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Why Helmet Laws Shouldn’t Matter

Fourth of July weekend should be all about celebrating the freedom we Americans enjoy as a people. For me, that meant riding my motorcycle at a brisk pace through coastal Marin and Sonoma counties in Northern California, and then floating for many hours in the cool Russian River. For Philip Contos, a member of the Onondaga, NY ABATE chapter, that meant riding his Harley helmetless to an anti-helmet protest rally. What was probably a mellow group ride turned into a nightmare when Contos had to stop suddenly, apparently over-braking, fishtailing and then getting thrown over the handlebars. He suffered a fractured skull and was dead at the scene. The state patrol said he would have survived had he been wearing a helmet. That his death was sadly ironic is indisputable. That he was a warrior for bikers’ rights isn’t.

I am not writing this to advocate for helmet laws. I’m asking, rhetorically, why we even need them in the first place. I understand that Americans cherish their freedom and don’t like being told by government what to do, but there are lots of dangerous activities that aren’t outlawed in 20 states the way riding helmetless is. As far as I know, you can run with scissors, juggle scorpions, ride laps in your closed garage or barbeque indoors in California or New York. But why would you want to?

We all know, except for those with a high capacity for self-delusion, that helmets greatly reduce the incidence of head injury. We also know that most helmets are impacted on the chin bar or temple in crashes. We also know that the alleged disadvantages of helmet use—discomfort, reduced hearing and visibility and risk of neck injury are either nonexistent or exaggerated. And yet, riders in states without helmet laws use their helmets less than 50 percent of the time. Why? Nobody will say why they don’t want to wear a helmet, although my suspicion is that it has to do with the orthodoxy of the Harley-Davidson-oriented cruiser culture; my grandpa didn’t wear a helmet, my friends don’t wear helmets, so I don’t need one either. Sportbikers aren’t immune to the siren song of riding helmetless, but I think they just like to show off how fearless they are.

Why they prefer riding helmetless is seldom vocalized. Instead, the helmetless biker will quickly elevate the conversation to a philosophical (and interesting) one about the rights of man, the role of government, the fate of free men in a Nanny State. But I have yet to hear a cogent argument as to why it’s a good idea to ride bare-headed. Just making a short trip? Many crashes happen a short distance from home (when I found that out I moved, yet I keep crashing). Maybe you won’t be going that fast or you’re staying off the Interstate? That’s another absurdity—most crashes happen on city streets, at speeds under 30 mph. “I’ll just be taking it easy today.” Silliness. If we could pick what day we were going to crash, we’d just stay at home and ride on the day we know we’re not crashing on (if you’re scheduling a crash, mid-week is great, as the emergency rooms have shorter lines). Anti-helmet-law advocates rightly point out that helmets don’t prevent crashes. True enough, but they sure do lessen the consequences. Face it—you can’t tell anybody it’s logical to ride without a helmet (and other safety gear) every time you ride.

So I can say, confidently, that helmet laws don’t affect me. Why? Because no matter where I am, from Cozumel to Cuyahoga, I am going to be wearing a full-face lid. I could care less if I have the “right” to ride without. I could jab a golf tee into my eye as well, but I won’t be heading to an AGOTE (Association to jab GOlf Tees in my Eye) meeting anytime soon. I’ll be riding my motorcycle.

How do we keep “The Man” off our backs and get helmet laws repealed in 50 states? By getting helmet usage up to 80 percent or better so that the benefits of a law would disappear. If the general public—81 percent of whom think helmet use should be mandatory—saw us wearing helmets, they would leave us alone (so long as we also had acceptably quiet exhausts, but that’s a discussion for another day). Believe it.

So please just wear your freakin’ (and full-face) helmet. There are many more motorcycle-related issues, like insurance discrimination, lane-sharing and use of public land that could productively harness your energy.

243 Comments

  1. DancingWeasel says:

    I think the reason people don’t wear a helmet is just laziness. On a hot day I sometimes find it irksome, but still wear it, and would without compulsion. I don’t see why we have laws about it though – smoking (and many other things) kill far more people, yet there are no laws about it. Repeal the laws, and let natural selection take it’s course…

    • bikerrandy says:

      If you don’t already wear a modular(flip-up) helmet, you should consider it. When you stop for gas, etc. you just have to flip it open and get a drink, more air to your face, instead of having to take it off. On a trip(if nothing else) it makes fuel stops far more convenient. We have Nolan modular helmets and are very satisfied with them.

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  2. KRay says:

    +1 Wear a full face helmet, it’s as clear as a cloudless night sky. This is one of the best written pieces I have read on the subject, well done.

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  3. vaso says:

    The argument about how many lives are saved or lost is absolutely irrelevant here. What right does someone else have to force me to wear helmet?
    If one finds not wearing helmet stupid – fine, it’s their choice, they are free to wear it. They may well be right, but that does not mean they have the right to force their opinion on others.
    It’s like I read somewhere about Obama telling stories that he used to do public works as a kid and benefited very much from it. That’s fine, but then he goes on to opine that a “law” should be passed so that all kids do public works.
    That’s the reason why law is not respected anymore. Only natural laws are real laws (property rights, prohibition of violence etc), but those messy mega-collections of millions of stupid regulations are rather violations of laws.

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  4. bikerrandy says:

    You can take the horse to the trough but you can’t make it drink. Let these idiots ride as they wish and it will help keep the current Social Security in operation.

    I’ve been riding for 47 years and realized I needed helmet protection before there were ANY laws requiring it. Helmets have protected my face/head in accidents. End of discussion.

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  5. Gabe says:

    Thanks for a great discussion and for reading my story, MD-ers.

