Motorcycle helmets: Life savers or just brain buckets?

Concrete and brain matter don’t mix. The result would be akin to hurling a raw egg at a cinderblock or dropping a cantaloupe from the Eiffel Tower.

Photo Ryn Gargulinski

Photo Ryn Gargulinski

But such fine images are not enough to deter one of my friends, a guy who insists on finding out about the brain matter theory firsthand.

He recently got a new motorcycle and refuses to wear a helmet.

Surely he must be one of those guys who are much “too cool” to wear a helmet, I thought. Kind of like those dudes who are too cool to wear sunblock or spay their dogs.

Since I love arguing with this guy, I armed myself with info for him. Like the fact that motorcycle fatalities were increasing – while all other traffic fatalities were going down – in states that loosened their helmet laws, according to a story in USA Today.

Motorcycle helmet laws starting getting laxer around 1995, the report noted, once the federal government stopped its game of only giving highway funds to states with helmet laws.

Photo Ryn Gargulinski

Photo Ryn Gargulinski

Yet my pal, who calls helmets “brain buckets,” would have none of it. His reason for not wearing a helmet is he’d rather be dead than permanently injured or paralyzed. “Helmets don’t save lives – just bodies,” he said.

He then sent a lengthy e-mail that doubled as a physics lesson explaining his reasoning.

To summarize, he said when a motorcyclist crashes, the rider is sent at “impact velocity” towards whatever he crashed into and his head goes in all kinds of weird directions. This puts undue stress on the cervical vertebrae, which often cannot handle it, and thus the neck snaps like a chopstick and the spinal cord is severed. Permanent paralysis.

He added a helmet just adds to the weight of the head’s weird directions, making a chopstick neck snap even more likely.

Photo Ryn Gargulinski

Photo Ryn Gargulinski

He closed the e-mail by reminding me he had three fused vertebrae from a long-ago mishap (not motorcycle related). He also told me to “look at the disproportionate amount of bike riders who are paralyzed from bike incidents while wearing their helmets.”

So I Googled “Guys too cool to wear helmets” and “Snapped chopstick neck” but didn’t get much in the way of usable data. Then I found some ranting and raving against helmet laws on the Easy Rider website.

Photo Ryn Gargulinski

Photo Ryn Gargulinski

The author first notes a statistic offered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration then blasts it to Timbuktu.

Fact #16: Reported helmet use rates for fatally injured motorcyclists in 1995 were 55 percent and 42 percent for passengers, compared with 54 percent and 49 percent, respectively in 1994.

So…. over 50 percent of fatally injured motorcyclists were wearing helmets and still died! That doesn’t sound like a very laudable statistic to me. And once again, what were the circumstances of the remaining less than 50 percent motorcyclist fatalities? What makes NHTSA think that wearing a helmet would have saved even one of those lives? Additionally, NHTSA does not say how many helmeted riders wound up in wheelchairs after their accident because of a broken neck that the helmet caused.

…. I wonder what their estimate is for the number of motorcyclists who were killed or paralyzed as a result of wearing a helmet! Where’s those numbers, Bunky?

I wonder if my friend runs the site.

Photo Ryn Gargulinski

Photo Ryn Gargulinski

Still, only two states lack any type of helmet law – Illinois and Iowa, according to Bikers Rights.

Arizona requires helmets for anyone under age 18 and joins 26 other states with age requirements for helmets. Twenty states make helmets mandatory for all ages. The state of Florida not only requires a helmet, but also requires all motorcyclists have medical insurance.

Making medical insurance mandatory to even ride a motorcycle doesn’t give off a very hopeful vibe.

And none of it still answers the question about helmets saving lives but leaving a rider severely and permanently injured.

I’ll have to stick with my belief that wearing a helmet while fully exposed on a two-wheeled machine zooming through traffic just seems like common sense.

Besides, if I change my stance I’ll have to admit my friend may be right – an admission that is uglier, even, than a cantaloupe splat from the Eiffel Tower.

[tnipoll]

__

Ryn Gargulinski is a poet, artist, performer and TucsonCitizen.com Ryngmaster who will be wearing a helmet – preferably one with a giant spike – when she motorcycles with her friend. Her column appears every Friday on Rynski’s Blogski. Her art, writing and more is at RynRules.com and Rynski.Etsy.com. E-mail rynski@tucsoncitizen.com.

Photo Ryn Gargulinski

Photo Ryn Gargulinski

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What do you think?

Have you heard of helmets being detrimental?

Do you/would you wear one riding a motorcycle? Why or why not?

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About Rynski

Writer, artist, performer who specializes in the weird, wacky and sometimes creepy. Learn more at ryngargulinski.com.
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33 Responses to Motorcycle helmets: Life savers or just brain buckets?

