Helmet bill warrants support

AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain

South Carolina legislators are being given an opportunity to save lives and money by making mandatory the use of motorcycle helmets. But then, they've been given the same opportunity before and passed it by. And Gov. Nikki Haley follows their flawed line of reasoning on the issue.

It's time for a change.

Three state representatives, Reps. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, Seth Whipper, D-North Charleston, and Carl Anderson, D-Georgetown, pre-filed a bill that would require all motorcycle riders to wear helmets.

They note that the number of motorcycle deaths is growing. Mr. Gilliard said, "This is about saving lives."

But they also know it will not be popular with motorcycle groups who say it is their right to decide whether to wear a helmet or not.

ABATE of South Carolina, a bikers' rights group, already is calling for people to speak out against the bill.

ABATE spokesman Chad Fuller said, "We don't believe that helmets save lives. Education saves lives."

Well, a person who is educated on motorcycle safety issues would know that helmets reduce by 37 percent the likelihood of death in a motorcycle crash. The Centers for Disease Control did extensive statistical research to arrive at that conclusion.

The independent FairWarning.org reported that in 1997, one of every 20 traffic deaths was a motorcyclist. By 2010, that surged to one in seven.

Even the S.C. Legislature conceded that helmets improve safety for motorcycle riders when it passed legislation requiring motorcycle riders under the age of 21 to wear a helmet.

Mr. Gilliard says it is his duty as a legislator to save lives if possible. "It's better to be safe, to be proactive, than to be sorry." But even those people who discount motorcycle death statistics can't discount the financial cost of motorcycle accidents.

The CDC found that hospital charges for those suffering traumatic brain injuries were 13 times higher than for motorcyclists with other injuries. Helmets are designed to prevent traumatic brain injuries.

And about 63 percent of the cost of caring for such traumas is borne by the public.

Despite common sense, it is assured that the motorcycle lobby will talk about its freedom to choose not to wear a helmet as if it is somehow different from requiring motorists to wear seat belts.

And it will say that requiring helmets for people's safety is the act of a Nanny State, while enforcing speed limits for people's safety is fine.

Reps. Gilliard, Whipper and Anderson are advocating for safer streets, fewer deaths and fewer patients with expensive traumatic head injuries.

The Legislature and the governor should recognize the value of the legislation and and support it.