    I do regret that some posters seemed to have missed the point of my story and feel compelled to tell us why they are against helmet laws. I did not write it to state a position for or against helmet laws. I wrote it to underscore how important it is to wear a full-face helmet every time you ride. Ignore the debate on helmet laws. The only reason you could possibly care is so you can ride helmetless–but why on earth would you want to?

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    • Thoppa says:

      Hi,

      People risk their lives climbing mountains for no other reason than they want to. You don’t need to understand this to see it is true. They know the dangers and use all the necessary safety equipment, yet they still die doing it.

      Riding motorcycle is dangerous even if you wear all the safety gear imaginable, yet people still do it. We all do it. Not wearing a helmet increases some aspects of the risk, but essentially the basic risks are the same.

      There are many things in life that can kill and having seen people die long slow torturous deaths from cancer, I’d rather my nut got split on a kerb. Unfortunately, I am much more likely to die of heart disease, cancer, liver damage, etc.

      There are valid reasons for not wearing a helmet which your article and subsequent comment seem to refuse to accept. There are also less important reasons like the ‘just because I want to’.

      So in answer to your why on earth….why the hell not ? Woody Allen said something like you could live to be a hundred if you quit everything that would make you want to live to be a hundred.

      Live and let live.

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      • kpaul says:

        -1 What are those “valid” reasons again? I am not aware of any scientific evidence that wearing a helmet causes any negative safety issues. In fact all evidence points to the opposite that a full-face helmet will save your life and will prevent serious head, facial, and jaw injuries. The whole Woody Allen argument is just stupid. It’s about reasonable risk. Skydivers minimize their risks by having backup chutes and wearing the proper gear. Race car and motorcycle racers minimize their risk by wearing safety gear. The risk of injury by not wearing safety gear far out weighs the reward of not. It’s all about reasonable risk.

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        • Thoppa says:

          Well precisely, you hit the nail on the head – and people don’t agree about what is reasonable, so everyone has to agree to disagree. You are not going to change my mind and neither do I expect to change yours. I’m here to tell people to leave each other alone; to live and let live.

          Valid reasons ? Well, do you ride a bicycle ? Do you wear a full face helmet to do it ? Why not ? So if I’m on a 50cc scooter on a quiet village road going 1km to a market, do you think I should wear a full face lid, gloves, etc ? I hope you see that each of us has to assess risk – that’s what a skilled rider does all the time they are on the road to avoid a potential accident. If the risk is no greater than riding a bicycle, is a full face helmet necessary ?

          Ever been so uncomfortable that it was distracting and reduced your concentration ? A significant proportion of accidents occur because people aren’t fully paying attention to the road ahead. I’d bet that was the cause in the accident for the poor bloke who died on an anti-helmet law rally. It is accidents that kill. Helmets do not prevent accidents. They simply increase the chances of survival – far better not to crash in the first place right ? That takes skill, experience, training, etc, and, yes, sometimes it is just luck. So okay, if you think you’re unlucky, or a crap rider, wear a lid.

          I am all for people just accepting that, when the law allows, they decide for themselves about the gear they wear, and one biker doesn’t start preaching to another about how reckless they are. We just wind each other up. The debate changes nothing. We are all so reckless we got on a bike in the first place. How come we don’t all drive cars ? I’m sure you’ve heard the argument that when someone becomes a parent they give up taking risks like riding because thay shouldn’t leave their partner a widow and their kids orphans. Yet parents don’t do what is ‘sensible’.

          I wear a full face lid about 80% of the time, an open face about 19%, and then every now again, I ride with no helmet. I’m middle-aged, fully-insured, single, no kids and ugly enough that a lid improves my looks. So why should I be preached to and accept it ?

          Instead of focusing on that, we should be focusing on reducing accidents with improved riding skills an awareness.

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        • Thoppa says:

          My reply has been removed.

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    • riley says:

      I don’t smoke or skydive. too dangerous. why would anyone want to. lets outlaw it.

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  6. Thoppa says:

    I have a question – are turban-wearing Sikhs exempt from helmet laws in the US ? They are in many other countries and do not have to wear hard hats on construction sites. Does this make them stupid ?

    I also don’t understand the comments that say “others can choose but only if I don’t have to pay for it.” AFAIK most accidents are caused by car drivers so surely the car driver would have to pay for it in most cases ? Given the small number of accidents that involve riders without a helmet where the rider is to blame, wouldn’t this cost be actually very small to any one individual – just a few cents ? Are people so mean they wouldn’t give a fellow biker a few cents ?

    By the way, I haven’t found anywhere hot, humid and over-developed enough in the US where it would be necessary to remove a helmet for safety reasons, but I have in India and south-east Asia.

    I favor using a full face lid and I’m quite happy to have a law enforcing it, with the proviso that it can be removed when circumstances at the time mean that the lid is a disadvantage. However, this scenario seems unlikely, so I prefer no law and to rely on my own experience and desire for self-preservation to work it out.

    The US is, afaik, one of the few countries that still gives riders that choice.

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    • Tim says:

      We all pay for it, whether it be in the form of increased insurance rates (because our insurance company has been stuck with head injury claims for accidents caused by other people they insure) and when the insurance proceeds run out, we don’t give these vegetables a lethal injection, the government pays for it. I don’t know if any of you have been in the hospital recently, but my wife just spent 3.5 days and with various tests I fully anticipate a bill in the neighborhood of $100,000. Now suppose someone is in a vegetative state, and spends years in hospitals or health care facilities. Trust me when I say when spread out over millions of people, it is still not cheap. Health care costs are killing this country. While motorcycle related head injuries are just a small part of that cost, I’m sure it is a measurable cost. It is a cost that we who choose to do the smart thing, and wear helmets, should not have to bare.

