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Helmet issue back on agenda

March 17, 2009

Helmet issue back on agenda
Meghan Malloy Kennebec

Amid the dress suits and skirts that are typical of Statehouse attire,
Sonny Bridges and Michael Hodnett probably looked a little out of place.
The men were among the 20 or 30 riders at the Statehouse decked out in
motorcycle riding gear — leather jackets with riding insignia patches
sewn on and looks that conveyed no nonsense.

The group, members of the United Bikers of Maine and Maine Motorcycle
Political Action Committee, attended Thursday’s public hearing on two
bills regarding motorcycle helmet safety.

The bills are: L.D. 453, “An Act to Require Motorcyclists to Wear
Helmets” and L.D. 437, “An Act To Require a Person under 18 Years of Age
To Wear a Helmet While on a Motorcycle” (current law mandates riders
under 14 wear a helmet).

How did the bikers feel about these proposals? We’ll let them speak for
themselves:

From Michael Hodnett, president of the United Bikers of Maine: “This
requirement for us to wear helmets concentrates on the wrong side of the
accident. If you want to wear a helmet, by all means, do it. If you
don’t, then don’t.”

From Eric Fuller of the Maine Motorcycle Political Action Committee: “To
me, this bill smacks of governmental paternalism, and when governmental
paternalism raises its ugly head, somebody usually loses some more of
one of this great country’s main building blocks — freedom.”

A third bill, proposed by Rep. Patsy Crockett, D-Augusta, would require
signs be posted to warn motorcyclists about rumble strips. That proposal
received bikers’ approval.

Back to the helmets.

The general stance of the United Bikers of Maine is to “let those who
ride decide.” The Kennebec Commuter agrees with them.

We brought up motorcycle helmet safety last summer, and got an earful.
While we personally think wearing a helmet is common sense, the choice
needs to be left to the rider.

Most veteran riders the Kennebec Commuter has spoken to are opposed to
mandatory helmet laws because they say helmets reduce visibility while
riding (something the federal government disputes), and the proposals
themselves take away the choice itself to wear a helmet.

“United Bikers of Maine are always opposed to helmet laws,” Hodnett, a
rider of 25 years, said. “We would never tell someone to not wear a
helmet, but it’s a freedom of choice.”

Many riders say the problem is not the lack of a helmet, but rather the
behavior of other drivers on the road. In fact, Fuller stood before the
Transportation Committee only a month ago supporting a bill that would
crack down on distracted motor vehicle drivers.

How effective are helmets? Last year, the National Highway
Transportation Safety Administration released a national and
state-by-state report of the number of motorcycle deaths in 2007 and how
many of the victims were wearing helmets. Of all 4,833 motorcycle
fatalities in 2007, 59 percent of those killed were wearing a helmet at
the time of their death.

On the flip side of the coin, helmets also reduce the likelihood of
dying in a motorcycle accident by 37 percent. Also, NHTSA reported,
wearing a helmet is 67 percent effective in preventing brain injuries.

So sure, wearing a helmet is common sense in logic, but let’s get
serious. The grim reality is, if a vehicle going 60 miles per hour hits
you on your motorcycle, no helmet — or nothing, short of a miracle —
is going save your life.

“I would never promote riding a motorcycle as being totally safe, but
nothing is totally safe,” Hodnett said. “It’s the same with riding in a
car or walking down the street.”

Work sessions to further examine testimony and deliberate L.D. 437 will
be held Wednesday. L.D. 453 will follow on Thursday.

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