This is my long-winded position on helmets. After this, the subject will be laid to rest on this site.
Fred Rau, the legendary, well-respected moto-journalist recently wrote a not too convincing article on helmets. Specifically, he wrote about his support of one’s right to wear or not wear a helmet. Rau said all the right things and was sufficiently balanced to not make most people upset with his position. In a nutshell, Rau believes in freedom, that is, the right for motorcyclists to choose protective head gear or not. Interestingly, after all his pontification about accidents, bad drivers, individual rights and freedom, he comes to the conclusion that he always wears a helmet. To me it is the only conclusion a clear thinking person could make.
I keep running into people who try to engage me in conversations about helmets and freedom. The two (helmets and freedom, that is) in the same breath really ticks me off. With nostrils aflare, they tell me how the government is encroaching on “our rights;” how motorcycle helmets do not “prevent” accidents; how a motorcycle helmet in the event of an accident can make you vulnerable to serious neck injuries; and, how, if it's “my time,” it’s “my time,” yada, yada, yada.
Frankly, I’m weary of this! So tired that I just want to upchuck when the conversation is broached. I’ve met way too many anti-helmet riders trying to convince me of the lucidity their position. Out of respect, I listen. That’s not always reciprocal however. Thus, my listening days are over. I’m saying this now: Do not talk to me about freedom and helmets in the same breath! I will no longer listen to a person on the verge of an aneursym, shrieking and screaming about a conspiracy of eroding personal freedoms and how we’d better all stand up to protect our individual’s rights (of which the right not to wear a helmet and face possible brain damage as a result of an accident, is high on their list).
Talking to me about helmets+freedom gives me the same feeeling I get in my gut when folks wax nostalgic about “the good old days” and a desire to return to a simplier time, when life was easier, the pace slower and people were kinder. While there are microscopic elements I’d like to preserve from the past, for the most part the best thing about the good old days is THAT THEY ARE GOOD AND GONE! Too many people talk like the past was some universally agreed upon idyllic, good time. It is a myth just how good these time were for anyone-- particularly for a whole bunch of people who were excluded by law, who were formerally and informally prevented from the most basic of freedoms other groups (even foreigners) could take for granted. The only freedom most folks who looked like me had was the freedom to live under an apartheid like system or die early to escape its chains. Yes, I’m being dramatic, but this is exactly how I feel on this subject.
Where was the moral outrage from the ancestors of these freedom-loving folks about the lack of freedom a whole bunch of people suffered under the Stars and Stripes? Where is their outrage today? It’s good I was born when I was because had I been born pre-Civil Rights and in the South, I’d be one dead woman. I’d either starve to death (because I’d never work as someone’s domestic help) or be lynched—oh yes, women were lynched too (because I would not take orders from anyone or kowtow to them either. And sit on the back of a bus? Never! On general principle I won’t even do that today! And slavery? I wouldn’t have lasted. I’d be one of those women whipped and beaten until dead because I would do everything to thwart that system and to hurry my demise from that cruel, peculiar institution. Thank goodness not everyone back then felt as I can only imagine I would.
I think seat belts are a good thing. Regardless of the nation’s law, I’d feel that way. I snapped up pre-law because the idea of becoming a human projectile in an accident just didn’t sit well with me. Yes, I’ve heard of people sustaining injuries caused by wearing a seat belt or being imprisoned in their car by a jammed belt after an accident. But I’ve heard far more tales of seat belts lessening the severity of injuries sustained in an accident. It makes sense to wear them.
I feel similarily about helmets. I wear a helmet for bicycling, rollerblading, and motorcycling. I have a considerable amount invested in my brain (I realize that some others might not and that might influence their decision to not wear a helmet). On a two-wheeled vehicle, I do not trust “cagers” to see me, share the road, or to drive with a higher consciousness of the presence of motorcycles. In fact, much of the tirade I hear from motorcyclists pertains to how atrocious are the skills of the average car driver, how utterly stupid many drivers are when it comes to abiding by the rules of the road—not to imply that most even understand the rules. Most motorcyclists I know and have heard on the subject would never put their safety in the hands of a “cagers” – motorcyclists learn not to trust anyone on four wheels. Period. For those reasons alone, why wouldn’t one want to don a helmet at all times? A ‘cyclist might be the most skilled, safest rider on the road, but there exists those horrifyingly awful cagers out there. As long as they drive the roads, seems to me that everyone who rides a motorcycle might want to do all that is necessary to protect his or her brain and body as much as possible from that which s/he cannot control. When I mentioned this, one person said, “Yeah, but a helmet won’t protect me from road rash.” Uh, yeah! And your point is? Bottom line: if you want to use your body to make a political statement, to go without a helmet on priniciple-- even if it means putting your self at risk and contradicting your views on trusting cages, then go right ahead. People should have the right to make their own decision about personal safety.
Still, when people rail on about helmets and freedom to me, I can’t help but laugh a little on the inside. Why all the blather? To me, the argument is not about government and freedom as much as it is about me taking as much responsibility as I can to protect myself to whatever extent my helmet permits. I think it’s entertaining that people, to prove a point, will wear the little German beanie helmets to circumvent the helmet laws. Just don’t waste your time trying to convince me that I too should think like you. Go helmetless. But leave me alone. And prepare yourself for being denied additional medical treatment when your insurance coverage runs out yet your catastrophic injuries require extended medical care. If you are mowed down by one of those careless cagers and you suffer brain injury, your complains could fall on deaf ears. Still, you should have the freedom to put yourself at maximal risk.
I just wish some of that freedom-loving talk extended beyond helmets and included a similar outrage about some real erosions of freedom, such as the inequities in public schools, communities devoid of public libraries, housing and job discrimination of all kinds, and what about how a so-called “family-values” society refuses to pass universal health care legislation for every child! We will fight to the death to bring democracy somewhere else but won’t execute it to the fullest on this soil, and on and on and on. Where is the same moral outrage from the freedom-loving folks.
Few will dispute that we need better rider and driver education and that we need more thoughtful, informed legislation on a host of issues. I, for one, will always wear a helmet. Always! Yes, I might still die in a motorcycle accident, but with one on my head (not strapped to the back of my bike—I really don’t get that?) my chances are very good for surviving both a non-life and life-threatening accident. The individual I had my recent conversation with will never read this blog response but I’ve gotten it off my chest. I hope he never goes down and is forced to put his brain where his principles are.
(All The Gear, All The Time)