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  7. Tim says:

    If some people didn’t need protected from their own stupidity, we wouldn’t need helmet laws. As long as society ends up footing many of the bills for head injuries, we have a right to insist on helmet laws. Not to mention the fact that many families lose loved ones who were not wearing a helmet. I have friends who have families who are scared to death that they’re going to bite it because they don’t wear a helmet. Innocent people end up paying the price, with the loss of a loved one. I’m all for freedoms, as long as peoples’ stupid decisions don’t affect others. In this case, those decisions affect everyone.

    Otherwise, I’d say let the idiots weed themselves out, just like Darwin’s survival of the fittest suggests.

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  8. yazidoff says:

    Where I live, full-face helmets used to be illegal. Until the local HOG chapter managed to lobby for it. How about that..

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  9. KnightroExpress says:

    Education is what makes a difference here, not legislation. I don’t care that I’m not mandated to wear a full-face helmet; I wear one because I know if something unexpected happens, it will (hopefully) keep my brain inside my skull, and pavement away from my face. If someone doesn’t care enough about their own health, that’s their problem. Teaching the benefits of proper protective gear is much more effective than imposing these requirements without any explanation other than “it’s the law”.

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  10. JPJ says:

    There isn’t a need for this argument, just as there isn’t a need for mandatory helmet laws. Seatbelt laws ? How many times a day will a cop turn a blind eye to those not wearing one ? Ride by the same policeman without a helmet ( if required ) and guess what happens ? He / She will turn around and pull you over 99% of the time

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  11. Foogunheimer says:

    People sure get upset when they pass a law advocating safety. They feel offended that the state would care for their health. Mr. Contos on his protest ride proved the state’s point that a helmet is a good thing, just like seat belts and air bags. It’s for your own good and the only reason helmet laws exist is because some folks are too DUMB to realize that a helmet will prevent serious head injuries or death, even at low speeds. Argue the law all you want, but you can’t argue the fact that no one in professional racing would go without a helmet even if it wasn’t madatory. Your skull is no match for the hard pavement. Just ask Indian Larry.

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  12. butch says:

    Looks like Michigan is repealing their mandatory helmet law, in spite of tons of work and educational effort by a group called SMARTER (smarter-usa.org). They can expect a large increase in youth deaths, along with older riders, as a result. Wonderful accomplishment.

    In these economic times these lawmakers focus on repealing a helmet law!? That’s their crowning achievement? How these politicians can cave to such a tiny minority of self-serving ABATE folks (ie. “look at me, how cool I am” types) and accept that their state will pay millions (billions?) of additional dollars in future medical payments is really confusing. Defies logic.

    Too bad Cantos (in his fifties) “hardcore” biker died. A dead motorcyclist is only more disturbing when it happens to the young riders that ride lidless because they can’t make a rational choice, but the “cool” one. The younger ones are the most protected by helmet laws in my opinion. But on that subject, the younger riders are screwed anyhow. Who are the new riders’ role models anyway? Sure ain’t the Aerostich guys…

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  13. McGoober says:

    I would personally love to see full face helmets as mandatory as seat belts… How many of you don’t like wearing seat belts? They impair movement and aren’t comfortable… how is a helmet any different from a seat belt in a cage? There isn’t. I am a ATGATT rider and from Texas (though I live in California atm where helmets are mandatory). I have ridden long distances in 100+ degree weather. I still will not wear anything less than full gear and a full face helmet. Granted thats my choice but I will not go on a ride without someone wearing full gear. I don’t care how much of a choice it is and all of that BS… I won’t help you kill yourself.

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  14. Bud says:

    Anyone who rides a motorcycle and doesn’t wear a helmet is just plain stupid,IMNSHO.

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  15. ncc says:

    Several years ago before helmets became mandatory here in CA I witnessed a biker’s very low-speed accident in downtown LA. Turning at a light he hit the curb at maybe 15mph max and down he went. He landed all of about a foot away from his overturned sportster and the only visible damage to the bike was a broken mirror….if the guy had worn a helmet he’d have ended the evening out a $40 mirror and with a slightly bruised ego. But he wasn’t wearing a helmet and when his head hit the ground it split wide open and he died. Forget about the over-bearing nanny state, alleged hearing/vision issues, looking cool, or going helmetless being ok because you have medical insurance….it just plain isn’t worth the risk.

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  16. Gummee says:

    Y’know… If you’re not smart enough to figure out that wearing a helmet’s in your own best interest, maybe you *should* be told. After all, sticking knives into outlets as a kid seemed like great fun, no? Mom obviously didn’t think so. Same same with helmets.

    I’m only partly exaggerating here

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  17. Bob says:

    Back in the late ’90s, when I was heavily involved in mountain bike racing and paid a lot of attention to gear, reviews and other pertinent information, I actually learned something about head injuries.

    1st, it was stated in a report that in ’95, the average cost of a head injury was $75,000. Notice I said average cost. So that means anything from geting a couple stitches for a cut up to a cracked skull and brain hemmorhage and anything in between. So, let’s say between $100 to $1,000,000 range.

    2nd, gravity does a lot more damage than people think. At 9.8 m/s/s, falling over while at a standstill can crack open a skull, cause a concussion and even result in death. The stats are out there. Gravity from 5 or 6 ft is significant in a fall. Moreso than speed going down the road. As a former club racer, I can attest that more people have been seriously injured from the 5 mph tumble at the end of their slide down the track than from the 120 mph they started sliding at.

