Who are Relmets Really Protecting?
The debate over whether or not to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle has been hot topic since the helmet law went into effect in California in 1992. It seems obvious that wearing a helmet would help protect you in a motorcycle accident. Many legislatures agree. In fact, nineteen states have a mandatory helmet law for all motorcycle riders. Twenty-seven states have a law for those under a set age, three of which require additional insurance for those of age who choose not to wear a helmet. That leaves only four states with absolutely no helmet laws. Despite these facts, helmets are a superficial means of safety at realistic speeds. Yet because this is a public policy issue that is not just about health but also about freedom of behavior, the process of law making is complicated.
Who supports the helmet law? If you were to guess a motorcycle rider, you would probably be wrong. The majority of the helmet law supporters consist of manufacturers, government agencies, and insurance companies. Many states passed mandatory helmet laws in order to receive federal funds for highway repair and improvements. Most important, is the fact that helmet manufacturing is a large and profitable industry. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 1999, there were four million motorcycles registered in the United States (DOT, 1999). States gain to profit from the tax revenue generated by the sale of helmets. The mere fact that the state has a financial stake in the sale of motorcycle helmets is reason enough to support the law. Insurance companies are in the business of making money. It's the opinion of the insurance companies that if a rider wears a helmet, he or she is safer and less likely to suffer serious injuries in an accident. Fewer injuries equal fewer claims and more profit for the company. It's not very hard to see why insurance companies are supportive of the helmet law.
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