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DIGGING DEEPER: Helmet Heads

WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL) – With warmer weather upon us, many motorcyclists have already begun to join our roads. But, this is also the time of year when most motorcyclists are killed in accidents.

Across the county, 19 states have enacted universal helmet laws. Meaning that riders, regardless of age or type of license are required to wear helmets while operating motorcycles.

In 28 states, partial helmet laws, that typically cover people under the age of 21 have also been enforced. However, in three states, Iowa, Illinois and New Hampshire, there are no helmet laws.

Eric Teoh, Senior Statistician for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said that helmet laws help protect motorcyclists from severe injuries and death.

“Wearing a helmet is associated with the 37 percent reduction in your risk of dying in a crash, said Teoh. “And we know that having a helmet law that covers everybody makes almost everyone wear a helmet.”

In 2015, 41 people were killed in Iowa because of motorcycle crashes. 31 one of those individuals were not wearing helmets.

That same year in Illinois, 147 people were killed in motorcycle crashes; and 71% percent of those were not wearing helmets.

In Wisconsin, 80 people were killed in motorcycle accidents. Their law requires that riders 17-years-old or younger, or with learners permits, must wear helmets on motorcycles.

Teoh said that the federal government had previously encouraged states to establish helmet laws in an exchange for more funding. However, the government lost interest over time and thus, the laws became weaker.

“It’s resulted in kind of an awful natural experiment. In that every time we see a state weaken its laws, the deaths go up,” said Teoh. “And every time we see a state enact a universal helmet law, the deaths go down.”

While adults in Wisconsin are not required to wear helmets, David Murphy, Wisconsin State Trooper, encourages all riders to wear one.

“There’s not a whole lot between the rider and the pavement if they were to go down,” said Murphy. “So wearing a helmet, wearing gloves, wearing proper riding clothing, whether its leather or textile or anything with armor in it, is all going to help protect the rider.”

However, helmets are not flawless. Motorcyclist, Shawn Mulcahy, said that wearing full faced helmets inhibits his vision.

“I feel that with a full-faced helmet on, I feel less safe,” said Mulcahy. “I can’t see to my sides and I don’t hear traffic as well.”

Rick Duhn is also a passionate motorcyclist. He agreed and added that wearing helmets restricts his ability to hear. As he and other riders are also trying to filter the sounds of their bikes and other vehicles.

“Depending on if you’re riding in a group, sometimes its better to communicate,”  said Duhn. “Whether it’s nodding or looking at each other or actually talking to each other.”

Dubuque County Sheriff, Joe Kennedy, said that wearing a helmet will not prevent you from getting into an accident. But it can determine whether you come home alive if you are involved in one.

“Can it help prevent some catastrophic effects from a lower speed accident? Sure,” said Sheriff Kennedy. “But it’s not the end-all-be-all.

Motorcycle helmets can cost anywhere between $150 to $500 depending on the brand.

Ashley Scott

Reporter, Dubuque

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