    As for the rights part…driving was deemed a right by the supreme court however there are conditions on that right. You must obey all traffic laws is one of those conditions. So is mandatory liability insurance. Sounds more like a privilege when you add conditions to the equation. After all, this is a right that can be revoked on an individual basis. If it were truly a right, we would be able to go 130 mph, run stop lights, etc all day long and not risk ever losing our license, going to jail, etc.

    As a driver of a 4 wheeled vehicle, we are required to wear seatbelts. This is one of those conditions as well. If the government can mandate seatbelt usage, why can they not mandate helmet usage without lots of complaining? They can use the same reasoning they did for seatbelts. If it isn’t a viable reason, then maybe they need to remove the seatbelt mandate for consistency.

    I remember the excuses that were made for not wearing seatbelts…they’re uncomfortable, I feel restricted, it wrinkles my clothes, blah, blah… I have yet to meet an uncomfortable and restrictive seatbelt in 26 years of driving other than a 5 point used in racing. Wrinkled clothes? Whaaaaaa!!!

    Helmets, spend the money on one that fits properly and has adaquate venting and all is well. I’ve never worn one that restricted my vision. In fact, every helmet I’ve worn in 25 years has improved my vision and my hearing while riding. At 80 mph, I don’t have excess wind making my eyes water nor do I have excess wind noise overpowering and drowning out other sounds that may be really important to my well being. So a helmet isn’t just something that can protect you in a crash, it can help you avoid crashing in the first place.

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    • kpaul says:

      +1 well said Bob

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    • e-bob says:

      Hard to add anything that can top this reasoning. But I would like to add that I find it ironic that ABATE sponsors MSF riding courses here in Colorado (which I greatly appreciate!), as well as organizing Accident Scene Management classes that are “Designed to reduce injuries & fatalities through First Response Education.” However, when it comes to helmet laws they apparently behave like the NRA does toward any legislation that might limit gun use in any way. I own guns and helmets, and while I don’t feel I need laws to use them responsibly, it’s easy to find evidence of those who do.

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    • paso100 says:

      So, you’re in support of a law that mandates wearing a helmet due to safety concerns, but then admit you break the law by speeding. It seems you like to choose what laws you follow and what laws you want everybody else to follow. This is just one of the problems with ne’er-do-well legislation: if people decide they don’t like a law, they simple choose to ignore it.

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      • Bob says:

        Who said anything about breaking the law by speeding? I guess you don’t realize there are plenty of places in the USA where the posted limit is 80 mph. That aside, I’ve done 177 mph on the circuit and 219 on the Bonneville salt flats. Once again, at those ridiculous speeds I have better vision and hearing with the helmet on than I would without a helmet. Granted, I’ve never done those speeds without a helmet on. Not allowed in order to compete. But I have done 80 mph without a helmet, 20+ years ago, and my vision and hearing was severely impaired.

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  18. Austin says:

    In states with mandatory helmet usage, folks who who only wear a helmet when they “have to” usually wear a beanie or half helmet offering very little protection. It can be argued that helmet laws don’t affect this group.

    OTOH, folks who wear FF in those same states, probably wear that FF helmet even when they don’t “have to”. It can be argued that helmet laws don’t affect this group.

    This discussion is mostly pointless. The folks who place a high priority on preventing head injuries wear a FF helmet no matter what. Those who don’t…well, don’t.

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  19. Jeremy in TX says:

    Dear Lidless Rider,

    I for one actually support helmet laws, but not because I want to restrict your freedom, protect you from yourself or save society the burden of paying for your medical bills. Those medical bills are a minute burden on such a large and wealthy society, and I am all for strengthening the gene pool by having fools eliminate themselves. And no, I do not believe I have the right to inflict my will on others. I also find laws that dictate choice as bitter and vile.

    I support helmet laws because you threaten the wellbeing of some defenseless members of our society: my kids and yours. Children learn from example and are influenced greatly by peer pressure. If their peers (and parents) like to dress-up like they are going to a Village People audition and wobble around on their 800-pound bikes in large herds with nothing more than doorags for head protection, then those kids will develop a pretty stupid sense of “cool”. Or perhaps you like to impress everyone with your daring by riding around on a 150hp machine in litle more than flip-flops and a swimsuit. Again, you are hurting those you would least want to.

    They say seat belt usage was so successful not because of the laws but because they educated young kids in schools who then apparently guilted their parents into setting the good example they should have been setting all along. It will probably never happen for helmets, but having one’s 8-year-old running up to her mom or dad before a ride begging them to wear a helmet so they could come home to her safely would probably have quite an effect over time.

    I would much prefer a similar attempt to educate children about helmet use rather than establish laws to accomplish this, but it is unlikely to happen. As the author says, unless we as a group make the choices that make such laws irrelevant, then laws are the only tools left on the table to protect the impressionable youth from your irresponsible choices.

    Please remember that you are not just making a choice. You are setting an example to those who are least able to understand the consequenses of choosing poorly.

    • kpaul says:

      Excellent points. Jeremy. Well written. I favor a law that says you can ride without a helmet as long as you have medical insurance. However, your point about being an example to kids is very compelling.

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      • Jeremy in TX says:

        I live in Texas where there is such a law in place (having medical insurance), but it is not enforceable. Nobody asks for proof of current medical insurance. If someone crashes without a helmet, and they don’t have medical insurance or sufficient means to pay the bills, the rest of us still end up paying for it. Again, I don’t really care so much about that. That cost is a relatively small draw on the society as a whole. I am much more interested in building a riding culture that embraces helmets (real helmets) the same way we have done around seatbelts, and I really do wish we could get there WITHOUT legislation.

