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Editorial published January 3, 1992


You probably have seen someone being given a ticket for riding a motorcycle without a helmet this last week.  Thatís because our legislators, determined to orchestrate every move we make, passed the motorcycle helmet law which became effective January 1.  This is a law that has been kicked around for a long time, but this time our new Governor Wilson, showing a great strain of political wimpery, actually signed it into law.

His reason and the reason touted by the politicos is that helmets will save lives.  In fact they estimate as many as 300 people will still be with us next year on the lawís first anniversary as a direct result of wearing a helmet.  This may be right and California with nearly 30 million inhabitants will have a few more.

1. But, at what cost?

2. Is this a good law?

3. Is this an equitable law?

To answer the first question.  At the cost of individual freedom; a right that our politicos are attempting to take away from us at every turning point.

Looking at question number two; as to being a good law, it is not.

If you compare the helmet law to the seatbelt law, there are many similarities, but there are several huge differences.  Both laws are designed to prevent injuries and/or unnecessary deaths.  Seatbelts have proven over the years that they do, indeed, save lives.  As written, the helmet law is supposed to correspond to the seatbelt law in its attempt to save lives.  Many people are walking around today thanks not only to their seatbelt, but also to the body-saving cage they were driving.  Being in a truck or car offers a tremendous amount of protection from an impact if you are strapped in and can stay in (with) the vehicle.   Wearing a helmet while operating a motorcycle will definitely give a personís head some added protection, but having wrecked several times on motorcycles in my youth, I never figured out how to stay on (in or with) my motorcycle when it went flying down the road or off the cliff.  Come to think of it, Iím glad the bike(s) and I went different ways.  Maybe I was lucky or maybe it just wasnít my time, but I managed to live through the traumatic events with no lasting (that Iím aware of) damage.  What saved me was my brother.  He taught me how to ride and he taught me how to get off a motorcycle as well.  I had to learn (on a dirt track) to lay the bike down, and go into a slide or a roll while protecting my head.  Because of his training which drove my poor father up the wall, I survived my wrecks with road burns, stitches, and bruises to both my body and ego.

When I rode, I loved the feeling of the wind blowing through my hair.  If you have never ridden a motorcycle, there is no way that I or any politician can describe the ďfreedomĒ of cruising down the road on a Hog.  I never considered riding a motorcycle any more dangerous than riding in or driving a car.  The danger part, nine out of ten times, comes from the operator and not from the vehicle.  If you drive a car or a motorcycle like a fool, youíre bound to get in trouble.

Are the possible 300 lives we might save worth the denial of freedom to everyone from a Hellís Angel to a corporate president who chooses to ride without a helmet?  We have 26 million registered vehicles and 17 million registered drivers in California.  Do we really want to live in a society in which every action in controlled, regulated and taxed?  With the passage of this law, whatís to prevent the fools in Sacramento from soon legislating that you must wear a seatbelt and a helmet when you operate your car?

Looking at question number three; as to equitable, this law is not.  It was designed to give cops yet another tool with which to harass the citizens.  Letís compare again between the seatbelt law and the new helmet law..  If youíre not wearing your seatbelt, you can only be cited for that infraction if an officer pulls you over for some other violation.  And, currently the average fine is somewhere in the neighborhood of $20.  And, the ticket is not recorded by the dreaded DMV as so many points against your driving record.  And, the information is not turned over to your insurance agent so that he or she can jack your insurance rate up to the sky.  Also, when this law was first passed, officers routinely gave people courtesy warnings for a long time before they actually started issuing citations.

On the other hand, every cop in the state was poised to start pulling over motorcyclists beginning last Wednesday if they werenít wearing a helmet.  There is no courtesy warning period.  And, the fine is $100 for the first stop and higher for subsequent stops.  And, the ticket garners points with the dreaded DMV.  And, this terrible crime is instantly reported to the insurance agents who will have a field day with it.  So, five times the fine; counts against your driving record; possibly raises your insurance rates and worst of all, it gives cops a period of ďopen seasonĒ on all motorcyclists.  There is nothing equitable about this law.

From personal experience, I can tell you that wreaking a motorcycle at the legal speed limit is likely to cause great bodily harm whether youíre wearing a helmet or not.  I can also tell you that some of the 300 saved individuals will probably wish they had died when they wrecked.

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