Motorcycle Helmets at Center of Oregon Motorbike Safety Debate

A recent article in The Oregonian offered the following somewhat surprising revelation: despite deaths from motorcycle crashes having “more than doubled since the mid-1990s” several major motorcycle-focused lobbying groups are advocating for fewer regulations and less enforcement concerning helmets.

The paper writes that lobbyists and their congressional allies want the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to be “blocked from providing any more grants to states to conduct highway stops of motorcyclists to check for safety violations such as the wearing of helmets that don’t meet federal standards.”
Even more shockingly, “the rider groups are seeking to preserve what essentially is a gag rule that since 1998 has prevented the agency from advocating safety measures at the state and local levels, including helmet laws.” The article notes that the gag rule is supported both by grassroots-based riders groups and by lobbyists working for motorcycle makers. It is surprising to learn that just 19 states require all motorcycle riders to wear helmets – though also a relief to find that Oregon is one of them. Even more surprising, however, is the revelation that state legislatures have been rolling back helmet laws for years. The article notes that in the late 70s all but three states required everyone on a motorcycle to be wearing a helmet.

This explains the desire of the riders groups and lobbyists to keep federal regulation light and the ‘gag rule’ in place: national legislation would undo years of lobbying state legislatures to allow helmet-free motorcycling. One has to wonder, however, is this is a case of ideological libertarianism getting in the way of common sense?

Most Portland motorcycle crash lawyers would agree that helmets are essential safety tools, and that wearing them makes the roads safer for everyone. It is unfortunate that anyone would try to weaken the safety laws or the regulations needed to enforce them. Helmets provide a degree of psychological reassurance to riders. They also, however, keep medical and liability insurance costs down not only for their users but for society at large. Taking the long view, the example that wearing a helmet sets for younger riders and would-be riders can’t be quantified but is surely real.

Oregon motorcycle crashes can lead to traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries. Road safety is not just about oneself. It also concerns the people, vehicles pedestrians and bicyclists around us. Viewed in a wider perspective, wearing a helmet is not just about protecting yourself from a Portland brain injury, it is about keeping everyone else on the road, along with yourself, as safe as possible.

The Oregonian: Motorcycle helmets opposed, despite deaths