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    • Dean says:

      I agree… It took years for me and my brothers to get my father to wear a helmet by guilt and begging. He used to say, “when it’s my time, it’s my time”.

      Years later, he was run off the road by a drunk driver swerving in his lane. Luckily, he only had a limp from that one, not any head injuries thanks to his helmet, and us kids leaning on him to wear it!

      If you want to change anybody, it has to be peer pressure, not laws.

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    • riley says:

      nanny’s favorite slogan: do it “for the children”..

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  20. kpaul says:

    Being a fiscal conservative and social liberal (e.g. for a balanced budget, lower taxes and decreased government speeding, pro gay marriage,etc). I favor a riders freedom to not wear a helmet just as long as they have health insurance. Texas and Louisiana have such laws. I don’t mind if people are stupid. However, I just don’t want to pay for their folly. With freedom comes responsibility. If you don’t want a Nanny state (which I don’t) then you must show personal responsibility.

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    • warprints says:

      Whoa !! Louisiana amended its helmet law several years ago. There is currently a strict must wear helmet law (except if you obtain a waiver for a parade). DO NOT ride helmetless in Louisiana, even if you have health insurance.

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    • steve says:

      where do you get this stuff??

      fiscal conservative and social liberal = oxymoron

      you keep voting for your social liberals (i.e. obamadinejad et al) & see how long motorcycles are available & legal…..

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      • Just Joe says:

        Thanks, Steve, for lowering the level of discourse to insults and fear mongering.
        You proved a point, but not the one you think you did.

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        • steve says:

          any time “just”… glad I could help!

          you see “just”… I pay attention when I read… otherwise… something important might slip by…

          imo, it’s always better to know where the other person is coming from….

          this site has been invaded by armchair subject matter experts who cannot resist posting whatever effluent bubbles up inside their know-little-or-nothing minds. I’m “just” trying to add context to clarify that 99% of their “opinions” are BS or “just” plain wrong…. there’s no “thought” behind their postings…. it’s all reactive… & only “they” know best… they usually base it on 1 or 2 experiences or worse, hearsay..& then broadbrush the rest of humanity… & there’s no room for compromise either…. they slam the door shut… because… they’re always right….
          reading their rants is a real drag “just”…

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          • Just Joe says:

            With all do respect, you seem to have no room for compromise or outside opinion, and you continue to simply be insulting.
            Perhaps you should look within a bit more deeply.

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  21. jimbo says:

    I was a firefighter for over 28 years. A co-worker worked a good portion of his career at one of the busiest fire houses in the USA. I was surprised when he told me directly across the dinner table that he never wears his vehicle safety belt because he doesn’t like it.

    I used to believe in most or all of these drug laws and helmet laws, but now lean toward legalizing most personal activities along these lines. As if LE doesn’t have enough to do. To say the system has bitten more than it can chew is a huge understatement.

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  22. DingerJunkie says:

    I am completely fine with people choosing not to wear helmets…as long as I have legal/financial protection on two fronts…

    First, I want to know that my liability is not increased in the event of an accident with a helmet-less rider (no-fault state, so even if I didn’t cause it, I pay).

    Second, I want to know that the person riding without a helmet has legally waived all rights to medicare/medicaid services for accident-related injuries, as well as waiving all taxpayer-funded survivor benefits that would be paid due to their stupidity.

    Their liberties end where they impact mine.

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    • Tim says:

      Just wondering if you apply these same criteria to smokers, over-eaters, bungee jumpers, etc.

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      • DingerJunkie says:

        …I wish I could, Tim. People should pay for their own choices…price of liberty. Smokers, scuba divers and professional racers pay more for insurance for a reason. I wish I didn’t need to pay for the heathcare costs of those who intentionally take those risks.

        I want them to be able to do these things to their heart’s content…just don’t make me pay for them.

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  23. Dean says:

    There are only two kinds of riders. Those who are going to crash, and those who already crash (and then they join the first group again).

    As you said, you never plan a crash, and you don’t have to be going far or fast to crash. Wearing a decent helmet just makes sense to anybody who has any respect for themselves and their loved ones.

    Helmet laws are ridiculous because they have spawned the “beanie” helmets that don’t offer any real protection unless you happen to crash on your head in a completely vertical position. As long as they have a DOT rating, they are “protection”.

    I wear a full face helmet because it makes sense. I wear my seatbelts in a car because it makes sense. I don’t want the Gubment writing any more laws than they have to, because they suck at writing laws!

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  24. Mondo Endo says:

    The right to be stupid doesnt mean its a good idea.

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  25. kpaul says:

    Harley riders take note: I have been down two times. One low side and one dramatic over the handle bars high side at 40-50 mph. Each time I hit my head. When I high sided I hit the front of my helmet and slid across the road on my face. Each time I had a full face Shoei helmet. My helmet looked much like the picture in the article. The EMTs who arrived on the seen sad that my full face helmet saved my life. They said that in WA state which has a mandatory helmet law the problem is half head Harley type helmets. They said that folks don’t seem to get that most times you are going to hit your face or the front of your head. Indeed, a German safety study confirmed that with data.

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    • kpaul says:

      Ooops Should read “The EMTs who arrived on the scene said that my full face helmet saved my life.

