Like any passionate motorcycle enthusiast, I definitely have strong opinions about the usefulness and constitutionality of mandatory helmet laws.
But as a New Jersey motorcycle accident lawyer, I have seen too many people come through my office over the last 25 years suffering from devastating brain injuries to pretend that proper helmet usage is not the best way to prevent these life-altering accidents.
Serious Arguments. Silly Myths.
As I assume most of you know, helmet laws inspire serious debates among members of the riding community.
What I would like to do here today is dispell and debunk some of the more harmful myths that crop up in this debate.
- Myth: Helmet laws reduce accidents – This is more of a category error than an actual myth, but I do hear it repeated a lot in this debate, and I wanted to get it out of the way early on. Mandatory helmet laws do not prevent crashes. Helmets are designed to protect your head – and thus your brain – in the event of a crash, but there is nothing about a helmet itself or a law requiring one be worn that could prevent any accidents.
Now it is true that some studies show that riders who wear helmets are somewhat less likely to be involved in accidents, but that would seem to be more related to helmeted riders’ more realistic, cautious attitude toward the ride in general, than to anything related to the law or even to the helmet itself.
- Myth: Your helmet will break your neck – This sort of almost seems like common sense. If there’s more weight on your head, and you take a spill,l the extra weight will create more pendulum force on your neck. Like most so-called “common sense,” conclusions, this one turns out to be wrong. The energy-absorbing qualities mandated by the DOT in helmet design absorb a lot of the energy that breaks necks when riders go down. Studies indicate that accident-related neck injuries actually decrease when riders are wearing a DOT-approved helmet.
As any experienced New Jersey motorcycle accident lawyer with an interest in fighting for your rights will tell you, head and neck injuries have long-term, very expensive consequences, which can trigger an insurance fight. So wearing a helmet makes a lot of sense as a way to prevent catastrophic medical expenses.
- Myth: Helmets impair your sight and hearing – A well-designed, DOT-approved helmet is specifically designed to give you as near to a totally unimpeded field of view as possible. In addition, helmets have a windscreen which protects your eyes. Helmets reduce wind pressure and wind noise, both of which allow you to hear better.
- Myth: Your helmet won’t help you in a crash anyway, so why bother wearing one? – Motorcycle helmets are crash tested at relatively low speeds, so many anti-helmet activists assume that if you are riding faster than that when you crash, your helmet will fail.
FACT: most accidents occur at low speeds. This is why engineers and safety professionals test helmets at low speeds.Additionally, many studies indicate that if a rider hits hard enough to cause the helmet to fail, they have probably sustained fatal injuries to other, less well-protected parts of their body. So the fact that the helmet failed was essentially meaningless when it comes to their death.
- Myth: If you’re wearing a helmet you’ll just be brain damaged instead of killed – Obviously this is a possibility. Your helmet may absorb enough of the impact to keep you alive, but not enough to keep you from sustaining a bad head injury. This is more rare than you might think, actually, and again, if you have an impact that severe, there’s a good chance your other injuries will be fatal anyway. You’re much more likely to sustain a brain injury if you’re not wearing a helmet, and from a much less powerful impact.
As a NJ motorcycle accident lawyer with a long history of representing injured riders, I have seen too many head injuries to count. I can personally vouch for the fact that helmet-less riders often sustain injuries that haunt them for the rest of their lives.
Finally, here’s a fact that sounds like a myth, but is actually not.
The type of helmet you choose can have an effect on your safety in an accident. Half-coverage helmets provide the least amount of protection, covering only the top of the head. Open face or ¾ helmets cover the ears, cheeks and the back of the head, but leave the chin unprotected. Full face helmets protect the entire head. A recent study in Taiwan indicated that bikers wearing half-coverage helmets faced a more than doubled chance of receiving a head or brain injury when compared with those using full face helmets.