Editorial: Time to require mandatory helmet law for motorcyclists in Minnesota

Staff Writer
I cover the cities of Andover, Blaine and Ramsey. I have worked at ABC Newspapers since August 2007.

The time has come to once again push for a mandatory helmet law for motorcyclists in Minnesota.

As of Oct. 27, motorcycle fatalities this year stood at 60. That’s 14 more than all of 2014. The record for the most motorcycle fatalities was set in 1980 when 121 motorcyclists were killed in 112 crashes.

Why are there more deaths in motorcycle crashes in 2015?

Bill Shaffer, motorcycle safety coordinator of the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center of the Department of Public Safety, reported Minnesota has more than 236,000 registered motorcycles and more than 414,000 licensed operators. These totals are part of an all-time high ridership recorded in the past few years. Riders are getting older and officials point to the fact that many riders do not renew training.

This has also been a year of more exposure for motorcyclists. Because of the nice spring, summer and fall weather, there has been greater opportunity for riders to enjoy their cycles.

Some of the dominant reasons point to half of the riders killed in Minnesota this year were not wearing a helmet. More than half of the crashes involved only the motorcycle and no other vehicle. That points to operator error and the need for additional and more intensive motorcycle training.

In the 60 fatal motorcycle crashes through the first 10 months of 2015, 36 of the riders killed were not wearing helmets. Fifteen riders were wearing a helmet. It was not reported whether the remaining nine riders wore helmets.

The Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center reports rider deaths by age: 20s, nine; 30s, 10; 40s, 11; 50s, 21; 60s, seven; 70s, two.

Riders were negotiating a curve when they lost control and crashed in 23 of the 60 fatal crashes, Shaffer said. Negotiating a turn is a skill motorcyclists can master by taking a training course. There are courses available for advanced riders, not just beginners. Speed was a factor in 11 of the fatal crashes.

It is getting late in this year’s riding season but it is never too late to think about taking motorcycle training next year. Course schedules will be on the safety center website by Feb. 1 and training can be arranged by registering online at www.motorcyclesafety.org.

Opponents of a helmet law claim that it should be a rider’s choice whether or not to wear a helmet. Calling for a mandatory motorcycle helmet law is no different than requiring motor vehicle drivers to use a seat belt. It has been proven that seat belts save lives. Helmets also save lives.

Minnesota had a helmet law from 1969 to 1977 when it was repealed. Some states, including Minnesota, have a partial law where those under 18 and those holding a permit must wear protective helmets. This October, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported 19 states continue to have a universal helmet law, 28 states have a partial helmet requirement and three no helmet requirement.

Motorcycle safety can be greatly improved and the risks of injury and even death can be reduced if motorcyclists:

– Take a training course every few years.

– Wear full protective gear, including a DOT-approved helmet.

– Slow down.

Shaffer said riders need to remember three essentials: Have a good riding strategy, have skills to rely on, and wear full protective gear, including clothing and a helmet.

It is alarming to see the number of motorcycle fatalities climbing. That was the case, too, in 1980 when fatalities in motorcycle crashes soared to unacceptable levels. The situation spurred action by the Legislature.

It took a progressive move more than three decades ago to address motorcycle fatalities. In 1982, two years after 121 people lost their lives in crashes, the state’s motorcycle safety program was created. The Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Program was one of the first state programs to take a comprehensive approach to motorcycle safety, combining rider training, public information and education, motorcycle testing and licensing, and research.

And it worked, as the number of fatal crashes involving motorcycles began to decline. Now it is time for another progressive and bold move by the Legislature.

A call for a mandatory helmet law may be controversial with motorcyclists and their support for personal freedom, but statistics show that riding without wearing a helmet can cause serious injury or death. With increased traumatic brain injuries and fatalities, insurance rates are likely to go up, and this affects all of us.

Drivers of other motor vehicles must also start seeing motorcycles and pay attention to them on the roadway. Look twice for motorcycles before entering a roadway or changing lanes. They should give riders room, check blind spots, pay attention and drive at safe speeds. Motorcycles are smaller, so their speed and distance is more difficult to judge.

Operating a motorcycle is a privilege and one that should be valued by following strict safety laws.

– An opinion of the ECM Editorial Board

  • Baba

    I believe it is far past the time to implement helmet use. We have required seatbelt use for decades and the benefits have been proven. The cry of ‘freedom’ from the rugged individualism crowd should be ignored, because society is the one that has to bear the brunt of a really bad decision. When my mother was in a nursing home at her end of life journey, one tenth of the residents were young to middle age men with head injuries, being cared for by our tax dollars.

  • RegularJoe62

    As a motorcyclist, I would never leave my driveway without a helmet. However, I don’t support helmet laws. There are many things that people do that are unhealthy or dangerous. Are we going to outlaw skiing, horseback riding, or football? How about Big Macs, donuts, or large sugary drinks?