      Report this comment

    • kpaul says:

      k-obsession is treatable Steve. With the right drugs and therapist you can be helped. :) I would suggest you spend the money on a good full-face and discontinue use of the ineffective 1/2 and 3/4. One nice comfortable full-face helmet is much better than 3 mediocre helmets. Especially when 2 just don’t work. It’s also more cost effective and better use of your money and our resources. Of course if you don’t make your living with your brain like I do just ignore my advice :)

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  26. McRider says:

    It is a known fact, that the most dangerous times for motorcyclists to be on the road are Friday and Saturday nights. Why don’t we prohibit riding from 3pm on Fridays to 6am on Sundays? This law will save thousands of lives! Or, why don’t we require everyone to wear full protection: racing-grade leathers, boots and gloves? How are any of these two proposed laws different from requiring a rider to wear a helmet?

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    • Dean says:

      Exactly… That is why we don’t want any more laws on the books. They just don’t know how to write them, or take them too far, or have too many loopholes…

      F-cking lawyers should not be allowed to be politicians.

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  27. Vrooom says:

    What I get a kick out of is when I’m touring in a non-helmet law state, and riders come over to tell you that you don’t have to wear that helmet. Like somehow if only I knew the long arm of the law wasn’t weighing on me I wouldn’t be wearing it. Helmets don’t guarantee surviving a crash, just like parachutes don’t guarantee surviving jumping out of a plane, but I’d sure rather have one when the time comes.

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  28. Tim says:

    Why I choose to ride without a helmet (I NEVER do, btw.) should be nobody’s bloody business.
    All the arguments FOR helmet laws (emergency care cost to the public, etc) are pure BS. As TRonymous said, motorcycling accidents are a tiny drop in the ocean of unnatural, unnecessary deaths in the US. The number of fatalities from smoking, alcoholism, and obesity is several orders of magnitude higher (don’t believe me? ask any doctor!), and yet, no efforts are made to ban cheeseburgers or bourbon. If I am free to eat unhealthy food, and kill my liver with ethanol, why is my freedom to crack my skull being infringed upon?
    There is as much common sense in helmet laws as in riding without a helmet.

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  29. Dave says:

    I have ridden many miles in the hot summer months all over the USA. I have never had sweat running into my eyes so bad that it would impair my vision. The padding of my helmet has always taken care of that. I have had to take the padding of my ARAI out and wash it but the padding has never allowed the sweat to run in my eyes. I think some of the arguements against helmets would be solved if people woould buy a high Qaulity helmet with a proper fit. that said I always wear my helmet but I am not for helmet laws. I think the general publis being forced to wear seatbelts in cars makes them much more less tolerant of riders saying it should be individual choice.

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  30. Stinky says:

    I usually wear a helmet, BUT, I fall into the short ride, don’t feel like carrying it around, can’t leave it on the bike for it WILL be stolen. I usually ride my bicycle helmetless, and the times I’m on a bike helmetless is about the same speed.
    The Cruiser Boys give me crap for riding my bike with shorts or tennies until I point out their lack of helmet. I don’t put on boots and leather to ride my bicycle to the store for a backpack of stuff and don’t for a motorcycle either. I might keep another bicycle helmet in the garage for riding my bike to the store,library etc. now that I think about it.

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  31. Glen says:

    Philip Contos did more for helmet advocacy in that one ride then a thousand protest rides to ban helemt laws.

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  32. Tom Shields says:

    I wear a full face helmet EVERY time I ride. I keep the one from about 10 years ago that sacrificed itself for my skull; I surely would have suffered at least a concussion without it.

    Frankly I don’t understand riding without one. It drastically increases the risk of injury IF an accident occurs; and beyond that, it’s much less comfortable to ride without one. (Yes, I tried it once just to understand the attraction). Without a helmet the wind noise is deafening, road debris, bugs, and cigarette butts pepper your face, and the wind makes your eyes tear up constantly – or dry out – even with sunglasses on. I would not like to get smacked by a grasshopper at legal highway speeds, much less the grackle that bounced off the side of my helmet on one ride.

    I don’t believe it’s the government’s role to correct stupidity. But I reserve the right to call a spade a spade, and riding helmetless is stupid.

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  33. Asterix says:

    I’m a mature adult and no man or state has the right or the responsibility to tell me how to live my life if I’m not infringing on anyone else’s rights.

    Whether it’s a good idea to wear a helmet or not has absolutely zero bearing on whether it should be illegal to ride without one. I wear a helmet every time I ride – and with rare execptions, an armored jacket, gloves, pants and boots – but things like helmet laws not only waste goverment and LE time, they criminalize an innocent populace.

    If I ask “Why should a total stranger being dumb bother you?” and your response is some form of “because some other total stranger will pass a law restricting my life or making me pay for the first stranger’s idiocy” then, really, your problem isn’t with the first idiot, it’s with the second one.

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  34. steves says:

    I rode to Arizona (100+ degree temps) recently, where those 18 and over don’t need a lid. Even on short trips to the supermarket I couldn’t make myself go without a lid and gloves. It would be like riding naked! Anyway, using the stated statistic that “most crashes happen on city streets, at speeds under 30 mph” to justify always wearing a helmet would also obviate the need to get in full dress leathers, right? Spending five minutes gearing up for a five minute, sub 30 mph trip on a hot day is not likely for this rider.

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  35. Tom says:

    Helmet saved my life last year when I got hit by a car and ragged dolled over the hood when it T-boned me turning left into my path. Landed on the left side of my head and the helmet did an amazing job of absorbing the impact. Broken left arm was better than long term head injury or death. I was on a bicycle…

    It’s funny how the H-D riders wear $400 dollars of leather gear and no helmet and the c-rockets kids wear $400 dollar helmets and no gear.

    Tom

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  36. arr2 says:

    “So I can say, confidently, that helmet laws don’t affect me. Why?”

    Do you buy insurance to cover you and your bike?