  1. Ferraribubba says:

    Hey Rynski: Talking to me about wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle is like preaching to the choir. My first son, Willi Dieter was killed on Christmas morning, 1986 while riding his street bike without wearing his Bell Star helmet.
    It appeared that someone pinched him into a parked car, and he died of a skull fracture after flying over the trunk of the car and striking his head on the pavement.
    The doctor said that he probably would have gotten away with a simple fracture of his right leg if he had been wearing his helmet.
    Enough said. Yer pal, Ferrari Bubba

    • Rynski says:

      awww, so, so sorry to hear it, ferraribubba.
      how sad. i don’t know what else to say except perhaps his story can help others. it is doubly horrendous that many motorcycle crashes, or at least many of the ones i read about, end up being another driver’s fault, rather than the motorcyclist’s. condolences.

  2. leftfield says:

    People who refuse to wear motorcycle helmets, just like people who refuse to spay or neuter their pets, tend to support their behavior with superficial and ostensibly rational reasons why they believe as they do.  Their real reasons, though, are anything but rational.

    • Rynski says:

      yeah, i noted the reasoning i heard, from both friend and easy rider site, was also very adamant and unsupported by their own statistics, even though they insist those statistics would reflect their POV.
      rationalizing any behavior can be sooo easy – with folks sometimes even fooling themselves into their own faux rationalizations (i know because i sometimes do it – hahah. i MUST get a new pair of shoes, it’s spring, after all….)

  3. L. Medina says:

    We just went to a rosary for a dear friend who died after losing control of his bike near Old Tucson 2 weeks ago. He was to be married May 8th to his long time fiance. He died in her arms on the roadway. If only he had the sense to wear a helmet, we would be celebrating a marriage instead of mourning a loss.

    • Rynski says:

      another sad story, l. medina, that i am so, so sad to hear.
      sigh. these tragedies are awful. thank you for sharing the story and please accept my condolences to you, the fiance and all family and friends.
       

  4. rickt says:

    I was in an accident with a car a little over 2 weeks ago. I was not wearing  a helmet.  I was flying through the air and landed on my right hand and broke it. My right hand was covering my head. I have never worn a helmet. I have decided to start wearing a helmet in town at least. Apparently some people in this town don`t respect motorcycles driving on the same road. I don`t want to leave my wife and family with my death.

    • Rynski says:

      eek! sorry to hear about the accident, rickt – but glad it remained a “close call” and nothing worse. hope your hand  is healing A-OK.
      also agree with wearing a helmet ESP around town and in places with lots of cars. even if the motorcyclist is an excellent and safe rider, there is no telling what other drivers are going to do – or if they even SEE a motorcycle coming.

  5. Art Jacobson says:

    Ryn…
    I’ve been a motorcycle rider for fifty years and still ride every day, rain (what’s that?) or shine. I can’t imagine riding without a helmet. In cold weather they keep you warm, and in hot weather they keep you cool.
     
    And no matter how yummy, the “bugs on the teeth” thing doesn’t appeal to me at all.

    • Rynski says:

      ‘bugs in the teeth’! hahahah –
      glad to hear you embrace the helmet, art. interesting to hear they do keep your head cool in hot weather. i would have guessed it would be oven-like. stay safe and thanks for input!
       

  6. Dr. D says:

    I own a cruiser and a sport bike. Isn’t it funny that the cruiser community is “too cool” for helmets, while most sport biker riders wear helmets? I used to ride with a local motorcycle club and have seen what unhelmeted crashes can do. I have lost a few friends from them. I don’t ride much anymore, but when I do, it is always with a full face helmet. I have seen faces ripped off by the asphalt and I don’t want to put my wife through that kind of agony (even though some say it would be an improvement in my case, LOL). I can replace a helmet, body parts are hard to come by.

    • Rynski says:

      ouch! on the face-ripping, Dr. D. glad you’ve not experienced it.
      sorry to hear you did experience losing some friends.
      VERY good point about easily replacing a helmet but body parts hard to come by.
      i DID note sport bikers tend to wear helmets, but didn’t note avoidance of helmets in cruiser community.

  7. bpa says:

    Ditto bicycle helmets!  One husband and two close friends’ lives most definitely saved by their bike helmets – my hubby labels those without helmets, be they bicycle or motorcycle, “organ donors & statistics.”   He doesn’t like bugs in his teeth either 😉

    • Rynski says:

      hiya bpa –
      your husband’s term for non-helmeted riders is perhaps toooo accurate. glad to hear he wears a helmet on a bicycle, too – i also agree with that one.
      down with these bugs in the teeth! (or eyeball – that hurts!)

