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South Dakota motorcycle helmet use at 34 percent

October 22, 2009

South Dakota motorcycle helmet use at 34 percent

The first state survey on helmet use by motorcycle riders falls in line with what biker Jiggs Cressy expected: About two-thirds of riders who have a choice don’t don the headgear. 

And if they’re adults, they don’t have to.

For Cressy, the state coordinator of ABATE South Dakota, it’s a matter of personal choice and safety.

“I like the freedom of not having to wear one all the time. Sometimes the full-face helmet can obstruct your peripheral view and sometimes you can’t hear the traffic next to you,” said Cressy, of Rapid City. “On a motorcycle it’s always nice to be able to know where the traffic is, because they don’t always see you.”

The state Office of Highway Safety asked for helmet figures as part of its annual check of seat belt use, although rainy weather during the survey period might have reduced the number of motorcycles on the road, said James Carpenter, director of the office.

“We really didn’t have any information that was other than anecdotal and we just wanted to see what was there,” he said.

A mandatory helmet law for all motorcycle riders was repealed in July 1977. State law requires a helmet for riders ages 17 and under.

Helmet use among all riders in the June survey was estimated at 35.4 percent. For riders thought to be 18 or older, helmet use was 34.4 percent.

The survey doesn’t signal any attempt to reinstate the mandatory helmet law, Carpenter said.

The lack of a helmet law is an attractive element for hundreds of thousands of bikers who visit the Black Hills each August for the Sturgis motorcycle rally.

“There’s always a risk of it (coming back) and that’s one of the reasons we remain diligent about it,” Cressy said. “But I think the rally probably helps a lot because of the income, the tax revenue that comes in on that.”

“We’re not against helmets,” Cressy said of ABATE (A Brotherhood for Awareness, Training & Education). “We’re against mandates to make us wear helmets.”

Fifteen people died in motorcycle accidents in the state in 2008, the lowest one-year total since 10 in 1999, according to the state Office of Accident Records.

South Dakota had 58,508 registered motorcycles and a record 73,500 licensed motorcycle drivers last year.

The South Dakota Safety Council offers driving courses for beginning and experienced riders under a contract with the state Department of Public Safety.

Enrollment this year hasn’t been tabulated yet, but the courses drew 2,252 riders in 2008, said Rick Kiley, the education program’s director.

“It’s grown by double digits every year,” he said. “I think it matches the increase in the number of motorcycles.”

The state this summer began a safe-driving campaign targeting motorcycle riders.

“It becomes important that we do an educational component, that they take rider education courses and protect themselves just like we ask people to wear a seat belt,” Carpenter said.

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