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  37. Josh B. says:

    There’s always Illinois — where all you need is “eye protection” on a motorcycle, yet you legally MUST have a bicycle helmet… This state is so back-@$$words, it isn’t even funny anymore…

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    • Steve says:

      yeah… how stupid is that! Same thing with little kids… they MUST wear a helmet when riding their bicycle but Skippy doesn’t need a helmet to ride his 187 mph ninja…..

      Pass the crack pipe please!

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  38. Kmac says:

    It has been said there are two types of riders, those who have been down and those who will. I’ve been down, vaulting over the handle bars flying face first into a concrete curb — hard. Result: scratches on the mouth guard of my TourStar and a mildly mashed lower lip. Without my full-face helmet: broken jaw, eating through a straw for a few weeks, probably four less incisors and the commensurate lengthy, painful and expensive dental work.

    I’ll keep the hat, thanks.

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  39. Thoppa says:

    I have ridden bikes all over the world and in many different climates. In cool and wet climates I want a full face lid. However, there have been times in tropical climes at slow speeds in heavily congested cities when the sweat ran down my face so much that it got in my eyes so I couldn’t see properly. Removing the lid allowed air to flow much better and eliminated the sweat problem. An open face lid also worked but not quite as well.

    I’ve been stopped by Police in Indonesia who asked me how far I was going on my scooter. They don’t think a helmet is necessary to pop to the market for some fruit, but insisted I wear one to go to the next village. I agree with this wholeheartedly; they apply the law in a sane way.

    Full face lids, just like full leathers and lots of other ‘sensible’ stuff aren’t always the best choice and unfortunately laws don’t allow people to think for themselves, and often Police don’t allow any flexibility either because they think they must enforce the law rather than apply discretion.

    There is definitely an argument for flexibility and education, rather than legislation.

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    • Thoppa says:

      I forgot to say that according to the Police I met in Indonesia, most serious accidents happen on the roads between towns so that is why they told me I must wear one.

      I should also point out that France is passing, or has passed, a law making hi-viz clothing mandatory. If that goes through, then it could become law throughout Europe and then very quickly get adopted by some states in the US too.

      Next up, engine power restrictions….

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  40. steve says:

    Gabe… I ALWAYS wear a helmet when riding regardless of what the laws of the state I am in are….

    I disagree with your statement “although my suspicion is that it has to do with the orthodoxy of the Harley-Davidson-oriented cruiser culture”…

    I think your “suspicion” is WRONG (as stated below by another poster) & you singling out H-D without facts (numbers/statistics) is inexcusable…

    But I can overlook that too…

    The question is “should there be mandatory helmet laws” & I think the answer is “yes” (& I currently ride a Harley). I think the over-the-top PC atmosphere we live in has choked the common sense out of every politician, the media, a ton of “regular” people & even the AMA. C’mon… by riding a motorcycle, we are much more likely to die or be hurt by our own mistakes or by another drivers’ (car). Can’t argue with that! & if you are in an accident, the possibility of death or severe injury is very high since we are out in the open with little or no protection. This issue (in my opinion) is no different than the legal reefer issue… everyone is saying it won’t hurt you, etc… & it will probably become legal to smoke pot…. OK…. why not heroin???

    As a society, we need to either make everything legal (no helmets, drugs, etc… ) or use some common sense & make laws… but this “in the middle” ain’t working.

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    • Samizdat says:

      I am all for using common sense to make our laws, but that common sense needs to be grounded in fact based evidence (i.e. reality). That’s why using our current drug laws as example of “common sense laws” completely misses the point. Study after study shows that reefer is less harmful to users than alcohol and/or tobacco, yet those are legal and we throw people in jail for possessing a couple ounces of the stuff. Please explain how that’s common sense? Heroin is another subject altogether due to it’s highly destructive and addictive nature, but even there, would it not make more “common sense” to offer addicts treatment instead of throwing them in the slammer while pursuing a highly expensive and ineffective “war on drugs”. I realize this is slightly OT, but if we’re going to advocate for common sense laws….well let’s do stuff that makes sense.

      Getting back to the article, I am in full agreement that helmet laws should be beside the point. Riding a bike is inherently more dangerous than driving, but we do it because it is also inherently much more fun and thrilling. Riding helmetless doesn’t ad anything to the experience, imo, other than make it harder to see any time you go over 35 mph and exposing you to horrific head injury any time you go down. The fact that bike advocacy groups expand so much time and energy protesting against helmet laws instead of making our little obsession more convenient and enjoyable is really aggravating. Well done Gabe.

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  41. Ruefus says:

    First – an Arai Astral saved my life. Not maybe, not kind of. Literally allowed me to live.

    Second – I would NEVER vote for a helmet law. You cannot legislate common sense. Riding with a helmet is common sense. If you want to ignore that, fine.

    A quote from Days of Thunder seems to apply:

    “If you two wanna turn yourselves into a greasy spot on a country road somewhere, go right ahead. I don’t give a shit and I don’t think anybody else does, regardless what they say to your face.”

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  42. Sidecar12 says:

    I’m 52 years old, have ridden since the age 4…two wheeled(and three wheeled counting the three sidecar rigs I’ve owned, raced motorcycles, taught RiderCourses for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, etc.etc…There is a time and a place for helmets…The point is I SHOULD DECIDE, NOT YOU or ANYONE ELSE…if you don’t understand that then why don’t try telling people what kind of bike they should ride, what football team they should root for, or what type of ice cream they should eat, or how to comb their hair, or maybe you think they should not have hair at all…I feel sorry for self rightous idiologs like you…Why don’t you just put on YOUR “freakin full-face helmet” and mind your own freakin business!