  8. azmouse says:

    I have allot of friends that ride motorcycles. I would say most want the option to wear or not to wear. Most wear helmets when riding through town or on the freeway.

    • Rynski says:

      yes, i, too, noticed some want the option of wearing a helmet or not – even if they end up wearing one. guess that’s OK – except when you happen to like your friend who refuses to wear one.
      for some it may fall into the ‘too cool’ category – like helmet laws are ‘telling them what to do’ – defeats the whole romantic notion of the rebellious biker if he’s got a law telling him he has to wear a helmet, no?
       
       

  9. GT says:

    I have been riding for more than 45 years. I agree with helmet safety but,,,,, I believe in freedom of choice. My 17 year old daughter was killed with head injuries while riding in a convertable and wearing a seatbelt. Shall we make a law to wear helmets in all open top cars? I think the helmet law in AZ is a good one for young and beginner riders.  Then choice takes over. My head–my choice. No more laws!!

    • Rynski says:

      GT – soooo sad to hear your story, too. condolences.
      good question about helmet laws in open top cars. wow – i see your point about the importance of choice. as with any law/regulations – it can go too far.
      thanks – you’ve given new insight.

  10. Tucson Rat says:

    I’ve known a couple people who started wearing helmets after losing their hearts to others. Seems like they were inspired to think about something other than their own lives. Maybe the same will be true of your friend.

    • Rynski says:

      we can only hope, tucson rat –
      but doesn’t seem likely, esp. after that physics lesson e-mail explanation and knowing how stubborn this chap is.
      glad some people you know changed their minds – thanks for input.

  11. David says:

    I’ve been riding for 33 years now and have worn a helmet almost every time i’ve ridden. The few exceptions have always left me with a reminder of why i’m supposed to wear one, while not having been in any accidents the things encountered in the air itself are sufficient to do your face and head damage. On more than one occasion i have been assaulted with assorted bugs, rocks, and the occasional swarm of bees, not fun. Having said that, there is nothing like the wind in your face and through your hair while traveling down the road. It may not be the safest way to ride but I can understand the reasoning. There is a slogan that goes ” Let Those Who Ride Decide” that all bikers have taken as their creed. In reality we’re only here for a short time and some people want to get as much out of that time as possible. I wear a helmet most of the time probably because I grew up riding that way, but on those rare occasions when i don’t wear one it is a totally different experience. Try it sometime and then decide how you feel. David  

    • Rynski says:

      hey david,
      thanks for sharing both helmet and non-helmet side…i recall another one of my friends explaining the thrill of the wind in his hair and the total absolute FREEDOM. that friend, however, lives in michigan where helmets are mandatory for all ages.
      thanks also for your vote on letting the rider make the decision – but the rocks, bees and more teeth bugs alone are three good pro-helmet arguments!

  12. Entropy says:

    Been riding for 15 years. Had ONE accident (my fault involving a curb). ANyway, I was wearing a full face helmet. The brunt of the impact was MY head. The impact was so hard, that I got a bruise THROUGH my helmet as my face skid about 3 feet before I stopped, my right leg pinned under the bike. I was only going about 15mph.
     
    I picked myself up, dusted myself off, picked up the bike, started it and rode home. No real damage other than some new scuff marks on my bike and a damaged ego.
     
    Still, it got me thinking, if I had NOT wore my helmet, my face and good looks would have been crushed.
     
    At high speeds, survivability with helmets do go down, but MOST accidents happen at low speed. And MOST accidents happen to invovle JUST the rider (road hazards, parked cars, unable to control the bike or not having enough skill, and… well curbs).
     
    At lower speeds, wearing a helmet can mean, picking yourself up and riding home after a crash. Without it… good chances are you will have a hefty medical bill later.

    • Rynski says:

      wow, entropy –
      a bruise through the helmet sounds like quite an impact, not to mention the face-scraping. ouch.
      thanks for additional info about low-speed crashes. also good for you on awesome cycling record – only one accident in 15 years is not shabby at all. dang curbs. they always come out of nowhere and run into my car, too.
       

  13. Liz says:

    I tend to wear a helmet, just because it covers my ears and keeps my head warm (or shaded) and straps my glasses to my head.  But sometimes I like to go without.

    Also, my husband has been in several crashes (before we were married) and when he wasn’t wearing a helmet, he was told “Good thing you weren’t wearing your helmet or you would have snapped your neck” or if he was wearing it “Good thing you were wearing your helmet or you would have cracked your skull.”

    Maybe we should ban cars and motorcycles, and go around life wrapped in bubblewrap!

