Elizabeth Hess/Left is Right: Helmet use a choice — not a law — in Illinois

Elizabeth Hess/Left is Right: Helmet use a choice — not a law — in Illinois


I remember being in grade school when my father asked my sister and me never to get on the back of a motorcycle when we got older. He wasn't strict at all as a parent, but he knew and saw too much destruction in the aftermath of motorcycle accidents.

My dad is a neurosurgeon, and spent his entire career trying to keep people alive. Too many calls came to our house in the middle of the night about a motorcyclist who inadvertently took on a truck, concrete pavement or a dirt road.

When the phone rang at 3 a.m., he would go to the Burnham Emergency Room (later to Carle) and attempt to reassemble someone's brain or spinal cord. Not all middle-of-the-night pages for him were motorcycle-related, but those are the ones I remember hearing the outcomes over dinner later that night.

Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia have laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear a helmet, known as "universal helmet laws." Twenty-eight states have helmet laws requiring only younger riders to wear helmets. There are no motorcycle-helmet-use laws in three states — Iowa, New Hampshire and Illinois.

When I started looking at state-by-state helmet restrictions, I was hoping that states without strict helmet laws — or with no laws at all — would require licensed motorcyclists to be organ donors. Though in many cases, after a crash, many useful organs wouldn't even still be intact.

The federal government estimates that in 2015, the number of deaths on motorcycles was nearly 29 times the number in cars. Helmets are about 37 percent effective in preventing motorcycle deaths and about 67 percent effective in preventing brain injuries. Based on these statistics, why WOULDN'T you wear a helmet?

In 2012, Michigan changed its law to make helmets mandatory only for riders younger than 21. While motorcyclists 21 and older may ride without a helmet, they are required to pass a motorcycle safety course. In addition, they must purchase at least $20,000 in medical coverage.

A 2016 study of a Michigan trauma center, published in The American Journal of Surgery, found the average emergency room cost of un-helmeted riders was nearly 32 percent higher than for those with helmets. According to the same study, close to a third of fatally-injured motorcycle drivers had a blood-alcohol level at or above the legal limit.

In the 2018 Illinois Motorcycle Handbook, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White says, "Motorcycle riders have the same rights and responsibilities as other motorists. By obeying traffic laws and practicing good motorcycling skills, you will ensure not only your safety but the safety of others who share the road with you." In other words, obey the rules of the road. Don't create your own "lane" of traffic. Be aware you share the road with large metal machines (cars) with blind spots.

In 1967, states were required to enact helmet-use laws in order to qualify for federal safety programs and highway construction funds. Within five years, almost every state had universal motorcycle helmet laws. However, in 1976, states successfully lobbied Congress to stop the Department of Transportation from forcing states without helmet laws to pay extra.

I view helmet use under the same umbrella of "I wouldn't, but I embrace your right to" laws. Such as the 1973 law that gave women a right to choose. I may not like that you don't want to wear a helmet, but it's not my business. Until the laws change, we should keep our mouths shut just because something is not right for us.

Elizabeth Hess is co-host of "The DWS Morning Show" on NewsTalk 1400 WDWS, a News-Gazette Media radio station. Her email is ehess@wdws.com.

Sections (2):Columns, Opinion

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
cjw61822@hotmail.com wrote on February 11, 2018 at 3:02 pm

There can not be a helmet law in Illinois until the Illinois Supreme Court over rides their decision from 30 years ago.


Freedom of choice.


That is what makes America great.