Alt Text
Jump Search | Advanced Search
Home > Magazines > Forbes FYI
   The Wild One
Dick Teresi, 05.03.99

ABATE, OR AMERICAN BIKERS AIMING TOWARD EDUCATION, is a nationwide organization of helmet-hating Harley riders. Mensa is an international organization of geniuses and near-geniuses. Its members must score in the top two percent of the population in an intelligence test.

The Gator Alley chapter of ABATE challenged its neighbors in the Southwest Florida chapter of Mensa to a whiz-kid test of knowledge. No bikes, no chains, no colors. Just tough questions, such as "What was established by the Lateran Treaty of 1929?"

The showdown took place in Bonita Springs, Florida. It was a seesaw battle, but in the end, the bikers won. To be truthful, Mensa played without the services of its president, Jeff Avery. On the other hand, the ABATE team played without Avery also. He disqualified himself, being president of both clubs. After their loss, the Mensans sat down with their opponents and listened to arguments for the bikers' favorite cause: the repeal of motorcycle helmet laws for bikers over the age of 21. Several Mensans, swayed by the logical arguments, joined ABATE, even some who were not bikers.

I cite the Mensa-ABATE showdown to demonstrate that not all anti-helmet-law activists are intellectually challenged, which is the prevailing media consensus. The TV reporter interviews a helmet-law advocate, a scientist (smart) in a white lab coat pointing to a hard, spiffy helmet. Then she interviews a drunken, tattooed biker (dumb) who screams "Helmet laws suck!" as he falls off his barstool.

It seems intuitive that wearing something hard on your head would help you survive a motorcycle accident. Many state legislatures agree. Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia now have laws mandating helmet use by adult motorcyclists. The laws appear to work. A study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicates, quite conclusively, that motorcycle deaths per 1 million residents are lower in states with helmet laws.

That sounds good, but we could make the same argument for surfing helmets. Let's say Kansas, Nebraska and Wyoming pass laws requiring helmet use by surfers. California does not. The CDC then does a study, finding that states with surfer-helmet laws have fewer surfing deaths per 1 million residents than California does. This would be a ridiculous argument. People don't surf in Kansas, and if they did, it would be relatively safe, helmet or no helmet, there being no ocean.

Similarly, you find a lower density of bikers in helmet-law states. For many bikers, motorcycling with a helmet is like surfing without an ocean. Compare Florida, a helmet state, with Iowa, a no-helmet state. Florida has a beautiful, year-round riding season. Iowa has a long, brutal winter. Yet Iowa has more than three times the number of registered motorcycles per hundred population as Florida. In California, a onetime biker paradise, registrations dropped by 22 %(138,000 fewer bikes) in the first four years after its legislature passed a helmet law. Overall, states with no helmet laws had 2.6 motorcycle registrations per 100 population compared to 1.3 in helmet-law states. In other words, non-helmet states have twice as many bikers.

Let's go back to those CDC statistics that show helmets prevent deaths. If we use the same statistics, but count fatality rates per 10,000 registered motorcycles rather than per all residents, one finds that helmet-law states actually suffered a higher average fatality rate (3.38 deaths per 10,000) than non-helmet-law states (3.05 deaths). This is not sufficient evidence to prove that not wearing a helmet is safer, but it demonstrates that helmet laws do not reduce deaths.

Another way to measure the difference is to look at deaths per 100 accidents. Not even helmet advocates suggest that helmets will reduce the number of motorcycle accidents. The purpose of a helmet is to help the rider survive an accident. The numbers indicate otherwise. During the seven-year period from 1987 through 1993, states with no helmet laws or partial helmet laws (for riders under 21) suffered fewer deaths (2.89) per 100 accidents than those states with full helmet laws (2.93 deaths).

How can this be true? Is it possible that helmets don't work? Go to a motorcycle shop and examine a Department of Transportation-approved helmet. Look deep into its comforting plush lining, and hidden amidst the soft fuzz you'll find a warning label: "Some reasonably foreseeable impacts may exceed the helmet's capability to protect against severe injury or death."

1 of 2
Next >

E-mail story
Send comments
Print story
Request a reprint

Today's Top Stories
Connecting With Hispanics Online
Arik Hesseldahl - 7/29/03 12:00:00 PM ET
Hispanics spend lots of time on the Internet. Marketers are slowly connecting with that fact.
Verizon's Wireless Way Out
Scott Woolley - 7/29/03 4:05:39 PM ET
The lower-margin business is its one bright spot, and that could set the stage for acquisitions.
Legal Bills Pile Up At RIM
Arik Hesseldahl - 7/29/03 4:57:06 PM ET
The maker of the Blackberry is quickly earning a bigger reputation for something else--lawsuits.
Venture Funding Sneaks Up
Dan Ackman - 7/29/03 9:30:00 AM ET
The funding seems to have stopped declining. It's still way off its peak, which is probably good.
Barclays Denies Misleading Enron Investors
Reuters - 7/29/03 11:25:07 AM ET
Barclays Capital, one of six banks cited in a recent report, denied it helped Enron cheat investors.
Archive | More From | Special Reports
Sponsored Links about > 


Free Trial Issue of Forbes
Gift Subscriptions Book Club more > 
Business Bestsellers


  Who Moved My Cheese?
An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life
By Johnson, Spencer


Good to Great
Why Some Companies Make the Leap, and Others Don't
By Collins, James C.


The Goal
A Process of Ongoing Improvement
By Goldratt, Eliyahu M.;
Click Here For Complete Top 10 List

Get quotes

Mortgage Services from Homebound Mortgage
Apply For A Mortgage
Today’s Mortgage Rates
Home Equity
Mortgage Calculator
Free Credit Report
FHA & VA Mortgage Loans
Buyers Calculator
How Much Can You Borrow?
Should I Refinance?
Low Home Equity Rates

   Alt Text

Ad Information Wireless       Reprints / Permissions       Subscriber Services      
© 2003™      All Rights Reserved       Privacy Statement       Terms, Conditions and Notices

Market data provided by Reuters. Disclaimer
Stock quotes are delayed at least 15 minutes for Nasdaq, at least 20 minutes for NYSE/AMEX.
U.S. indexes are delayed at least 15 minutes with the exception of S&P 500 which is real-time.
Forbes 40 Index powered by Telemet.
News may include latest headlines from Reuters.