic good for the state and the nation. We patronize dealerships and ride these chrome phallic trophies in countless drives for charity, awareness, hunger, and remembrance. Our disposable income hits the public coffers faster than any other demographic known. Chrome goodies, cool exhaust, kick-ass paint, and various sundry clothing purchases assist the economic cycle's momentum.

However, when the politicians mention your existence it will not be the extra tag you buy every year or the untold thousands you've pumped into the economy in general and the purses of the needy in particular. They won't discuss the Downed Bikers rides, scholarship drives, or copious toy runs. It will be the possibility you may end up a vegetating near-corpse leeching off the taxpayers for your long-term care they'll use to label you and yours. Never mind the fact most of these potential wards of the state have better insurance than the worried masses. Forget the fact we are well aware the busy exec who will vote against our freedoms will likely be the jackass on the cell phone who puts us in ICU. All the public will see is what the polls have told the politico to portray: deadbeat leather-clad ne'er do wells and speed-crazed sportbike tricksters endangering grandma's medicare and social security benefits.

Sure it's a bullshit argument, but it's one they'll use. The quote often attributed to nazi propagandist Josef Goebbels, "If you repeat a lie often enough it becomes the truth," applies well in the world of politics.

DUI laws are now so punitive anyone with two beers after work is, effectively, committing a felony. That didn't happen because pub patrons were portrayed as a responsible group of tax paying working stiffs. MADD showed them as crazed murderous thugs, preying on innocent children and families. And it worked.

We're next. The fact most of us actually look like crazed murderous thugs will only make their job easier.

Here in Oklahoma it's already begun. Our State Capitol's newspaper of record, The Daily Oklahoman, has taken a decidedly pro-helmet stance from the beginning. Why? No good reason. This is a paper steeped in conservative politics and supposedly supportive of individual freedoms. Quite simply, the paper appears to be written, edited, and owned by those who do not ride.

ABATE's slogan, "Let Those Who Ride Decide" rings as true now as it ever has.

If you live in a state with no helmet law you have ABATE to thank.

Complacency in recent years has seemed to dwindle the membership numbers and active involvement in ABATE and it's many constructive actions. I personally am as guilty as anyone. When my local ABATE chapter effectively vaporized due to lack of involvement I neglected to maintain state dues. I have rectified that, and encourage my friends to do the same.

ABATE chapters were insisting on rider education, organizing beneficial works and illustrating for the public the societal good motorcyclists do when Harley was still cranking out AMF shit, yuppies were in Beemers - not on them, and "HOG" was an unregistered trademark slang. We've seen an influx of other groups now capitalizing on the popularity of motorcycling in general. They would all be well-served to join with ABATE in this fight.

Motorcycling's popularity has been both the boon and downfall of our pastime. We have grudgingly gained some sort of newfound awe and respect through the fawning praise of The Discovery Channel, et al. We've brought a great deal more people into the most fun and rewarding pastime many will ever experience. And we've made for an economic force people have, for good or ill, begun to cater towards.

Poker Runs and benefits have sprung up like herpes sores in an alley. Everyone who's ever had a cause wants a piece of the motorcycle fiscal pie. Folks who wouldn't have let us use their shitter ten years ago now hang "Welcome Bikers" banners for one, maybe two weeks at a time. And bars where we were told "No scooter trash" host poker runs and ‘Bike Night.' This is all fine and good, but it's the reason we're seeing the reemergence of helmet laws.

Louisiana abolished their lid law only to see it reinstated. Incredibly sad, and they still fight that good fight.

The culprit; skewed statistics. Motorcycling's aforementioned popularity has seen an unprecedented rise in ownership. With any rise in ownership we will have to see a rise in mortality. Unfortunately these numbers are regularly quoted to the benefit of those who wish to twist them. Of course we're seeing more people dead on motorsickles. There are more people out there on motorsickles than ever before. Take those numbers and compare them with Deaths Per Thousand Registered Motorcycles as compared to previous years and you'll see different story.

Additionally for the year 2002 (latest statistics available) the NHTSA (a militantly pro-helmet government entity) says, "Motorcycle fatalities increased in only 40 and over age groups ..." They continue, "But ... the largest increase was in the over 49 age group."

Odds are the majority of these fatalities are not old hoodlums who have finally succumbed to their lifestyle. More reasonably these are baby boomers experiencing a second childhood, buying the big shiny chrome phallic symbol they've always wanted, and failing to do any sort of rider training. The result; their kids get the inheritance and a twisted up Softail.

In fact, between 01 and 02 the death rates for everyone under 40 decreased. The mortality for those 40-49 increased 4.8% and for those over 50; 26%. Mid-life boomers and retiring yuppies are a dangerous group after all ...

Following the helmet lobby's line of reasoning we should mandate helmet use for anyone over age 40, rather than all riders - or those under 18 - as they are the one dying in droves. Of course this would be punitive and discriminatory, so they'll push to helmet us all instead.

Basically, if you decide to research helmet law statistics do so sensibly. Stats are a field notoriously twisted to serve the purpose of the propagandist, when researched and quoted correctly they invariably divulge a truth.

Unfortunately the keys are hard to find where your government is concerned. A recent hunt for numbers of registered motorcycles in differing states proved exceedingly difficult to complete. The NHTSA (our friends in government who hate us) are suspiciously stingy with comparative results between helmeted and non-helmeted states. Yet incredibly liberal with favorable statistics on how many live helmets have saved. A dubious assumption.

One of the few places to actually have comparative stats is, not surprisingly, ABATE. The following website is most helpful:


While the statistics are older, they tell the tale. Helmet states don't secure a markedly lower death rate per thousand registered motorcycles. In fact, they are slightly higher. If helmets really do save lives shouldn't their rates be a great deal lower than free states?

Who benefits? Safety Nazis. Helmet salesmen. Politicos and the rest of the feel-good culture who will sleep better knowing they've eliminated one more freedom of ours even though it posed no risk to their own.

Who loses? The dead guys in the helmet states. Don't let it be us.

Wear one if you want. Just don't tell your friends what to do.

"Let Those Who Ride Decide"



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Blogger Magnulus said...

Well, I respect your opinion but I honestly disagree 100 percent... errr, more like 50 percent.

Helmet use laws make sense. In the state of Florida you have to buckle up in a car, even though you don't have to wear a helmet. Does this really make sense? C'mon, nobody is arguing a helmet is going to save your life if you slam into a brick wall at 90 mph, but it prevents alot of the "little" injuries that add up to big $$$ to society. Just falling off your bike at 5 mph can result in a pretty bad blow to the head that might lead to serious medical care.

I've got a motorcycle endoresment, I took the MSF rider class and I do some recreational scootering. I'm not a Harley or a squid, but I do wear the full getup of mesh jacket, full face helmet, boots, pants, etc., even in 90 degree weather. Is it so much to ask the most ardent bikers to don at least a shorty helmet in those circumstances?

12:03 PM  

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