Skip Wearing Your Motorcycle Helmet and Save Eight Lives

Think of it this way: wearing  your helmet might save your life, but going without one might make you a hero.

A recent study found that while states like Florida which repealed mandatory helmet laws did see a corresponding spike in fatalities, that state also saw a major increase in live-saving organ donations from people who died in traffic accidents.

For the most part, those victim-donor-heroes are adult males, and they make up the majority of motorcycle fatalities.

The documented risk of dying from a serious head wound while riding without a helmet is very, very high, and as much as we as ridrs are all sick of hearing it, riders are considered ideal organ donors. In general, they’re young, otherwise healthy and riding puts us at high risk of brain death from sudden trauma.

“We’re never willing to weigh the tradeoff between people who die riding a motorcycle and people who need an organ transplant,” said Stacy Dickert-Conlin, one of the study’s lead authors and an associate economics professor at Michigan State University. “The reality is that people who may never ride a bike might benefit.”

In the years following its repeal in 2000, Florida organ donations among fatal accident victims climb by nearly one  third from 99 in 1999 to 127 in 2002. In case you were wondering, those stats come courtesy of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

While the numbers aren’t all from motorcycle deaths, they do come from the age group which includes men between the ages of 18 and 49, and it’s that group which is most likely to die on a motorcycle.

“It stands to reason that if you do not wear a helmet, it is far more likely that you will suffer a serious or catastrophic brain injury that would make you a candidate for organ donation,” said Brian Carpenter, a rider and helmet-use supporter. “I think being an organ donor is a great idea and I would be honored to allow someone else to live or have a better quality of life when I am done using my organs.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the post-helmet law rise in organ donations correlates to a time when fatal motorcycle accidents nearly doubled, from 515 bikers killed between 1997 and 1999 to 933 between 2000 and 2002, and government officials assert that the increase came as helmet use plummeted – by half.  To put the numbers in perspective, motorcyclist registrations grew by just 42 percent over that period of time.

Yet another interesting tidbit; as motorcycle fatalities dropped across Florida between 2008 and 2010, so did organ donations resulting from deadly traffic accidents.

“The accident at 70 mph is probably going to kill you – with or without a helmet,” Carpenter says. “It’s the accident at 30 mph where a helmet can make a difference.”

Carpenter knows his support of helmet laws puts him in the minority in Florida. An active lobby of riders who argued that helmets should be a matter of choice and not a government mandate helped do away with the state’s mandatory helmet law a dozen years ago, and a similar effort recently did the same in Michigan.

And the debate goes on as motorcycle fatalities in Florida are on the rise.

A Governors Highway Safety Association report released in May says that, as overall traffic deaths fell across the nation last year, fatal motorcycle accidents continued to climb based on a preliminary study of the first nine months of 2011.

Members of ABATE, a biker lobbying group which has spearheaded helmet law repeals across the country, counter with their feeling that the government’s fatality studies are biased and call them “an organized effort by the many who don’t ride motorcycles to push a helmet-use agenda on the relative few who do.”

Either way, it’s good to know that, should the worst happen, I signed the card myself. I hope, like Brian Carpenter, that if it all goes wrong while I’m out riding, someone will benefit from my misfortune.

It’s not the proper material for easy jokes, and non-riders might consider that before they go with the standard “organ-donor” comment when it comes to discussing those of us who love to ride.

We can be heroes, and it’s a sorry fool who thinks that’s a laughing matter…


You may also like...