Insurers view motorcyclists with a dark fascination. Something akin to sitting in a dark theater watching a slasher flick when -- without warning -- Freddie jumps out at you.
On the one hand insurance companies are happy to sell us motorcycle coverage. Everybody's seen that grayish-blue image of a biker in the repetitious Geico ads. On the other, insurers recognize that riding a "hog" is inherently dangerous, particularly if you don't wear a helmet. And many of us bikers do not.
In a lobbying move to rival the National Rifle Association, bikers have run down the pro-helmet movement, stopping it -- so to speak -- dead in its tracks. In the 1970s, 47 states required motorcyclists to wear helmets, or not ride. Today only 19 states have motorcycle helmet laws for all riders, with Michigan recently revoking its requirement.
No 'Easy Rider'
This sparked a counter-insurgency. A study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows that more lives are saved in states with full helmet laws than in states with partial laws, which generally only require younger cyclists to wear helmets. Viewing the website FairWarning.org, funded by Barbara Streisand and others, I found a study that says that motorcycle deaths have doubled since the mid 1990s, when more states had helmet laws.
But these studies have some speed bumps. FairWarning.org fails to note that motorcycle fatalities have actually decreased by more than 15 percent since 2008, while the CDC study claims that helmets don't impede vision. As both a motorcyclist and bicyclist, I can unequivocally say, "They do."
FairWarning.org is also a bit biased when it quotes a so-called "expert" who suggests that motorcycle accident victims who weren't wearing helmets should be "left there like road kill," and claims that motorcycle manufacturers support "no helmet" laws.
Actually both motorcycle makers and the American Motorcyclist Association (another AMA) do advise riders to wear helmets. The AMA, however, believes that it shouldn't be mandatory.
And I have to agree. There's a bit of the First Amendment in each of us and riding a motorcycle reinforces that.
We all have certain inalienable rights, and bikers like me believe that one of them is the right to take chances with our own lives. There's a freedom you feel riding down the road with your hair blowing in the wind, bugs in your teeth and leather jacket flapping. Helmets do provide safety, but helmet laws give police an incentive to stop and harass bikers, something I've experienced first-hand.
But while I reject the "nanny state" which controls our lives, I also recognize that accidents that occur while riding without a helmet can result in long-term injuries that increase health care costs for everyone.
Mum's the word
Insurers usually reserve comment on this issue. From their point of view, if you insure a motorcycle, it probably will do little or no damage to anything else on the road except for its own rider, no matter who's at fault.
Insurance Information Institute spokesperson Loretta Worters says that the data on motorcycle accidents does impact state rates, so it's likely that riders in places where helmet laws are mandatory get lower insurance rates. Big deal, I say.
So, as a biker, what do I do? Having been thrown from my bike by a trucker pulling into a bar, and then spending three months in a full leg cast, I now wear a helmet.