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Numbers back it up- Wearing helmet can be real lifesaver

August 03, 2008|By BILL KOHLER

Here's the thing: Numbers don't lie.

With the exception of my love of sports statistics that I shared with my father, I've never been a big numbers guy.

I respected them, but didn't dwell on them.

I was always more of an ask-around or do-it-yourself kind of guy.

Last month, some numbers crossed my desk that astounded me at first, but also made me sick to my stomach.

You know that queasy feeling you get when something you know was going to happen actually happens? This was it.

A University of Pittsburgh study released last month reported a major increase in the number of motorcyclist head injury deaths and hospitalizations since Pennsylvania's mandatory helmet law was repealed in 2003.

The numbers, please:

· 32 percent increase in motorcyclist head injury deaths.

· 42 percent increase in head injury-related hospitalizations.

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· 87 percent increase in the number of head-injured, hospitalized motorcyclists who required further care at facilities specializing in rehabilitation and long-term care.

· Total acute-care hospital charges for motorcycle-related head injuries increased 132 percent in the two years after repeal of the law.

The numbers don't lie.

Your chances of surviving a motorcycle crash are greatly increased by wearing a helmet. Granted, your chances of surviving a motorcycle crash even when wearing a helmet are not good, but wearing a helmet is the right thing to do for you and the people who care about you.

Here's where the numbers get even scarier - the Chambersburg (Pa.) Public Opinion reported recently that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation said the number of new motorcycle registrations is growing by leaps and bounds because more riders are forgoing their low-mileage vehicles for high-mileage two-wheelers.

This means more bikes on the road and, in turn, likely will mean those numbers I mentioned earlier could be worse in the next university study in 2010.

Here's some things we all can do to help keep those numbers down:

1. Riders, use your head and wear a helmet. If not for you, do it for your children, your mother, your grandchildren, your spouse.

2. For those who do wear a helmet, share your beliefs with fellow riders. Remind them they won't look so cool and free in a closed casket.

3. Most bad motorcycle accidents are caused by those in cars and trucks, not the riders. We need to be more careful, stop yakking on cell phones, slow down and look around for motorcycles and other two-wheeled vehicles.

You're probably wondering why I'm making such a federal case out of this when I don't ride and haven't been on a bike in years. (I wrote a similar piece in September 2003. You can look it up on our Web site, www.herald-mail.com. Go to news and drag down to archives.)

Last month, I hosted a minireunion of high school friends at my house. One of the guys, a married father of two girls and a music teacher, attended from California. If he had not been wearing a helmet in 2003 while riding his father's Harley on Md. 418, the reunion would have been at Green Hill Cemetery, not my backyard.

But the best argument may come from a Massachusetts court's opinion on a challenge to that state's helmet law - a case upheld in 1972 by the U.S. Supreme Court. The key portion reads as follows:

"From the moment of the injury, society picks the person off the highway, delivers him to a municipal hospital and municipal doctors, provides him with unemployment compensation if, after recovery, he cannot replace his lost job, and if the injury causes permanent disability, may assume the responsibility for his and his family's subsistence.

"We do not understand the state of mind that permits the plaintiff to think that only he himself is concerned."

Numbers don't lie. Wear a helmet.

Bill Kohler is Tri-State editor of The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 1-800-626-6397, ext. 2023, or by e-mail at billk@herald-mail.com.

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