Video: PBS NewsHour on Helmet Laws and Motorcycle Deaths

In a recent episode of PBS’s NewsHour, Rick Schmitt of comes on to discuss a recent CDC study regarding the correlation between motorcycle deaths and helmet use. More specifically, to point out that while both car and motorcycle use have both gone up, automobile fatalities have dropped sharply, while motorcycle (and ostensibly, by extension, scooter) fatalities have more than doubled. The study draws a correlation between the sharp uptick in motorcyclist fatalities and an ever shrinking patchwork of mandatory helmet use laws.

This is an old topic in the world of scooters. On the one side, there are those who decry the “nanny state” and feel protective of their right not to protect themselves if they want. “It’s my life” being the common refrain. On the other hand, as Schmitt points out, there are significant social costs and impacts when any of us are killed on the roadway, and helmet use is, as he puts it, “as close to a magic bullet as we have for reducing motorcycle fatalities.” The discussion in the video, is a particularly refreshing exploration of the subject. There’s none of the normal, 24-hour news cycle vilification, and the entire subject is laid out (if only in brief) in all its complexity. I for one, really appreciated the complete picture drawn in this discussion.

I think that acknowledging that complexity is key to this issue. It’s a paradox of sorts because if people made better choices in expressing their liberty to wear a helmet (or not), then there’d be no need for helmet laws. Where is that tipping point where enough people make poor choices and therefore seem to actually need a “nanny state?”

That question makes me think about drunk driving. If people simply had the good sense not to drink and drive, (or not to text and drive) then there wouldn’t have to be laws regarding those behaviors. Yet we have to make drunk driving illegal, otherwise a lot more people drive drunk and pose a hazard to everyone out on the road. This, of course, brings us back to those social costs and impacts again. However, as soon as one makes that comparison, one has to also acknowledge that drunk driving still happens despite its illegality. So we’re back to that tipping point again. At what point is “less” good enough to make something illegal?

This question of greater good vs. a libertarian ideal is one at the center of a lot of debates in American culture right now. Gun control, abortion, access to affordable health care, and even aspects of the same-sex marriage debate are asking forms of this same question. I’m not going to go down any of those politically charged rabbit holes, but like helmet use, the complexity comes in that tipping point between personal liberty and where that liberty intersects with the rights and burdens of others. I for one don’t have a good answer for where that tipping point really lies when it comes to helmet laws.

What I do have, however, is a definite point of view regarding helmet use. Whether the law requires me to wear a helmet or not, I’m going to wear one. Riding a scooter is dangerous enough, and as studies like this one point out over and over again, wearing a helmet maximizes my chances of avoiding injury or death should I get into a scrape on my scooter. Without a helmet I’m five times more likely to be killed riding on two wheels without a helmet than with one on. It’s pretty much a “duh” from my point of view.

But that’s me. How about you? Where do you stand on helmet laws and helmet use? Make the case for your bare head in the comments below.

You can read more of Mr. Schmitt’s thoughts on the correlation between motorcycle deaths and helmet use over on

Source: PBS
Via: Hell for Leather

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  • T. James Belich

    Nathaniel, I agree with you completely. If we can require seat belt use we can require helmet use. Not to mention riding without a helmet has got to be much more dangerous than not wearing a seat belt.

  • Kmoto312

    Wearing a helmet, like some other subjects, is somewhat a cultural phenomena. Way back in the 60’s top racers both in Europe and the U.S. did not wear seat belts. Many died on controlled courses with professional drivers. Motorcycle racers wore little more than a leather cap, with the same results.
    Over time pro’s started belting in and wearing helmets so did other motoring fans. However, the general public pays little attention to what the pros do.
    Motorcycles have a great history of risk taking and it attracted many WWII Vets who where seeking the thrill and excitement they might have experienced in the war.
    The roll of the rebel biker is long gone but, some feel Motorcycles represents freedom. Freedom to due what you want when you want but, with more vehicles on the road and more people driving in general not wearing a helmet on the open road is just unsafe.