Cyclists (still) need helmets

Warmer weather typically brings out motorcyclists, and this year is no exception.

Adults of all ages embrace that mode of travel and share the roads with vehicle drivers. And while we encourage every rider and driver to be careful, we also recommend motorcyclists put on a helmet.

Since Pennsylvania lawmakers decided in 2003 to give motorcyclists the choice of wearing a helmet or not, the number of deaths in motorcycle crashes has increased by 35 percent.

PennDOT reports that 210 people died in motorcycle crashes in 2012, about half of whom were riding without helmets.

So far this spring, six motorcyclists have died on western Pennsylvania roads. Of the six, at least one was not wearing a helmet, police reports indicate.

While we admit that wearing a helmet offers no guarantee that a motorcyclist will avoid serious injury or death in a crash, the practice is recognized as offering some protection.

The practice of riding without a helmet, meanwhile, increases the chance of death or a catastrophic head or neck injury, according to Dr. David Okonkwo, clinical director of UPMC Presbyterian’s Brain Trauma Research Center.

Despite the 35 percent increase in deaths, Sen. John Wozniak, D-Johnstown, who introduced the legislation to repeal the state’s helmet law, said he sees no movement toward reinstating the restriction.

“It was a 15-year battle to let those that ride decide,” Wozniak said. “It would be just as agonizing to reverse it. I don’t think the trend is there.”

Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, who has tried annually to reinstate the helmet requirement law, believes it’s time for a comprehensive study of the issue.

“The public needs to have a clear view of this, as do motorcycle riders,” Frankel said. “It’s not just the rider’s business. The rest of us suffer direct consequences from someone’s reckless and irresponsible behavior. Your personal choice is impacting my health care costs, my insurance premiums and my tax dollars.”

While such a study can explore those kind of factors, it also needs to include some first-hand accounts of the people who mourn and care for family members and friends permitted to throw caution to the wind in favor of riding without a helmet.

Their stories won’t be revealed through any statistics. But they might be effective in helping restore our state’s helmet law.