  14. Ferraribubba says:

    Hey GT: Sorry to learn of your loss, but being belted in a convertible when it rolls can be just as deadly as not. Roll bars may ruin the looks of a beautiful open convertible, but having your head ground into the pavement, to me, is not a viable option.
    It depends on the type of the belts and the strength of the roll structure of the vehicle. The Ferrari, although it’s a coupe, has 4-way belts and a good solid roll-cage that not only will keep me sitting inside the vehicle no matter what, but will insure the passenger compartment will survive all but the most violent collisions up to about 85 mph.
    The reason that NASCAR has those nets on their drivers-side windows is that a driver, Joe Weatherly was charging up the hill going into turn 6 at Riverside Raceway one year back in the day, and spun out, hitting the wall with his drivers-side door. He was lap-belted in, but the force of the impact knocked his head out the window and against the wall. A second later the car hit the back of his head, smashing it against the boiler-plate wall.
    I was there, in the Turn 6 stands covering the race for the Hollywood Citizen News. I wish I hadn’t been.
    NASCAR, and auto racing as a whole has never been known for being pro-active.
    Yer pal, Ferrari Bubba

  15. lunarmagpie says:

    I suppose that whether or not you wear a helmet should ultimately be a matter of personal choice, like a lot of other dangerous and/or stupid things. However, it’s good to remember that while it IS possible to survive a broken neck without being paralyzed, you probably won’t come out so good on the other side of massive head injuries.
    You pays your money, you takes your chances.
    Two young family friends died in a motorcycle crash on Country Club over 12 years ago when someone in a car pulled right out in front of them at an intersection. The guy was 21, the girl was 18. They were both wearing helmets, but apparently the helmets were not buckled up; either that or the force of the impact somehow resulted in their helmets coming off. In any case, they both died at the scene of massive head injuries.
    I believe that when your number is up, it’s up — but you might as well do what you can to keep it from coming up any sooner. My choice would be to wear the helmet, and make sure it was well attached to my noggin.

  16. glenn says:

    Its not a mancho thing to not wear a helmet, its the feel of the air and the freedom on the motorcycle, i have been through a few hedges and jumped a few curbs to dodge these idiots that chat on the cell phone or do their makeup or redress or adjust the radio, ect the list is long the reasons are always the same, but to be without a helmet is like being able to sleep in the nude at night, a trip through the mountains in late evening or fall, you have to have been there to appreciate it, Glenn

  17. radmax says:

    Rynski, you would look AWESOME in a spiked German helmet! 🙂
    Riding a bike is dangerous…no sh…doubt.
    But man, if you can keep the shiny side up, there is no more enjoyable mode of transportation I have seen.
    I look forward to it every day, just gotta watch out for the a-holes.
    This also applies to all things worth doing.
    I do not own a helmet, but I would buy one if I thought it would make a difference, on a cross county ride or something. The bug thing is a fact of the road…I just dodge ’em. 😉
    Let the riders decide.

  18. Will says:

    Florida only requires you to wear a helmet if you do not have $10k in medical. Otherwise you only need eye protection and medical.

    I always ride with a helmet. I feel sorry for the people that do not.

  19. The helmets could save your life see blog

  20. Shane says:

    Ive no idea where this place is based but in england it’s a legal requirement to wear a helmet, no if’s or buts, you do it or get locked up.
    Also, if he’s concerned about being paralysed, he should just fly (or be flown) too switzerland and visit the dignitas if hed rather be dead (like me).

    Or just use a get-out-bag combined with an inert gas like Nitrogen.
     
    Also I’d wear a helemt regardless of laws.

  21. Alex says:

    I’ve been riding for about 3 years,
    Kawasaki ninja 250, just a commuter bike that is also kind of fun to drive… well it was… two weeks and one day ago I was on the way home from work in St Petersburg, FL when I was suddenly cut off by a hummer, I grabbed brake before laying it down and smashing into the hummer. I was doing 45mph with a full face helmet, jeans, and t-shirt.
    I rolled once before smashing into the hummer face first. I survived the accident only because I was wearing my full face helmet. I had road rash on my arms and palms and a puncture wound in my knee, but all that is superficial compared to the fact i would have certainly died if i didn’t have my DOT & SNELL approved full face helmet on.
    Although I am proud of myself for wearing a helmet I also know i should have been wearing gloves and a jacket and I would have walked away from the accident with a small wound on my knee, a nosebleed, and nothing else.
    After feeling the pain of debrideing my own wounds every day in a arduous hour plus long shower with a washcloth to remove dead tissue and bacterial biofilm as well as the scalpel debrideing at the wound care center every week, I will not make that mistake again.
    To every rider out there that reads these messages and still manufactures a theory or excuse to suit their laziness, please, don’t be naive, these laws aren’t meant to oppress you, they are meant to save you and your family from the suffering you are at risk of each time you hop on your bike. If not full leathers, at least a helmet and gloves.

    Ride safe.
     
     

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