Subject: Open Letter to Gannett DJs John Yaukey and Robert Benincasa

To John Yaukey and Robert Benincasa, Reporters for Gannett News Service:

Let me begin by saying I use and recommend the use of helmets when riding a motorcycle. In fact, I cannot imagine riding through several hundred miles of adverse weather without one. On the other hand, I fully appreciate the difference between the utility of helmets and the futility of helmet laws. You obviously don't. Given all the spin you put into your article entitled "Motorcyclist deaths spike as helmet laws loosen"...

... it might be more appropriate to call you two "DJs" rather than "journalists". The spin begins with the title itself, which is simply another lame attempt by myopic media to sell the soft-minded masses on a failed motorcycle safety policy based on crash survival rather than crash prevention. Nowhere in your sea of twisted statistics did you provide any irrefutable evidence that tighter lid laws would save lives. I will use your own arguments to accomplish your undoing:

1. You said "Death rates from motorcycle crashes have risen steadily since states began weakening helmet laws about a decade ago." What you failed to mention is that "... over the last 10 years, motorcycle fatalities have not outpaced increases in motorcycle registrations. In fact, the two measures have a near-perfect correlation coefficient of +0.9951.":

2. You said "In 1996, 5.6 motorcyclists were killed for every 10,000 registered motorcycles, according to Department of Transportation (DOT) statistics. By 2006, the most recent data available, the rate had risen to 7.3." What you failed to mention is that there were at least 2.8 million more motorcyclists on the road in 2006 than there were in 1996 ... many of them new and inexperienced riders, facing new and unappreciated threats ... like distracted soccer moms on cell phones weaving super-sized SUVs across six lanes of traffic:

3. You said "About 42% of riders killed were not wearing helmets." That of course means that 58% of the riders killed were wearing helmets AND DIED ANYWAY. Even NHTSA concedes that--at best--helmets make a life-saving difference only 37% of the time. 37% of 42% is only 15.5%. And that means that a motorcycle safety policy based on universal mandatory helmet usage as a means of crash survival FAILS TO ADDRESS OVER 84% OF ALL MOTORCYCLE FATALITIES:

4. You said "The National Transportation Safety Board unanimously recommended last year that states require all riders to wear helmets--the first time in its 40-year history that the independent panel weighed in on motorcycle safety." What you didn't point out is that in its 40-year history, the NTSB has investigated only a handful of motorcycle crashes, and that
not a single member of the NTSB has any serious motorcycle safety credentials:

5. You wanted to say there was a causative correlation between lid laws and saved lives, but instead you were forced to concede that "Comparing accident rates by state can be tricky... For example, New Hampshire and Iowa, which have no helmet laws, reported fatality rates of 3.0 and 3.5 per 10,000 motorcycles, respectively, in 2006. By comparison, the rates in Mississippi and Maryland, which require helmets for all riders, were much higher--20 and 12 respectively." Let me take that one step further. In order to prove that helmet laws save lives, one would need to show that an increase in helmet usage by motorcycle riders yields a decrease in fatalities among those riders. That is NOT what the second chart in this article indicates:

Over the 10-year (1997-2006) period charted, NHTSA motorcycle helmet usage and helmeted fatalities percentages do show a moderate negative correlation coefficient of -0.6859, which by itself would suggest that helmeted riders are under-represented among motorcycle fatalities. But as that chart also reveals, whatever safety advantage helmet usage may have offered not only diminished but actually reversed itself in 2005 and 2006, where as you can see helmeted riders are actually over-represented among fatalities. This analysis does not suggest that helmet usage has become a contributing factor to motorcycle fatalities. It does, however, FAIL to prove that either motorcycle helmets or laws mandating their use have any consistent significant impact on overall motorcycle fatality statistics.

And therein lies the TRUTH of the matter, my DJ friends.

Speaking strictly for myself and no other individuals or organizations,

Bruce Arnold
Author and Publisher,
Co-Moderator, Bruce-n-Ray's Biker Forum
Mile Eater Gold Member, Iron Butt Association
Sustaining Member, Motorcycle Riders Foundation
2007 Chairman's Circle, American Motorcyclist Association

Also See Truth about Helmets