Although it may seem like a given, the importance of vehicular safety is often overlooked. For cars, airbags have been mandatory under federal law since 1998. Every state except New Hampshire has a law requiring individuals to wear seatbelts. If one considers motorcycles and mopeds, helmets would seemingly fall into the same category as airbags and seatbelts as a simple way to increase safety on the road. But states have come up short in putting helmets on the same level through law. Only 19 states and the District of Columbia require all motorcyclists to wear helmets, and Wisconsin is not one of them.
Some claim that they do not support helmet laws because they believe helmets actually increase the likelihood of a neck injury in the event of a crash. University of Wisconsin Health neurosurgeon Nathaniel Brooks has disproved this notion by examining the outcomes of over 1,000 motorcycle crash victims from 2010 to 2015.
Because Wisconsin law does not have universal helmet requirements for motorcycle riders, fewer than one-third of crash victims who arrived at University Hospital’s Level One trauma center in the duration of Brooks’ study had been wearing helmets when the crash occurred.
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Brooks found that riders who did not wear helmets had twice as many injuries to the cervical spine, or neck. Brooks also observed that ligament injuries to the neck were much more common in crash victims that had not been wearing helmets at the time of the accident.
The study finally suggests that “wearing a helmet would be a reasonable method to reduce the risk of cervical spine injury in a motorcycle crash.”
Not only does the study’s conclusion disprove the notion that helmets lead to greater risk of neck injuries, but leaves broader implications for implementing helmet mandates for motorcycle riders of all ages, especially on the UW campus.
Mopeds are everywhere on campus and can be useful for students with particularly long commutes. Every badger is familiar with the line of mopeds outside of the Wisconsin Historical Society on Park Street or patiently waiting behind the 80 for pedestrians to clear the crosswalk. It’s rare to see any of these students wearing helmets, but those same students would probably buckle their seatbelt without thinking about it as soon as they get into a car. Why would a student with a moped care enough for their safety to put a seatbelt on, but not give the same consideration when choosing not to wear a helmet?
Like motorcycle helmets, seatbelts were not always around. Many Americans still remember when there were no seatbelts in the car at all, let alone the pressure to buckle them under the law. But now it is commonplace to see a sign on the side of the highway reminding drivers that seat belt use is mandatory under state law and that there are legal consequences for refusing to abide.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seatbelts “reduce serious crash-related injuries and deaths by about half” and “saved almost 14,000 lives in 2015.” There is no question that requiring seat belts is a good thing, and there should not be a debate about the value of helmets either.
Wisconsin should take UW Health’s study as encouragement to implement a helmet requirement law for motorcyclists of all ages, including the multitudes of UW students on mopeds. In the process, Wisconsin can start down the path to make helmet use just as natural and widely-accepted as seatbelt use.
Being required to wear a helmet by the state may be an alien or irritating experience for many motorcyclists, but hopefully, they will come to see a universal helmet law as an expression of value in their wellbeing. A universal helmet requirement would not keep anyone from riding a motorcycle or moped — a risk in itself — but make the choice to ride one a little safer than before.
Juliet Dupont ([email protected]) is a freshman intending to major in political science and journalism.