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  43. Nome says:

    “How do we keep “The Man” off our backs and get helmet laws repealed in 50 states? By getting helmet usage up to 80 percent or better so that the benefits of a law would disappear.”

    Well, that didn´t work in this country (Finland) where helmet usage was over 90% before (motorcycle) helmet law. I fact the argument most often heard from “road safety groups” and nanny politicians (the pro-helmet law people) for not installing a bicycle helmet law “yet” is that helmet usage is very low and would make enforcement impossible. So the aim for them is to get the number of helmet-clad cyclist up and then make “freedom of choise” illegal for the rest. I don’t think that politics and law enforcement work so differently in America.

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  44. Ninou says:

    This guy is a strong contender for the Darwin award. One less idiot in the gene pool.

    Great article.

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  45. Joey Wilson says:

    In a perfect world, riding bare-headed in shorts and Mikes on a beautiful warm day would be wonderful.

    However, in the world I do live in, my bare head will squish like a watermelon. The wind whipping over me is full of little pebbles and sand, any number of pesky or stinging insects, as well as the still-lit cigarette butt. That asphalt sandpaper will eat my bare hands or legs so fast you wouldn’t believe it at most any speed. There’s all kinds of vehicles around me full of texters. Lots of light poles, trees, curbs (that Gary Busey favorite !), dogs, thron bushes, you name it.

    So I’m an ATGATT guy. I’m not Ben Spies, I can’t ‘ride out’ of trouble. But just like racers in their full suits, I wear my gear, as I want to boost my odds any way I can. I don’t ride buzzed, I practice a lot, and my head’s always on a swivel. Just like a racer, I’ll take every advantage I can. And at the top of that list is a good helmet.

    Freedom includes being able to do dumb things as part of the proposition. I could easily shoot myself, but I don’t want gun control. I can understand how these guys feel this way, but there truly is no demonstrable advantage of not wearing a helmet, except possibly a closed-casket funeral.

    Be Careful Out There !

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  46. TRonymous says:

    Smoking kills several hundred thousand Americans each year; yet smoking remains legal.

    How many die from head injuries due to helmetless riding? Is the number 2,000? I would think it’s in that neighborhood as plenty of people die with their helmets on.

    But what about the “public cost” so often used to argue for mandatory helmet use, that we end up paying for their mistakes? I have no clue what that number is, but I am going to say with confidence that putting one helmetless corpse in a pine box is way, way cheaper than what may turn out to be years of chemotherapy, surgery and countless hospital says before a lung cancer victim dies.

    Yet, smoking is still legal. We don’t even need to get into the lives destroyed by booze, another legal and readily available drug.

    I ride because I enjoy it. Riding without a helmet, which I only rarely get to do, is a joyous thing. You should try it some time.

    PS I don’t own a Harley and have no desire to own one. The helmet law opposition has little to do with the “orthodoxy of the Harley-Davidson-oriented cruiser culture.” It certainly does have a lot to do with freedom of choice.

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  47. jason says:

    Not saying a helmet would not help save my life….sure it will. But if I’m with gonna get killed I could slip in the shower or any other million and one ways to die. I will be lidless whenever I ride simply because it’s my decision to do so. Nuff said.

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  48. E-Ticket says:

    A big + 2.

    You utterly nailed it, my friend. E-Ticket

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  49. paso100 says:

    To paraphrase your question, “Why do we even need … motorcycles?” And if, for instance, 81 percent of people believe motorcycles are inherently dangerous, shouldn’t that logically lead to an elimination of two-wheeled transport? I mean, the majority is right, right?
    To answer your question, we don’t need helmet laws, IMHO. Let’s face it, when you take the emotional impact of losing someone (the most important factor) due to an accident out of the equation, what everybody is REALLY concerned with is money, as in, “But I don’t want to pay for some idiot’s indiscretion.” Fine. I’d be more than happy to sign a waiver that keeps Joe Taxpayer from paying for my life support because I wasn’t wearing a helmet, IF the cager who hit me faces mandatory sentencing, that is.
    Remember, you can’t lose your rights if you freely give them away.

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    • Hermit says:

      Brilliant, Sir.
      I currently wear mine almost all the time, (full face) after years of going bare-headed. But, if we ban all activities which may be dangerous, we’ll all be left curled up in the fetal position in our padded bedrooms, cowering in fear.

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    • Gabe says:

      Your argument is the logical fallacy known as “The Slippery Slope.” The general public wants us to wear helmets and not bother them with our childish, self-indulgent unmuffled pipes. They don’t want to ban motorcycles.

      We freely give away plenty of rights so we can live in a dense, complex modern society. If you want to keep all your rights go live in a cave on a mountaintop in Tibet. Or you can just wear your helmet. Pick your battles.

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      • paso100 says:

        It’s been my experience that logic has nothing to do with legislation, especially when it comes to laws that “protect us.” Just look at the Patriot Act and its attendant anti-terrorism laws if you want to examine how the “general public” thinks and feels about giving away once cherished rights.

        When you freely, or rather ignorantly, give up rights that affect personal choice, your playing into the hands of people who want to make choices for you, and negating your own free will and responsibility.

        And I don’t equate living in a “dense, complex modern society” with a requirement to give up personal choice, as some politicians and corporations (and individuals with the best intentions) would have us believe. What is “free” about that?

        I also advocate riding with protective gear, as a personal choice that requires common sense, responsibility, consideration and free will. A law that mandates helmet use would negate that.

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      • Hermit says:

        “They don’t want to ban motorcycles.”
        Not yet……

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  50. kpaul says:

    Amen Gabe Amen! Well said!

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