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Opinion: Motorcycle helmet proponents ignore facts



By Don Gustavson

There has been passionate discussion concerning Nevada’s mandate that all motorcyclists must wear a helmet. At one time this was a federal mandate, but when the feds removed their mandate, most states eventually became “choice” states. Nevada has yet to catch up, because opponents argue that we need this law to protect ourselves.

Opponents who want to continue forcing this law will only cite statistics that make their charts look good, but their claims that helmet mandates are advantageous are easily disproved. One opponent submitted claims listing higher costs for UMC trauma patients during 2010 when a helmet was not worn. When I requested UMC’s stats for 2009, the results were the opposite.

Opponents ignore other facts, such as the higher incidence of spinal injuries that are reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) when helmets are worn. Could this be because of the force incurred on the stem of your neck when wearing what basically becomes a weighted “mill stone” during impact?

Furthermore, these “experts” refuse to inform us how many injuries and fatalities could have been avoided if helmets were a choice rather than a mandate — try wearing a helmet as you go about your daily duties and see how well you function while your peripheral vision and hearing are obstructed. Now wear that same helmet when the thermometer in Las Vegas reaches 100 degrees!

These helmets can affect the ability to function normally, increasing the likeliness of becoming the victim of an accident that could have been avoided. Maybe this is why motorcycle fatalities had dropped in Arizona even as registrations increased after repeal of their helmet mandate, as reported by the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.

This notion that motorcyclists create a “social burden” is a myth. Clark County commissioner Lawrence Weekly, serving as chairman of the UMC board of hospital trustees, reported “The cost to our taxpayers is astronomical. . . we might have to close our doors.”[2] It might surprise you to learn that the commissioner was not referring to motorcyclists, he was referring to the two-million dollars in unpaid cost each month that UMC was incurring just to provide kidney dialysis for illegal immigrants.

The point I make is that there are larger burdens being borne by taxpayers in this country that are being ignored by our policy-makers, and I find it disingenuous that opponents of choice would rather campaign on specious arguments to force helmet-wearing on our own citizens while ignoring real social burdens that are bankrupting the taxpayers.

If the objective of Carson City Lawmakers is the prevention of injuries and fatalities, then they’ve failed to be effective in that goal; the Brain Injury Association of America, the country’s oldest and largest nationwide brain injury advocacy organization, reports that an estimated 1.7 million Americans in the U.S. sustain a traumatic brain injury each year.

BIAA also reports that motorcyclists are the smallest fraction of transportation-related TBI. Pedestrians scored higher, and the biggest blame went to the occupants of enclosed motor vehicles. Mandated helmet laws for those who walk or travel in cars? I dare any legislator to crusade on that proposal!

Don Gustavson is a Nevada state senator representing District 2 in Northern Nevada and the author of Senate Bill 177 to make Nevada a helmet-choice state.

[1] http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2011/apr/29/common-sense-law/

[2] http://www.lvrj.com/news/more-illegal-immigrants-getting-emergency-treatment-at-umc-82579442.html

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